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The Arnold Arboretum is one of Boston’s most magnificent public spaces. The 382-acre park and active botanical laboratory, located between Jamaica Plain and neighboring Roslindale, brings together the best of the world’s trees. There are more than 1.3 million specimens here!
The arboretum began in 1878 on land left by prominent Boston businessmen Benjamin Bussey and James Arnold, whose wills specified that it must contain every species of tree or shrub, indigenous or exotic, that could be grown in the climate. The land is owned by the City of Boston but leased to Harvard University for 1,000 years. The first director was Harvard botanist Charles Sprague Sargent.
The park is open to explorers on foot, bikers, and dog-walkers with a few rules (no picking plants, and no picnics.) The staff offers a variety of tours, classes, and special events. The most popular event, "Lilac Sunday", occurs each year in May when the lilacs are in bloom.
The half of the arboretum near the Arborway was designed by the legendary landscape architect Frederik Olmsted, who also designed New York's Central Park as well as Franklin Park and the park nearby Jamaica Pond, here in JP. It is part of the famous Emerald Necklace string of parks planned by Olmsted that begins at the Boston Common. Olmsted, an early conservationist, was known for public spaces that allowed urban residents to connect with nature, and this is considered one his finest works.
The arboretum is also part of the Southwest Corridor, a more recent series of nearly-continuous parks built above or alongside the tracks that carry the Orange Line, Commuter Rail, and AmTrak out of Boston, starting in the Back Bay. This means you can walk or bike to the arboretum from just about anywhere in JP passing almost exclusively through parks. Walking, biking, or taking the MBTA here (Forest Hills station) may be a good idea because parking is limited near the Arborway entrance.
The Roslindale side of the arboretum, known as Peter's Hill, is less landscaped and wilder. Though it doesn't have as much to see as the JP side, it's a good choice if you just want to feel like you are in the wilderness without leaving the city.
Cover photo by Edward Kilby via Flickr.