Beacon Hill is one of the only neighborhoods in the City of Boston in which I’ve never lived. I don’t think of it often. I know Charles Street of course, and attend the annual Christmas stroll. I visit one of my favorite interiors stores, Cynthia Driscoll, at least once a year. Her curation of artists from around the globe is wonderful. I’ve picked up many gifts and objets d’art there, and one in particular that I can’t believe I left behind. It was a plaster bust of a woman. She looked like a fine English Lady with a grand hat atop her head, but on closer inspection you discovered it was a a back hoe. It was entitled Gold Digger. How I ever resisted its purchase is beyond me. A severe lapse in judgement clearly.
Beacon Hill has something beyond the shops and restaurants that line Charles, and tucked along the narrow hills and side streets that make the neighborhood so enchanting. Its gardens. Beacon Hill is old money. The Beacon Hill Garden Club, founded in 1928, feels like Charleston or Savannah, or one of those charming southern cities where politics and politeness reign.
I had some vague concept that things like garden tours happened, but I am a working girl, and my work takes me onto the construction site, not into the backyard garden. My urban existence has relegated me to potting a few plants to accent my entry, or in the case of No. 2 a roof deck of potted plants, and trees, and No. 3 a deck off the kitchen that had many lovely flowering plants, none of which could be considered a garden. These homes have GARDENS. Some of them larger than my first home! Some tucked away in alley’s, others found space when the Maid’s Quarter’s was demolished. Clearly not everyone followed suit as I witnessed a Maid on the street in full mint green uniform, with crisp wide white cuffs, and color, watering the plants outside the mansion that surrounded a tree on a public street. I kid you not – I nearly fell over, and not from the 91 degree heat, though it was brutally hot.
The properties I fell for all seemed to include stairs, but one. If this is some sort of a metaphorical message about my desire to climb to new heights, I’m still working it out. They did feel a little like you were in a treehouse, and that holds an allure for me. To be hidden in plain sight, to be able to observe the world as it goes by, so enticing.
165 Mt. Vernon Street was a stunner. It’s U-shaped stair that led to the parlor level, constructed of wrought iron, with green granite treads, was a stunner. Interestingly, the guide book explains that this home was constructed in 1869, and designed by Ware and Van Brunt – the same architects that designed Memorial Hall at Harvard University. It has been converted to condos – but least you think it isn’t grand, let me set the record straight, the garden is what some might refer to as a double wide. Sculptures abound, mostly procured from buildings that were razed in England, and include a plaque of St. George and the Dragon. I have worked for St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island for more than a decade where I first learned of St. George, who curiously isn’t their mascot – the dragon is – but of course the dragon gets slayed. It makes no sense to me, but that’s a fairy tale for you.
84 Mt. Vernon Street was my favorite. Its 1823 Federal Style home was LOVELY. The garden was on three levels and had some of the most beautiful table-scapes, and clever design details I didn’t want to leave. It has a wall of Ivy that would make Harvard jealous, and a 120′ Sugar Maple – the tallest in the ‘hood. Take that.
64 Chestnut Street was a cool breeze on a hot summer day. Cast in shadow this space with its Wisteria and Clematis provide shade from the watchful eye from the UV Rays. Neptune adorned the side wall in the form of a bronze mask that spouted water into a bath below. Bird song in the air. I’m not kidding. You really could hear the sweet sound of birds singing. For a city girl, this indeed feels like a fairy tale, but it wasn’t any of these things that made the greatest impression on me. It was the nice Garden Club Volunteer. She was astounded that I had lived in Boston all these years, and this was my first tour. I told her that I thought I was going to be a princess but in fact I was more like a pack mule. She said the most profound thing to me: “She said what a blessing that I knew how to stand on my own two feet…..” How many woman didn’t know if they could, would never dare to test it. I left feeling pretty good about how hard I work.
Get out in the garden. “Stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” Frank Lloyd Wright