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A lush and well-organized interior courtyard with lots of plants and grass.

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5 Boston parks for home and garden design inspiration, explained

Unsheathe your creativity with visits to the Public Garden, Franklin Park, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and elsewhere


Winter’s on the ropes in the Boston area—or at least it seems that way, what with the unseasonably warm weather and a February practically devoid of snow. It’s time to start thinking about some springtime sprucing-up for your home and/or garden.

You can steal some inexpensive inspiration from this quintet of Boston greenswards, which offer domestic design concepts, plus ideas for plants and even statuary and waterworks.

Public Garden

A tall statue of a many on horseback amid a lush public park. Shutterstock

Best for: Traditionalists and lovers of classical architecture

This 24-acre expanse in downtown Boston—right next to the larger Boston Common—is a no-brainer in terms of inspiration. The oldest public botanical garden in the United States, the Public Garden positively crackles with color, especially in the early spring.

Visitors can find nearly 60 species of flowers in the carefully cultivated garden, including lantana, hibiscus, and zinnias as well as ornamental grasses. and dozens more species of plants. Get in there and get an idea of what colors might work back at the homestead.

Bonus: The Public Garden’s plants and flowers come from local, city-run greenhouses, so they may be the sorts of species available commercially at florists and other stores. Not only can you get design inspiration, then, you can also draw ideas for actual in-house and backyard plants and displays that would work in southern New England.

Arnold Arboretum

Small ornamental plants in pots amid statuary. Shutterstock

Best for: The undecided

Harvard University owns and operates the 281-acre publicly accessible veldt in Jamaica Plain, and uses it for research and other educational purposes (you’ll find lectures and other programs throughout the year).

The arboretum cultivates around 15,000 plants representing approximately 4,000 types of trees, shrubs, and vines. Highlights of the collection include its rhododendrons, cherries, quinces, and roses. What’s more, there’s a vibrant crabapple selection (speaking of southern New England) near where Bussey and South streets meet.

And, while to the more casual eye, the arboretum looks very natural and somewhat jumbled, that’s part of the point of such a natural habitat. Step back, though, and you start to see the patterns and therefore what blends well with what.

Isabella Stewart Gardner

A lush and well-organized interior courtyard with lots of plants and grass. Shutterstock

Best for: Art deco acolytes, beaux arts fans, and modernists all one

Visiting the small gardens and the famous courtyard of this Fenway museum will cost you the price of admission—but it’s worth it. These are some of the most stylish botanical arrangements available for public consumption in the Boston region.

The interior courtyard is a must-see in particular. It blooms year-round with a rotation of flowers and foliage, including orchids, chrysanthemums, nasturtiums, bellflowers, and hydrangeas. Outside you’ll find a garden that Japanese horticulture inspired and another that encourages quiet reflection (nicknamed, appropriately enough, the Monk’s Garden).

And, while you might not have the quasi-palazzo-like setting of the Gardner to work with in your own home, you can divine a sense of arrangement on a smaller scale. Bonus: The museum is on the edge of the Back Bay Fens, a large park with its own charming greenery.

Franklin Park

A lush park with a puddingstone bridge tucked amid the foliage. Shutterstock

Best for: Those going for a more natural flair

The City of Boston’s largest park—it’s 485 acres—Franklin Park is for those seeking a little bit of a messier landscape. It’s not as curated as the others on this list; but among its key attractions are various structures (in various states of maintenance or decay) made from Roxbury puddingstone. These might give you some ideas for statuary or stone.

There are also ponds and a marsh for anyone living at the water’s edge.

Then there’s Zoo New England (a.k.a. the Franklin Park Zoo), which encompasses 72 acres within the park. That costs the price of admission, but make a point to see the zoo’s Butterfly Hollow when it’s open during the warmer months. It’s a colorful display of flowering plants comfortable with the region.

Rose Kennedy Greenway

A tightly organized public park, with pavement in the foreground and then lawn in the middle. Shutterstock

Best for: Modernists (again) and Kondo disciples (a.k.a. the super-organized)

The 17-acre linear park stretching one and a half miles through downtown Boston is neatly, almost severely, arranged—like a sleek, contemporary condo with all the modern conveniences.

Within the rigid geometry, you’ll find a kaleidoscope of flower and plant life, including ornamental onions, hyacinths, crocuses, and lilies. Again, though, it’s the shapes and the careful arrangements—including of the common areas and the seating—that should offer inspiration.

Plus, the greenway is famous for its fountains, if you’re considering a water feature on a smaller scale. And there are plenty of hidden gems throughout for just general enjoyment.