Category: Landscape

Training a New Generation: Mount Auburn’s Horticulture Apprenticeship, 2020 Edition

September 1, 2020

Anna Moir, Grants & Communications Manager

Keeping a landscape like Mount Auburn beautiful and well-maintained does not happen without a skilled team of horticulture professionals. No matter the season, our staff are always putting their expertise to use figuring out the best ways to design, plant, and maintain the Cemetery with both aesthetics and sustainability in mind. We have therefore been highly concerned by recent trends of declining numbers of specialized training programs, especially at the university level, and fewer young professionals entering the field. Our response since 2014 has been to offer our own paid apprenticeship programs, supporting and training talented students and recent graduates seeking careers in public horticulture. Thanks to a group of generous donors, we have been able to expand the program up through to today.

From seasonal internships to year-long immersive experiences, our programs provide intensive practical experience across the different specialties within our Horticulture Department. This has been mutually-beneficial as our participants gain expertise in multiple aspects of our complex horticulture and landscape operations, while also bringing talent, enthusiasm, and fresh perspectives as they support our staff on their projects.

While the Covid-19 pandemic forced many changes to our workflow to ensure everyone’s safety, we were lucky to still be able to host two participants: Alex Wolfe, a recent graduate who had originally started as the 2018-2019 apprentice but extended to a second year, and Katelyn McVay, a student in the class of 2022 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who worked with us for the summer. As they get ready for a new semester and new opportunities, Alex and Katelyn sat down to reflect on their time here, and how it’s shaped them moving forward.

Alex Wolfe

Horticulture Apprentice Alex Wolfe

What brought her to Mount Auburn: I had worked in the field of horticulture for a bit in landscaping and greenhouse work, but wanted to learn more about some other sectors of horticulture. I saw that Mount Auburn had a rotating position where you get a taste of each of the departments in a year’s time. So I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to get a better idea of what I would like to specialize in moving forward.

Favorite experiences: I think my favorite projects and highlights of my time here have been when I’m involved in planting projects. The main project I worked on last year and am involved in again this year are plantings in Consecration Dell and the North Dell Meadows. It was a great leadership opportunity and learning experience working with a contractor and using an architectural planting plan. I also loved that the focus of that area involves the use of native plants.

Learning new skills: Since beginning work here, my plant identification skills have exponentially grown, and I have obtained my Massachusetts Certified Horticulturist certification. My favorite department that I worked in was Plant Records. I’ve gained a good bit of taxonomic knowledge, experience working with a database, and exposure to GIS work.

Favorite spot at Mount Auburn: My favorite place is easily the Dell. I loved working on projects for this area, and love that it’s focused on habitat restoration and planting natives.

Future plans: Working with native plants in the Dell got me thinking more about the ecological side of things and working in plant records with taxonomy really sparked my interest in systematics and evolution. This fall I am starting my Master’s in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Conservation Biology at Antioch University New England. I hope to carry out work with the overall goal of plant conservation, in whatever capacity that may be.

Katelyn McVay

Katelyn McVay

What brought her to Mount Auburn: Prior to applying here, Mount Auburn was my favorite natural space to visit while in Boston. I loved how Mount Auburn combined a rich history of landscapes and architecture with beautiful formal and natural gardens. I was extremely excited when I found out about the internship, and I was definitely drawn to the program due to the great opportunities, staff, and landscapes here.

Favorite experiences: I would have to say that one of my favorite projects that I worked on this summer was the garden in front of Story Chapel. My team and I planted everything in that area during my first week on the job, and it was a really exciting introduction to my position here. It was amazing to see how landscape architecture and design and horticulture came together to create something so beautiful and eye-catching in the front part of Mount Auburn.

Learning new skills: During this summer, besides working on the horticulture team, I also spent some time working at the greenhouse. While working there, I was introduced to a variety of plant propagation techniques. Prior to this experience, I didn’t fully understand how interesting and creative plant propagation could be. This learning experience at the greenhouse taught me how cool plants can be and skills that I’ll be able to use on my own plants and in my classes.

Favorite spot at Mount Auburn: My favorite place at Mount Auburn has to be Willow Pond. The scenery around that area is so peaceful, and it’s a place where I often found myself connecting with nature the most. Particularly, I really admire the tree selection and placement around Willow Pond and the sculpture and seating area on top of the hill.

Future plans: I plan to hopefully pursue a graduate degree in the plant sciences or in landscape architecture. This summer really helped me to discover my passion for plants and landscapes, and the professional and personal skills I have learned over the summer have reinforced my academic and career goals. I had such an amazing time here, and I’m so fortunate that Mount Auburn allowed me to pursue my passions and taught me how to apply the skills I learn in the classroom to the real world. For more information, please contact Jenny Gilbert at

Eternally Green: Highlighting Mount Auburn’s Rich, Natural Environment Through Theatre

August 30, 2018

This article was written by Artist in Residence, Patrick Gabridge. 

