Tree Tour of Newton Cemetery

On a Sunday afternoon in late October 2003, with rain threatening, a hopeful group of 15 tree viewers gathered outside the Newton Cemetery office to take a look at some of the remarkable specimens in the cemetery. Newton Conservators board member Doug Dickson co-led the annual tree walk, along with Larry Burdick, a member of the Cemetery Board of Directors, Frank Howard, who scouted out the trees with his wife Deborah Howard the day before the walk, and Peter Kastner, who organized the walk.

photo by Frank Howard

The group toured the 100-acre cemetery to view 26 specimen trees and learn about their characteristics. The office graciously agreed to the tour and supplied a map showing the 26 tree locations as well as a list of the common and scientific names.

Peter Kastner described the origin of this cemetery at the time of the Civil War, when residents wanted to provide a grander and less austere burial environment for those who did not survive the war. He contrasted the style of this cemetery with older cemeteries in Newton and elsewhere that are not built in the garden style. He said the Newton garden cemetery was established in 1855 in the naturalistic style pioneered by the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. This coincided with the advent of landscape architecture as a discipline and the emergence of Frederick Law Olmsted, among others.

Larry Burdick provided information about the grounds and ongoing plans. Deborah Howard, who serves on the Newton Urban Tree Commission with Doug Dickson, added comments at each of the numbered tree stops. Frank Howard offered references and readings from authoritative tree manuals.

The serenely beautiful cemetery has four ponds fed by water flowing from Cold Springs Park. The water from these ponds proceed past the Newton Free Library into the City Hall lagoons and then to Bullough’s Pond. Selected trees require the water of Cold Spring Brook and, in turn, the roots of these trees hold the banks intact.

Carefully chosen trees provide year-round visual pleasure: fall color of the Marshall Maple, winter snow dusting the cinnamon colored bark of the Paper Bark Maple, spring yellow flowers of the magnificent tulip tree and summer color of the Golden Rain Tree. Blue Atlas Cedar and European White Birch added to the aesthetic treats of the walk.

As the tour ended at 4 PM, the rain came down. Some say the most important product of forests is not wood, but clean water.

–Report by Frank Howard