Garden Club makes a big gift

The Beacon Hill Garden Club made the largest donation in its 82-year history last week to benefit the Boston Common.

The club gave $55,000 to the Friends of the Public Garden, which, with the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, will oversee the planting of a grove of disease-resistant Homestead Elms around the Brewer Fountain near the Park Street Station. The area will be called the Beacon Hill Garden Club Remembrance Grove. Construction will begin next March.

“It’s an extraordinary gift,” said Henry Lee, the president of the Friends of the Public Garden, the organization that looks out for the Common and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall as well as the Public Garden.

Joining club members and Friends of the Public Garden officials were parks commissioner Antonia Pollak, state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, state Representative Marty Walz, a performing sycamore tree, and Advent School second-graders, who sang “Peace Like a River.”

The gift was made possible by donations to the club and funds raised through the club’s annual Tour of the Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill.

This gift stands out, said garden club president Trudi Fondren, because the club intends to donate a sum each year toward the grove’s maintenance. Some gifts—trees, benches and sculpture—to Boston’s parks have deteriorated because no funds were available to maintain them. The garden club did not want this to happen to its grove.

The idea came about as the club searched for ways to honor long-time members Jeanne Muller Ryan, Vera Innes and Alexandra Norton, who recently passed away. The club has typically donated a bench or a tree in memory of members. But it was looking for a way to have a greater impact with memorials. Fondren said the club’s fund for the Remembrance Grove will provide an opportunity for family members and friends to remember club members in the future with memorial gifts.

Another inspiration for the gift came from the Garden Club of America, of which the Beacon Hill Garden Club is a member. The GCA is celebrating its 100th anniversary by its member clubs planting trees all over America. Beacon Hill Garden Club members felt it was appropriate for them to mark this anniversary with a gift to America’s oldest public park.

The gift turned out to be unusual for the Common.

“We’ve been trying to raise funds for the Common for some time,” Henry Lee said, “but people take the Common for granted. And everybody uses it. There are a thousand events a year on it, and everyone’s dog is trampling around on it. The soil is compacted, and the trees have suffered.”

Lee said no one wants to make the Common precious because it is a place for activities, but its use has outrun the care the city can provide. He also noted that film companies, race sponsors, the Boston Common Garage, local colleges, the MBTA and other heavy Common users provide little or no financial support to the park.

“This wonderful gift from the Beacon Hill Garden Club, a relatively small organization, is a lesson in generosity and civic care,” he said.

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