When I tell people I’m the artist-in-residence at Mount Auburn Cemetery, they are often shocked that such a thing exists and also very curious about what, as a playwright, I intend to do at a cemetery. Most folks assume I’ll be writing about the various people buried here. Which I will. But even from the very start of my residency this winter, I knew I wanted to write about the diverse and unique natural environment of Mount Auburn.

Since I started in January, I’ve been walking the grounds, toting binoculars with birders at dawn, looking for nighthawks at sunset on the tower, shining flashlights in Consecration Dell looking for spotted salamanders, and trying not to step on tiny toadlets by Halcyon Lake.  And, more crucially for a playwright, I’ve been listening to the people who are deeply invested in protecting and improving the flora and fauna that make Mount Auburn such a special place.

The challenge for a writer tasked with creating plays about Mount Auburn is the embarrassment of riches when it comes to potential stories. A hundred thousand tales are wrapped around the people interred here, and they are surrounded by hundreds of species of birds and trees, and thousands upon thousands of plants, all of them tended by dedicated stewards.

Spotted Salamander in Consecration Dell

In the end, I chose to create two series of short plays–one mostly about historical figures buried here and their role and relationship to the formation of American identity, and another set of nature plays. Some are already written and will be read on the grounds in September—like a short play called Hot Love in the Moonlight is about the mating habits of spotted salamanders. There will be a play about birds and birders (Cerulean Blue), and another about Asa Gray and Louis Agassiz. I’m still exploring play ideas around some of the secret mushroom spots that may or may not exist, and there will almost certainly be a play inspired by conversations with the grounds crew members who help Mount Auburn remain the gem that it is.

Beyond writing and research, the next step begins with reading and playing with the text with actors and audiences. This September, you will see me and Courtney O’Connor, my director, gathered with clumps of actors at Consecration Dell and near Auburn Lake, and other spots, with scripts in our hands, reading dialogue aloud.  We’ll see if the structure and content of the work makes sense, if it has power, but also how it works in three-dimensions. How does it feel to have our voices and bodies in action on the actual grounds? It’s one thing for me to imagine how it all feels and sounds when I’m typing away in my office, but it’s entirely different when we have actors do it while standing on the edge of a pond.

Cerulean Blue Warbler

At the public readings in September, we’ll start exploring what the plays feel like with an audience. (Plays are nothing without an audience.) When staging site-specific work there are additional concerns we don’t have in a traditional theatre, where the environment is controlled and well understood. We have to ask questions about where does the audience sit or stand, is there noise (traffic, neighbors) that will impact that site? How do the plants and topography affect where we can stand, how much sound reaches the audience, the visual palette?  Entrances and exits are never simple when performing outdoors. How does the audience know when the show is over? And, in a cemetery, where do we perform such that we are respectful of the people who are buried here. How do we perform plays about nature, in nature, in ways that don’t harm the environment we’re talking about?

Having to answer all these questions, as we explore people and ideas in the text, is part of the challenge and fun of doing site-specific work. The other thing I truly love about this kind of theatre is that the barrier between the performers and audience is much more fluid and informal than in work created in a traditional spaces. The enormity and concreteness of the natural world around the very small play we’re creating helps unite the audience and performers.

In June of next year, we will fully stage the Nature Plays on the grounds, in a production that we hope will engage and delight audiences in all kinds of interesting ways. In the meantime, my team and I will be researching, writing, and playing, as we explore ways to illuminate the important natural elements of Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Asa Gray Garden

July 5, 2018

And all rare blossoms from every clime

Grew in that garden in perfect prime.

            -Percy Bysshe Shelley

We encourage all to visit our newly renovated Asa Gray Garden. In collaboration with the award-winning Halvorson Design Partnership and R. P. Marzilli Landscape Contractor, this garden includes a diverse mix of 130 taxa of trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses, annuals and bulbs which will provide four-seasons of color, texture and interest. An enlarged central water feature and reflecting pool help create a sense of calm within this newly re-designed meditative landscape.

made him feel as if the fountain were an immortal spirit

that sung its song unceasingly

and without heeding the vicissitudes around it…

-Nathaniel Hawthorne

In lieu of specific plant discussion, we recall this garden’s namesake, the preeminent nineteenth century botanist, Asa Gray (1810-1888). The eldest of eight siblings of a farmer/tanner in Sauquoit, New York, he graduated from Fairfield Medical College in 1831. Lynn Barber in The Heyday of Natural History 1820-1870 states, “At the beginning of the nineteenth century, all laymen and most scientists believed that the earth and all the species on it had been created by God in six days towards the end of October in the year 4004 B.C.” Gray eschewed an incipient medical practice for a botanical life that led to decades of research and publishing. Later botanical renown positioned him to become the foremost American advocate of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), when in 1859, Origin of Species revealed the then heretical theory of evolution and the process of natural selection. (more…)

Asa Gray Garden

July 1, 2018

Since the 1850s, Mount Auburn’s most significant ornamental garden has evolved to reflect changing horticultural trends and landscape design styles. Today, visitors will find a garden that is equally welcoming, comforting, and inspiring, a reflection of Mount Auburn’s best qualities.