After years of planning and a full year of construction, Mount Auburn Cemetery officially re-opened Asa Gray Garden with a ribbon-cutting celebration on June 28th. Designed by the award-winning landscape architecture firm Halvorson Design Partnership, the garden features a central water fountain surrounded by over 175 varieties of trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and grasses selected to provide color, texture, and unique interest in all four seasons. An improved circulation system provides greater access and encourages visitors to explore the Garden’s many special features, and strategically placed garden benches foster a sense of contemplation and reflection. Carefully planned views into and out of the Garden help to knit this important horticultural landmark into its surroundings while also connecting it to the other key architectural features, including Bigelow Chapel and Story Chapel, that define the Cemetery’s front entrance area.
According to President & CEO Dave Barnett, “The new garden now truly represents all that Mount Auburn has to offer as a place of comfort and inspiration in a landscape of exceptional beauty, with a diverse collection of plants worthy of any botanical garden.”
The diverse mix of species includes plants native to both Eastern North America and Eastern Asia, celebrating the legacy and important botanical research of Harvard University professor Asa Gray (1810–1888), for whom the Garden is named. In the course of Gray’s ground-breaking work with herbarium specimens, he noted the striking similarities between American and Asian species. He advanced the hypothesis that these species had descended from common ancestors and developed subtle differences during their long separation on different continents. Gray was one of the leading American collaborators of Charles Darwin, and his work supporting Darwin’s theory of natural selection and species evolution helped to establish international respect for American scientific traditions. Gray was buried at Mount Auburn following his death in 1888. In the early 1940s the Cemetery’s Trustees voted to rename the Garden, previously known as “the Lawn,” in Gray’s honor. With the new plantings, the renovated Garden will become a living tribute to the “Father of American Botany,” helping to tell the story of his important work.
Founded in 1831 as the nation’s first garden cemetery, Mount Auburn benefited from the great age of plant exploration, adding specimens from around the world to its collections. While these non-native plants have added great diversity and ornamental beauty, we have also learned valuable lessons about the potential dangers of some of these species becoming invasive and detrimental to native habitats and the environment. These lessons have been carefully considered with the plant selections chosen for Asa Gray Garden. In keeping with one of Mount Auburn’s key strategic initiatives to be a model of environmental stewardship, we are committed to utilizing the renovated Garden to help us teach about the importance of plant biodiversity as we respond to climate change, while also emphasizing the potential dangers of plant introductions from other parts of the world.
Mount Auburn Cemetery is in Cambridge, Massachusetts and comprises 175 acres. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003 and achieved Level III accreditation as an arboretum from ArbNet in 2012. For more photos and background information, go to Mount Auburn’s website at www.mountauburn.org.