On Saturday afternoon, I took a short walk from Hammond Pond in Chestnut Hill to Houghton Garden, which sits on the other side of the MBTA trolley tracks from the Hammond Pond Reservation and Webster Conservation Area. On many occasions when J and I have taken the T into Boston, I’ve noticed people walking wooded paths near the D line, across the tracks from a marshy plot of conservation land. From my vantage point inside the speeding trolley car, I always wondered how those hikers got to where they were: where in suburban Newton are there wooded trails and wetlands right alongside the train tracks, and how do you get there from here? This weekend, I finally took the time to find out, parking my car near the Chestnut Hill Mall and walking through woods studded with outcroppings of Roxbury puddingstone to the park on the other side of the tracks.
Houghton Garden must be amazing in the spring because it’s brimming with rhododendron shrubs. Rhododendrons have evergreen leaves, so even now that most of the deciduous trees are bare, Houghton Garden is still a lush and leafy place, and it must be positively gorgeous when the rhododendrons are in full bloom. Houghton Garden was designed by landscape architect Warren Manning, a disciple of Frederick Law Olmsted who believed gardens should reflect the natural landscapes and native species of their location. Because Houghton Garden’s shrubs and other plantings follow the shape and contour of the surrounding terrain, I never realized from a passing trolley that the landscape I saw was a garden, not a patch of wild woods crisscrossed with trails. As a intentionally-designed “wild garden,” Houghton Garden blends into the larger landscape, looking like a natural outcropping of rhododendrons and other rock-loving plants rather than an artificially planted place.
Houghton Garden isn’t large, but it’s designed in such a way that you can meander the trails there without constantly realizing you’re in the middle of a residential neighborhood, with trolley tracks on one side and suburban backyards on the other. The trails at Houghton Garden skirt the banks of Houghton’s Pond, which is a narrow and meandering body of water fed by Woodman and Hammond Brooks: a human-engineered widening of two streams. The trails at Houghton Garden remind me of a maze, where sometimes you have to take a long, winding way to get from Point A to Point B. While I was exploring the trails at Houghton Garden, I encountered a couple and a family who were also enjoying the mild weather, and the park never felt crowded even though there was nothing but a thin veil of rhododendron leaves between them on their trail and me on mine.
At one point when I was circling back to the well-marked train-track crossing, a D-line train went rattling by, and I wondered whether anyone sitting inside the trolley car looking out was wondering where I was, exactly, and how they might get here from there.