Olmsted Elm Update
On April 26, 2013, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (Olmsted NHS) welcomed a new elm into the Fairsted landscape.
What was the Olmsted Elm?
From the early 19th century until 2011, a graceful, vase-shaped elm (the “Olmsted Elm”) stood on this Brookline landscape. After the Olmsted family purchased the property in 1883, the tree became an essential component of the design of the South Lawn by Frederick Law Olmsted and John Charles Olmsted. It remained a beloved element in the landscape after the National Park Service (NPS) acquired the property from the Olmsted firm in 1980.
What happened to the Olmsted Elm?
In the 1990’s and 2000’s, the tree showed signs of decline from old age, was twice infected and treated for Dutch Elm Disease, and suffered from the fungal disease Armillaria. When major structural cracks appeared, the tree was judged a threat to visitors and the adjacent historic structure. The NPS removed the tree on March 30, 2011.
How was a new elm selected?
For more than a decade before the tree’s removal, Olmsted NHS, with guidance from the NPS's Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, collaborated with the Arnold Arboretum to propagate cuttings of the historic Olmsted Elm. The hope was that one would remain healthy, have the desired shape, and reach the appropriate size to be transplanted as a replacement elm on our South Lawn landscape. It was understood from the outset that the odds of success for this process were, at best, "50-50," and probably less. During the summer of 2012, Olmsted NHS learned that recent efforts to propagate a clone of our historic Olmsted Elm had failed.
NPS turned its attention to selecting one of several new disease-tolerant American elm cultivars to be the successor tree. After extensive research and consultation with experts, the NPS determined that the Jefferson Elm cultivar was the best option currently available. Maturing with the classic vase-shape similar to that of the historic Olmsted Elm, the Jefferson Elm derives from a particular elm tree planted on the National Mall in Washington D.C. in the 1930’s. It was subsequently observed that this one elm developed leaves earlier in the spring and held its leaves later in the fall than the others on the mall. Studies also showed that this particular tree had some resistance to Dutch Elm Disease, and the NPS and U.S. Department of Agriculture named this tree and its progeny “Jefferson.”
How is the new elm related to the Olmsteds?
The National Mall, also maintained by the NPS, has very close associationswith Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Olmsted Jr. served as the landscape architect on the 1901 McMillan Commission, which produced a plan the following year that, among other things, returned the Mall to the fundamental principles of its original 18th century design by Pierre L’Enfant. The McMillan design concept for the National Mall was implemented, and endured throughout the 20th century and into our own times.
It is also noteworthy that Olmsted Jr., during his lengthy career, assisted the NPS in a number of capacities, including drafting the key language defining the purpose of the National Park Service as expressed in its founding legislation: “. . . to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” National Park Service Organic Act of 1916. The contribution of these few words has guided the National Park Service throughout its history and continues to do so today. This language has also served as a beacon to the larger conservation movement in America.
Check back this winter for a full page dedicated to the Olmsteds and their elms. We will keep you updated as to the growth of our new elm, provide photos and video, and offer opportunities to learn more.
Stearns' 2011 Freeman Tilden Award honors Good Neighbors, Collaboration, and Innovation
We are pleased to announce that Education Specialist Liza Stearns has received the prestigious 2011 National Freeman Tilden Award for outstanding contributions by an NPS employee to educating the public. Read more(pdf link) about the award and the Good Neighbors education program, which NPS Director John Jarvis called "a great example of place-based learning opportunities available in national parks." Watch a documentary video that follows third grade students as they participate in the Good Neighbors program.
Good Neighbors Earns the Award of Excellence from the Boston Society of Landscape Architects
On Thursday, April 28, 2011, staff from Brookline's Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site and partners were recognized by the Boston Society of Landscape Architects (BSLA) for their innovative new Education program, Good Neighbors: Landscape Design and Community Building. One of 23 winning projects selected through juried review, Good Neighbors received the prestigious Award of Excellence reserved for a single entry representing an outstanding contribution to the profession of landscape architecture.
Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site has been buzzing with an array of activities related to the major preservation construction project at the park, as well as the usual operations of the site.
Check back for upcoming features on the site's official reopening, upcoming programs for the public, as well as ongoing effort to grow a replacement for the Olmsted Elm.
Did You Know?
Frank Lloyd Wright Jr., who followed his father into the field of architecture, apprenticed at the Olmsted firm and specialized in horticulture and botany.