Monday, July 02, 2007

Cemetery Gardens: Mount Auburn Cemetery

Nobody wants to visit a garden where most of it is dead, do they? Well, when the garden is beautiful and what’s dead is buried, then yes – a garden -- found in a cemetery -- is well worth a visit. In fact, some of the most beautiful gardens in the U.S. are found in cemeteries, beginning with "America's first garden cemetery,” the Mount Auburn Cemetery of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Founded in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery is widely acknowledged as the catalyst for the “garden cemetery” movement, where landscaped parks become an alternative to burial in church graveyards. Up until then, the dead were buried in churchyards located in close proximity to churches. General Henry A. S. Dearborn, president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, along with Alexander Wadsworth, a civil engineer and surveyor, plus others, banded together to create a tranquil and beautiful landscape that not only honors the dead, but provides enjoyment, succor, and inspiration for the living as well. Mount Auburn became the model for cemeteries nationwide and inspired the creation of America’s public parks.

Today, Mount Auburn Cemetery has over 5,000 trees, representing 630 taxa, and thousands of shrubs and herbaceous plants throughout 175 acres of hills, dells, ponds, woodlands and clearings. There are Victorian and formal ornamental gardens, contemporary gardens and natural woodlands.

Open daily, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. October through April.; 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. May through September.

From: The "Rural" Cemetery Movement and its Impact on American Landscape Design;
U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service; II. BURIAL CUSTOMS AND CEMETERIES IN AMERICAN HISTORY

The "rural" cemeteries laid out by horticulturists in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York in the 1830s were romantic pastoral landscapes of the picturesque type. Planned as serene and spacious grounds where the combination of nature and monuments would be spiritually uplifting, they came to be looked on as public parks, places of respite and recreation acclaimed for their beauty and usefulness to society.

In the early "rural" cemeteries and in those which followed their pattern, hilly, wooded sites were enhanced by grading, selective thinning of trees, and massing of plant materials which directed views opening onto broad vistas. The cemetery gateway established separation from the workaday world, and a winding drive of gradual ascent slowed progress to a stately pace. Such settings stirred an appreciation of nature and a sense of the continuity of life.

By their example, the popular new cemeteries started a movement for urban parks that was encouraged by the writings of Andrew Jackson Downing and the pioneering work of other advocates of "picturesque" landscaping, most particularly Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, who collaborated in the design of New York City's Central Park.

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