Robbins Town Gardens Restoration Project gets a Garden Historian

By Ingrid Gallagher, Board Member Friends of Robbins Town Gardens / arlington@wickedlocal.comPosted May 10, 2018 at 3:00 AM   Wicked Local Arlington

Mona Mckindley is a garden historian working with the Friends of the Robbins Town Gardens to restore the plantings in Arlington’s historic landmark gardens. Following the specifications laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. in his firm’s 1939 redesign of the iconic gardens, Mckindley is committed to a plant restoration the Olmsteds would approve.

“The design is an artwork that is being recreated, so we respect the artists and try to reproduce it faithfully. We do not augment or elaborate; we restore what was there,” said Mckindley. “The design of the spaces between Town Hall and Robbins Library is an example of the work of America’s favorite design firm of the era. The design speaks about the importance of civic spaces as beautiful, safe, and well maintained gathering places. The landscape with woodland and park areas was customized for Arlington. It highlights the history of the settlement of Arlington. Each town common of all the cities around Boston strove to make their gathering spaces different from Boston, giving the town or city its own identity. This is what the Olmsted Firm was expert at doing and did a great job for Arlington.”

The Friends of the Robbins Town Gardens, along with the Arlington Garden Club and Master Gardeners of Arlington, are coordinating to replant the east side of Town Hall this spring. As the fountain, water rill and pool are restored this summer, plant restoration will follow in adjacent areas.

Some of the plants specified in the Olmsted plan include American Elm, White Mock Orange, White Japanese Flowering Lilac, and Red Chokecherry. Mckindley says most of these plants are still popular and relatively easily sourced.

Elm trees are the Massachusetts State tree and a prominent feature of town commons since the 1900′s. They create an elegant canopy and dappled shade under which grass can still grow. While Dutch elm disease decimated many of the beautiful old elms in the North East, Mckindley will be looking at specially cultivated varieties developed by the U.S. Forest Service for disease tolerance. White Mock Orange is specified in several places throughout the Gardens for its late spring fragrant flowers and its billowy and pendulous form which mimics the Gardens’ cherry trees.

White Japanese Flowering Tree Lilac is a small hardy tree that blooms after other lilacs have finished their show. As a tree lilac grows it will develop arching branches, and as Mckindley says “a graceful and lovely form, like a giant umbrella.”

Red Chokecherry is used like curbing at the base of ornamental shrubs, and has a woodland look, growing wild with arching branches, wonderful fall foliage and bright berries.

The Friends of the Robbins Town Gardens have created a special Greening the Gardens Catalog to encourage sponsorship of these plantings. Consider purchasing a tree or shrub as a long-lasting and beautiful gift the entire Town will enjoy. Mock Orange for Mother’s Day is $60; or buy a share for $30.

The Elm might make a great family gift for Father’s Day; it’s $350 for a tree and $50 for a share. You can also learn about sponsoring ongoing maintenance of the Gardens to keep the Olmsted legacy gardens lush and lovely for generations.

Look for the catalog and plant/price list at various Arlington shops and other locations (Robbins Library) or on the Friends of the Robbins Town Gardens website.

For more information and updates, visit or check the Arlington Advocate for more Clippings from the Robbins Town Gardens.