Just a few miles southwest of downtown Boston lies a large patch of grass, trees, and woods. This is not just a city park, rather this gated collection of nature is the Arnold Arboretum. The 281-acre “jewel of the Emerald Necklace” is owned by Harvard University and is home to an abundant collection of diverse plants, as well as research institutions and a visitor center. Today, I made my first trip ever to this hidden gem.
The Arnold Arboretum is located in Boston’s Jamaica Plain and Roslindale neighborhoods, and is easily accessible through the Orange line on the subway system (known as the “T”). I am unfamiliar with this area, so I treated my jaunt to the Arboretum as part of a larger neighborhood adventure. I entered the Arboretum by the Bussey Brook Meadow, which is the gate closest to the Forest Hills “T” stop. I must say, I was a bit underwhelmed at first. I have heard a few times just how beautiful the Arboretum is, and I was surprised when my preliminary steps into this realm were not breathtaking. To be fair, it is January and the trees are bare and the grass is brown. I therefore forgave the Arboretum for initially not living up to its fabled glory.
I walked a bit deeper into the park and became momentarily disoriented, because within the first few minutes down the path, I had already encountered a busy street. Was the Arboretum really this small? I checked my map and saw that the Arboretum is essentially divided into sections, with roads weaving in and out of the body of the park. I crossed the street and continued on the path, which became wider and now included some evergreens on the left and what seemed to be an exotic collection on the right. I then followed Valley Rd and turned onto Bussey Hill which took me to a scenic spot 200ft up. Looking south with Boston behind me, I could see a few skyscrapers, but mostly mid-sized buildings. To me, this generic view could be a stand-in for the outskirts of any American city.
I strolled back down the hill, cutting a few corners this time through the grass rather than staying on the path. I then entered yet another section of the Arboretum, which took me to Peters Hill. This hill stands 40ft taller than Bussey and affords the visitor a clear view of downtown Boston. How funny it is to see the city so small and distant yet still be a part of it. I boarded the “T” from downtown earlier and now I could see the expanse that I had traversed to get me to this point.
Even in the winter, the Arboretum was a romantic and magical place. It can feel like a storybook forest to see cartoonishly tall grass and curvy, crooked trees all at once. It is as if the Arboretum is a bunch of different geographic locations tossed together like an earthy salad. I see familiar firs and the bare deciduous trees of my childhood mixed with willows, azaleas, and honey locusts. It is like the Arboretum is a Hollywood set ready to assume the geography of your choosing…. Actually, I admit, my Arboretum visit came with an ulterior motive. I heard that the movie Little Women was entirely filmed in Massachusetts and parts of the Arboretum were used as Paris settings in the movie. I have not yet seen the film, however, I thought it could be fun to get the images of the Arboretum in my head to see whether I could pinpoint them later when I eventually watch the film.
If naked trees and straw grass can warm my heart in this January cold, then the Arboretum in full bloom must be an awe-inspiring, natural majesty. Needless to say, I had a very nice visit to the Arnold Arboretum. First impressions can be tough, but the Arboretum ultimately lived up to the hype. As is so often the case, it was worth it to leave my little bubble and see something new. If you ever visit Boston, Dear Reader, consider taking a stroll through the jewel of the Emerald Necklace.