Turning a Neglected Pit into a Garden

December 31, 2014
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The pit’s filled, walls bricked, perimeter reinforced and bricks laid. On Friday two dim lanterns were installed to illuminate the 45 Beaver Place garden project, and outdoor work ceased for the holidays.

In mid-January, though, construction workers will be back to ensure that by spring plantings will green and trees bloom in the 1500-square-foot enclosed pocket garden – as they did more than 100 years ago. Until now considered an eyesore as a result of years of neglect, abuse and controversy, the site is being revitalized by Beacon Street residents John and Cynthia Reed.

The couple, who purchased it earlier this year to create a private backyard garden, envisions it to be a beautiful space for them to enjoy privately but one whose visual effects will be shared with those passing by, said Landscape Architect Lynne Giesecke of Studio 2112 Landscape Architecture. This delights their closest neighbors, who had feared a four-story building proposed by the previous property owner would block their views and sunlight.

Giesecke, who designed the garden and now oversees its construction, said while it may appear that the work is going along slowly, it is in fact right on schedule. “It is such a small property that it’s like playing twister,” she said. “You can only fit a few workers in there at a time.”

First on their to-do list last summer was to enhance the east party wall with a brick façade and to replace the lower half of the adjacent Union Boat Club’s façade, said Michael Coffin of Michael S. Coffin Landscape Construction. The crew installed new panels and bricks that so closely resemble the old ones they look like they have always been there.

They next raised the nine-foot cement pit to street level by using a material called geofoam, a type of lightweight structural foam block that is used to gain elevation without excess weight. In this case, it was chosen to avoid damage to the pilings set below, said Giesecke, and will be removed in areas used for planting. Above the blocks are about three feet of gravel and again of soil to provide drainage conforming to the Boston Groundwater Trust’s regulations.

Earlier this year, the Reeds transformed the bordering cracked concrete sidewalk on Mugar Way into a classic Beacon Hill brick walkway. Last week masons finished laying paver bricks in intricately designed patterns to create walkways leading to four garden beds. Controls for electricity, water and irrigation are installed and hidden in a closet at the rear of the site.

The final steps include the winter installation of a custom designed cast iron fence on the garden’s perimeter and an 8’ X 14” garden shed for tools and the wintering of plant materials. A boxwood hedge will wrap the interior of the fence to provide some privacy within the garden. Weather permitting, planting will take place in April and early May. Scheduled completion date for the project is mid-May.

Although some neighbors passing by the ongoing construction still fear a building is being built at the site, Giesecke said most seem pleased to learn it will blossom as a garden soon. “It will change the feeling of this part of the neighborhood.”

Instead of a pit in the ground, residents and others passing by will be greeted by the sight of a garden flowering in shades of bluish purple and white, and the scent of fragrant Lavender and dwarf Korean spice viburnum.

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