Back Bay Fens

Established in 1879

As quickly as the Back Bay developed, another problem festered. A mill company's dam's basin became an increasingly noxious open sewer, particularly at low tide. Even then, pollution was a problem, and Bostonians demanded a solution.

Enter Frederick Law Olmsted. He proposed to flush out the stagnant waterway and add naturalistic plantings to emulate the original tide marsh ecology of the Fenway area. His plan was true to both the character of the land and the needs of the growing population.

Today we find in the Fens different charms from the ones Olmsted created. The 1910 damming of the Charles River changed the water here from brackish to fresh, rendering his plantings unsupportable. Only two of the original "strong but unobtrusive" bridges, the parks general boundaries and some early trees remain of Olmsted's design.

The Fens continues to be much loved and utilized. Community gardens; the elegant Kellecher Rose Garden; World War II, Korean and Vietnam War memorial; busy ball fields; and the unusual range of bird species are major attractions.

The design of the Fens today mostly reflects the work of landscape architect Arthur Shurtleff. He added the Rose Garden, turned the focus to the Museum of Fine Arts on the east side of the park, and gave us the more formal landscape style popular in the 1920s and 1930s. The Rose Garden's romantic setting attracts many weddings.

The Emerald Necklace Conservancy is a non-profit citizen's advocacy group whose mission is to protect, restore, maintain and promote the landscape, waterways and parkways of the Emerald Necklace park system as special places for people to visit and enjoy. The organization focuses on the six parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

The Fenway Victory Gardens represent the nation’s last remaining of the original victory gardens created nationwide during World War II. At that time, demands for food exports to the nation’s armed forces in Europe and the Pacific caused rationing and shortages for those back home in the States. In response, President Roosevelt called for Americans to grow more vegetables. The City of Boston established 49 areas (including the Boston Common and the Public Gardens!) as “victory gardens” for citizens to grow vegetables and herbs.

The gardens are named for Richard D. Parker, a member of the original garden organizing committee. Mr. Parker was instrumental both in the creation of the Fenway Garden Society, (FGS) and in the preservation of the gardens against various attempts to develop the Fens parkland for other purposes. Mr. Parker gardened until his death in 1975. Thanks to his efforts, the gardens are now an official Boston Historic Landmark.