October 2003: Neighborhood Meeting
On October 23, 2003, a group of some 20 neighbors of Ordway Park and ten members of the Conservators Board of Directors met at the home of Joan and David Rosenberg on Montvale Road to discuss the renewal of Ordway Park. A range of opinions about the future of the Park were voiced and most of those in attendance left their e-mail addresses and asked to be kept informed.
As everyone introduced himself or herself, there were many different expressions of gratitude that this woodland has been preserved as open space. A couple of people had known Priscilla Ordway; one recalled her preference for keeping what is now the area of the park a simple woodland. Others shared more recent impressions of the Park, when they were growing up or bringing their children to it. Their comments were warm and positive. Newcomers in the area said they saw the park as a special resource.
Three members of the Ordway Park committee made preliminary remarks. In answer to a query about Priscilla Ordway’s will, Jim Broderick explained that the 1969 will had left “all my Newton Centre real estate,” i.e. the house and all the land, to the Conservators, together with $20,000 for the “said purposes” of the Conservators. A 1970 codicil, however, directed that the house and the hilltop property be sold, apparently because Miss Ordway otherwise would not have had funds for a bequest to Smith College that she had planned. But the remaining “vacant land” had never been laid out as a separate park area; for instance, the entrance to the park was from the hilltop, as indicated by remnants of stairs and winding paths. The more interesting plantings, too, were closer to the hilltop.
Corry Berkooz provided a brief summary of her professional evaluation of existing conditions in the park and of her suggestions about goals and design ideas for a renewal. She noted the absence of any buffer zone along Everett Street and Grant Avenue that could define the park, and advised that a final plan could supply native shrubs toward the perimeter. She suggested aiming in general for a woodland effect, clarifying the entrances along Grant Avenue and improving signage and maintenance. She saw a need for the introduction of native shrubs and groundcover to create seasonal interest.
Frank Howard reported on his month-long series of visits to the park at various times of day last May. He encountered few neighbors, most of them using the park as a cut-through. What struck him forcefully was the continuous traffic along Grant Avenue, and he ruefully concluded that a large part of the impact of the park will be on passing motorists. Nonetheless he emphasized his deep personal appreciation of the springtime beauty and variety in the park.
One close abutter of the park raised an early objection to “renewal.” She feared benches and “civilization” that would bring litter. She welcomed thickets and weeds. It seemed she would agree with G.M.Hopkins’ cry against human intrusion:
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left.
Oh, let them be left, wildness and wet:
Long live the weeds and the wildness yet.
Most speakers, however, agreed only to the extent of rejecting what several called a “Brookline park,” that is, with paving, flower beds, formal patterns of shrubs, etc. The consensus was clearly for what was called a “natural” park, more like the Olmsted parks or the Framingham Garden in the Woods, whose designs are unobtrusive.
How such a “natural” park could be achieved and maintained generated a lot of discussion. Corry Berkooz and Beth Schroeder listed a number of native shrubs and small trees that could add seasonal interest to a woodland garden. Even though Ordway Park has no source of water on site, they said that spot watering would be required only in the first year for native plants, and Frank Howard cited the success of his planting of an American Chestnut now 15 feet tall in its third year. Because of the hardiness of native species, they have the best chance of blocking invasive non-native species, and maintenance efforts should decline as the native plants establish themselves.
One questioner asked whether the Conservators would supplement the maintenance income from the Ordway Park Fund. A number of Directors present made it clear that the Board of Directors intended to continue to provide maintenance money as needed. They emphasized that the Board welcomed the Ordway Park Fund as an additional resource for Ordway Park, not as a substitute for its responsibilities there.
Reflecting on the evening’s discussion, members of the Conservators Committee on Ordway Park were heartened by the neighbors’ lively interest in the park. The next step toward renewal of Ordway Park is to develop a set of preliminary layout and planting plans and to bring them back to neighbors for their comments.
The late December-early January thaw allowed another exercise in cutting back Norway maple saplings that have been crowding the park. Come spring, the flowering of rhododendrons and azaleas should be more clearly visible on the Grant Avenue side. This summer Grant Avenue will be repaved and needed curbing provided, and a request has been made for an estimate from the city of the costs of bringing water service into the park at the time of the repaving.
Beth Schroeder, a landscape designer, and Susan Sangiolo, a landscape architect, have joined Jim Broderick, a registered landscape designer, for several meetings and visits to the park. The trio intend to have a layout plan and a planting plan ready in late May to present to neighbors and Conservators for their comments. The planting plan in particular will provide for installation in stages.
Since the last Newsletter , the contributions to the Ordway Park Fund have been coming in steadily. With a recent generous contribution from the Charles River Neighborhood Foundation, we have raised more than $5,000 from some 60 contributors, and checks for an additional $5,000 from the matching fund have been deposited. In addition, the Newton Centre Garden Club has offered to pay for a bench if the final plans for the park provide for one.
In telephone calls and in letters, current and former neighbors of Ordway Park have reminded us of the “little, unremembered” ways an unobtrusive, natural half-acre can have a role in individual lives. One donor now in California asked that her contribution be accepted in honor of her mother, an Ordway neighbor, who remembers the watercolor classes Priscilla Ordway held in her woodland garden, and still keeps near her phone a portrait of her son by Miss Ordway. A letter from Vermont said in part, “Pls. accept what must be only a token donation to Ordway. But-I did want to be part of the effort. I grew up a child at 35 Grey Cliff Rd. ” The writer goes on to recall the paving of Grant Avenue , talks about trees in the park, and then adds, “Forgive my ramblings! Ordway was in the orbit of my childhood ramblings-which led eventually to a life-long career in forestry and land conservation.”
As the photo shows, work has begun on the repaving of Grant Avenue and the upgrading of the corner of Everett and Grant to make the sidewalk handicapped-accessible. Two city trees have been removed, a partly decayed oak to the left in the picture and a failing Norway Maple at the right. Curbing will be installed, probably by the end of May.
For the renewal of Ordway Park, this change marks a real beginning. The curbing will allow planting of appropriate ground cover in the space between the curb and the sidewalk and, while the repaving is in process, a water line may come into the park for the first time. The process of applying for a water connection, on which care of new plantings depends, has begun. An anonymous donor has offered to pay for hiring a civil engineer to develop a plan and specifications.
Landscape designers Beth Schroeder and Jim Broderick and landscape architect Susan Sangiolo will present to the Board of Directors in late April preliminary plans for the layout of Ordway Park and a sequence of replantings. In late May or early June, full plans will be presented to neighbors for their comments. Final versions will be brought to the Board of Directors for approval in early summer.
Contributions to the Ordway Park Fund have grown. Generous neighbors and Conservators have contributed over $6,000 toward the first matching goal of $10,000. Anyone who has not yet made a donation or who wants to increase their gift can still see their contribution doubled if they send a check to:
Newton Conservators Ordway Park Fund
PO Box 590011
Newton , MA 02459