The South End Garden Tour is one of my favorite annual traditions in Boston. I've always found the beauty of the South End to be magical - the brownstone-lined streets, the canopy of leafy green trees, the picture perfect landscaping. The Garden Tour adds to that beauty by giving you unprecedented access to the private gardens of 30+ homeowners in the South End. Many of the gardens you see on the tour aren't even visible from the street, so without the tour to guide you, would never know they're there.
This year the tour took place on Saturday, June 20th, and the weather was absolutely perfect. It was sunny and warm with just the right amount of cool breeze.
Each year I like to arrive right at 10:00am when the tour begins. Otherwise, the gardens start to get too crowded and as you reach the last few stops it gets scorching hot.
My Garden Tour date and I found a parking spot on Columbus Ave (score!) and headed to the registration tent which was in front of the South End branch of the public library.
We each received a tour booklet and a ticket. The tour booklet has a map of the route and a description of every single stop on the tour. The orange ticket poking out has a number on it for every stop and as you make your way through the tour, volunteers check off each stop you visit.
This year's tour had 37 stops. If you weren't able to go yourself, come along with me now!
Stop #1 was the backyard garden at 75 Rutland Street. The greenery on all the garden walls made the space feel very lush. The owners have the garden decorated with a table and chairs for four, perfect for al fresco dining.
Around the corner we wandered into stop #2, the backyard garden at 53 Rutland Street a.k.a. the elephant garden. The owner has peppered this space with elephants in many forms - weathervanes and hoses - just to name two.
As we walked to the next stop, I couldn't help but notice these cool, retro-looking street signs.
Our next destination was actually the front garden of the elephant house. It had a royal blue front door with a bird feeder to match. I also loved the ornate details of the fence. Each fence post looked like it was topped with an acorn.
We continued on Rutland Street to stop #3 which had beautiful space, but very uncomfortable furniture! My friend said, "Maybe they normally have cushions out, but they didn't want all these strangers sitting on them."
One of the most interesting features of this garden was the plants growing up the brick walls.
Next we strolled through Rutland Green, which is owned and managed by the Trustees of the Reservation, in partnership with local volunteers. This urban oasis is 100 percent open to the public.
Stop #5 was the backyard garden at 149 West Concord Street. Each year on the tour I am surprised by how much space people have hiding behind their house! From the street, you would never know this existed.
Continuing on West Concord Street, stop #6 was a public park. From the benches in this park you get a lovely view of a sculpture called Cityscape III by Miriam Knapp.
Further down West Concord Street, stop #7 has a very interesting story. This building is abandoned and its front garden had fallen into disrepair. With the support of the community, a local Girl Scout troop is bringing the space back to life. I love the rainbow of bird houses (which I am guessing they made themselves).
Further down the block we were invited into the backyard garden of a couple who just moved to Boston in January (just in time for the worst winter in history). Recent transplants from Los Angeles, they've only had the last few weeks to begin creating their outdoor space.
As we headed to stop #9, I noticed two Zipcars. In many other parts of Boston, Zipcars are parked at places like the grocery store or the mall. Oh no, not here. In the South End they are stationed beneath beautiful trees behind multi-million dollar homes. I couldn't help but laugh.
At 53 Worcester Street, a white fence adds extra brightness to this blooming garden. The owners have cleverly hung potted plants in bird cages (I'd never seen that before). The bubbling sound of their water feature brings a tranquility to the space.
The artist here was fixated on the coral colored flowers and was bringing them to life on paper with water color.
The next stop was actually the front garden of this very same house.
Stop #10 was the Joseph Hurley School. To reach the garden we walked the entire perimeter of the school, including through an active soccer match. The school's garden is charming and includes edible plants like strawberries and apples, each marked in kid handwriting.
As we walked through the outdoor recess area I couldn't help but snap these emojis in the wild.
As we strolled to the next stop, we passed an open door to a stunning garden. Though this yard wasn't formally on the tour, we loved peeking in.
Stop #11 was one of my favorites on the whole tour. You enter through the back door, which is beneath a brick wall, covered in greenery.
This garden is an incredible space to entertain and its so lush and green that is doesn't seem possible that it could be nestled into such an urban environment.
There were a few well placed statues, including this adorable bear.
As we headed out I noticed these purple flowers on the back wall. This photo doesn't do them justice. In person, the color was so rich and vibrant.
In the garden next door, the homeowner was hosting a guitarist who plucked away as we meandered around the space.
At stop #13 the owners were going for an Italianate style, as evidenced by these vertical hedges. In addition to the greenery planted in the ground, they also had flowered boxes going all the way up to the top floor.
Next we entered the gates of the West Springfield Community Garden, which is owned and managed by the Trustees of the Reservation (again, in partnership with the community). When we arrived, we were greeted by two of the local residents who tend to the garden.
As we headed to stop #15, I noticed a sign overhead that read "South End Landmark District." This is an area of the South End protected by the city of Boston for its historical value.
The tour volunteer outside stop #16 let people know that this garden was in fact on a roof deck. She also warned guests that five flights of stairs stood between you and enjoying those views. What she did not say is that the final set of stairs would be . . . challenging. The owners of this home built these steps themselves out of solid white oak. While they are visually gorgeous, they require very careful climbing.
Stop #17 was underwhelming so I didn't snap a photo. As we headed to stop #18, I noticed a balcony decorated with buoys. Who says you can't have the beach feel in the city?
Stop #18 was the sensory outdoor classroom at the Carter School.
This was my favorite stop on the entire tour. This outdoor classroom is designed for students with disabilities and it feels like a miraculous place. For all the incredible work they do here, they absolute deserve these breathtaking views of the Boston skyline from their space.
