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The Arbor Terrace

The Garden Archives preserves a large number of planting plans, and the Arbor Terrace’s complex, shifting history can be told through the narrative of planting choices. The flora in this room are planted in beds and pots with an especially high level of intentionality. The degree of care exhibited by Beatrix Farrand in placing flowers is liken to a seasoned art collector arranging masterpieces in a room. Each piece is perfectly placed.

The land where the Arbor Terrace now sits used to be dramatically sloped. A drop in elevation of more than thirty feet made this area of the garden prone to landslides—a potential danger for garden-goers. Before any work on the Arbor Terrace could begin, Farrand had to design and construct retaining walls to provide stability for future design work. This work molded the land into a usable canvas on which Farrand’s beautiful designs could be realized.

With the Beatrix Farrand’s gradual retirement and a transfer of ownership over to Harvard, Ruth Havey (one of Farrand’s assistants) began leading the design plans for the Arbor Terrace in the 1940s. Her plans emphasize ease of upkeep, with herb beds seeded over with grass and then paved, and introduce several playful ornament ideas, including scrolls, musical motifs, and a sundial. Havey’s attention to practicality in stewardship furthered Farrand’s method of working with the land for the most harmonious outcome.

With the addition of several central planting beds in 2016, the gardeners have been able to plant more substantially than when they were limited by pots. Several blue and purple hued perennials have been planted, including hundreds of bulbs ranging from the pale bluish-yellow Katharine Hodgkin iris, to the bell-shaped Scilla siberica, to spherical allium variations. A birdbath adorns the very center, and four trees planted within the scrolls give the room a new sense of verticality making spatial dynamics a priority in design and allowing for an open experience of the space.


Exhibit Items