A Contemporary Parterre for Shrubs
This garden realizes the Arnold Arboretum’s
evolving scientific and public mission by bringing landscape
architects together with research scientists to develop
a flexible and engaging shrub and vine collection. Applying
horticultural display traditions—bedding and terracing—to
a 3.5-acre irregularly shaped hillside, the project
develops a contemporary, fully accessible framework
for changing collections emphases, educational programs,
and daily enjoyment. By fusing the primary concerns
of topography, plant culture and habit, spatial character,
and interpretation, the project advances the collaborative
legacy of Charles Sprague Sargent and Frederick Law
The Organic Parterre: Integrating
Curators, Gardeners, and the Public
To establish a new demonstration garden
for over 150 species and cultivars of shrubs and vines,
the Arboretum set forth an open-ended collections policy
without a specific curatorial direction. The scheme
therefore depends on a flexible bedding layout that
dynamically responds to the site’s thirty vertical
feet of grade change and its irregular outline. The
result is a torqued organic parterre that integrates
cultivation and experimentation with public walks, a
gathering space, and an outdoor classroom pavilion.
The parterre contains a central lawn that expresses
an arcing, moving gesture down slope and toward the
adjacent historic collections areas of the Arboretum.
Movement: Integrating the Garden
with the Arboretum
The circulation scheme for the project
was conceived as a continuous, connective itinerary
that re-scales the experience of the Arboretum for more
intimate interpretive activity than may be found elsewhere
on the 200-acre property. With thirty feet of vertical
change, a traditional expression of garden ramps and
steps links terraces to achieve universal accessibility—turning
the barrier-free ethic to a distinct asset for the project.
Sustainability: Integrating Growth,
Maintenance, Moisture, and Drainage
Soils on the project, blended on site
to exacting specifications, were designed to provide
uniformly suitable growing conditions and all-season
vehicle support. The scheme addresses microclimate effects
of exposure and dry conditions at terrace walls for
drought-tolerant species, and a supplemental irrigation
infrastructure provides capacity for hand watering in
areas of greater moisture demand. These provisions satisfy
the client’s low-input maintenance goals and helped
form the interpretive collections framework for the
Collaboration: Integrating Science
With the terrace and bedding structure
finally in place, the team of designers, horticulturists,
and educators have continued to develop an evolving
framework for ordering the collections. Curatorial,
interpretive, cultural, and spatial criteria are balanced.
Changing thematic organizations structure the site,
grouping a sub-collection of endangered plants, plants
introduced by the Arboretum, collections of taxonomic
affiliation, and special endowed collections on individual
terraces. Within those collections, plant locations are
determined by cultural requirements, habit and size,
seasonal change, horticultural tastes, and—eventually—turnover
and replacement, after research or interpretive activity
has concluded on a particular sector or individual.
The shared expertise that shaped this framework integrates
the landscape architect’s spatial and historical
perspective with current scientific and practical aims.
In turn it produced a set of guiding principles for
planting instead of a fixed planting plan—recognizing
the dynamic, flexible needs of living collections.
Maryann Thompson Architects
Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.
Haley & Aldrich
Irrigation Consulting, Inc.
Lee Kennedy Co., Inc.
ValleyCrest Landscape Development
M. F. Construction Corp