The classroom includes a vegetable garden.
There's also a sensory station with sinks full of water, sand, toys and other tactile experiences.
There were two artists painting in the outdoor classroom, both inspired by the bright red flowers blooming in the sun.
Even the walls of the outdoor classroom have greenery.
If you'd like to learn more about the sensory outdoor classroom and how you can support their amazing work, click here.
At this point, we were half way through the tour and the temperature was rising. As we walked toward stop #19 we passed a house with a tree growing straight across its front door!
At stop #19 it was statue overload! There were so many sculptures it felt like they might be for sale. The one very cool thing to see was the photos of the garden buried under snow. The owner really wanted people to see the before and after, which I must admit, was remarkable.
Stop #20 was directly next door and strangely didn't have any patio furniture. Perhaps they put it away to deter guests for sitting down?
Next we arrived to the Northampton Community Garden, now in its 25th growing season. The garden has 37 plots and is watched over by one very enthusiastic, yet headless, mannequin.
In the backyard of 59 East Springfield Street I got down on the ground to snap a photo of these pink blooms. I wish I had any idea what they are called!
Stop #23 is a backyard garden that is always in the shade. The owners have worked to fill the space with greenery that can survive on very little sunshine. The result is a simple, peaceful place to enjoy morning coffee or a meal with friends.
The backyard garden at 1686 Washington Street was once a trash-filled alley. The owners and their family worked to clean up the space and create an outdoor patio for the whole family to enjoy. To me, the space felt under utilized, but perhaps they put out more furniture when they don't have hundreds of strangers coming through.
A few doors down, a neon green sign was placed next to an open back door that said "Bonus garden." I'm a sucker for cute packaging and was immediately giddy about this "bonus."
Next door, their neighbors have transformed their urban space into kid heaven! The backyard has a chalkboard, astro turf, an herb garden, a water feature (with toy boats) and a sand box! They built a sand box into the backyard.
Stop #27 had the view to end all views. At 1721 Washington Street the owners have two balconies - one off the fifth floor and one off the sixth floor. From those decks you can see the entire city of Boston, in every direction. I was speechless.
A few blocks up we arrived to 15 Cumston Street. The owner calls her garden "a Japanese inspired treat." The water fall and fish pond give the space a sincere feeling of zen.
At 79 West Concord Street you enter the backyard through a wall of bamboo. Up a few steps there's a beautiful sitting area surrounded by greenery covered walls.
In the back corner there's a patio table for two, perfect for afternoon reading and sipping ice tea.
One of the most unique features of the garden was the design over the glass door that leads into the house.
Right next door at 14 Cumston Street was a garden I'd love for myself! The owners set the table with the most adorable place settings, including potted plant napkin holders.
These are my kind of people!
The couple who owns this home had lived in Sherborn, MA for 25 years and they brought the Adirondack chairs from their former backyard to live here in their new home.
A few doors down at 10 Cumston Street, the owners also brought their tablescape A game. They shared, "we view our garden as an extension of our home's first floor." You can tell! This feels like an outdoor formal dining room.
Around the corner at 1 Cumston Street we discovered what might be my favorite private garden on the tour. We stepped in under the pergola that gave way to a gorgeous back patio with a raised deck and a rainbow of blooms.
I would love to dine outside every night this summer under this umbrella, listening to the bubbling fountain and breathing in the smell of fresh herbs.
Stop #33 was Rutland's Haven, another garden owned and managed by the Trustees of the Reservation and cared for by members of the community. It has a beautiful arched trellis covered in wisteria and climbing roses.
Of all the artists we saw over the course of the tour, this work was my favorite. The vibrant orange color of the flower blossoms jump off the canvas. I am jealous of whoever got to go home with this one!
The staging in the gardens of stop #34 was out of a magazine. Even the flower petals were strategically sprinkled!
The space is actually shared by the owners of 3, 4 and 5 Haven Street. Each owner takes care of one third of the backyard, making their slice of greenery their own.
The front of these homes face Haven Street which is so charming and classically Boston. Brick sidewalks, brownstone houses and flowers in bloom outside every door.
The house on the corner of Haven Street is actually the oldest wooden home in the South End, believed to be built in the 1780s!
The final stop on the tour was the Rutland & Washington Community Garden, another one owned and managed by the Trustees of the Reservation, and tended to by community volunteers. This garden is affectionately known as the "Gazebo Garden" for the gathering space in the center of the greenery.
From start to finish, the tour took us about three and a half hours. We went in order and didn't make any stops (some people like to stop for lunch and then keep going). We would up traveling in a pack with the same six or so people. My friend said, "It's funny how you stay with the same group. It's kind of like mini golf." Ha!
As you walk through the neighborhood it becomes clearly how much work has gone into every aspect of the tour. The flags that hang outside every stop. The carefully placed number signs. The little yellow arrows pointing you in the right direction. The volunteers at each garden checking off your card. The artists in residence. And the thing I find most miraculous, the new stops year after year. This is the fourth year I have done the tour and I have never been to the same home twice.
This year's tour was particularly remarkable because all of these gardens had to recover from the most brutal winter in Boston history. In fact, many of the homeowners spoke to us about how buried their gardens were from January - March and how tough it was to bounce back after that devastation.
Thank you to the South End & Lower Roxbury Garden Council and the Garden Tour Committee for another splendid year on the tour!
If you'd like to visit the gardens from past years, you can follow those tour routes here:
*Though my ticket to the South End Garden Tour was complimentary, all opinions are 100 percent my own.