Commandant’s House Garden Redesign at Boston National Historical Park

This video is the second in a series of cultural landscape videos produced by the National Park Service (NPS) Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation (OCLP).  The video is made possible by financial support from the NPS National Center for Preservation Technology and Training and through the efforts of digital media production intern Vanessa Hartsuiker, whose internship with the Olmsted Center was supported in partnership with the National Council for Preservation Education.

To view more videos in the series click here.


Michelle Pizzillo: Branching Out is a youth employment and education program that’s offered for youth between the ages of 15 to 24 years old and they’re engaged in landscape stewardship exploration.

View of the Commadant's House partially blocked by overgrown shrubs

View of overgrown garden at the Commandant’s House prior to redesign.

Ruth Raphael: To connect with young people and teach them landscape skills that might help them to get jobs or to find new career paths and to learn about things they might not know. The project here was at the historic Commandant’s House, here in the Navy Yard and we had a garden that was overgrown that really needed some attention, we have a lot of staff who are just very busy and we thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to involve some young people with the garden and to look at a way that we could redesign it and accomplish our goals, but working with giving an opportunity to the Branching Out and Designing the Parks interns.

Melissa Eloshway: The first step of designing a new front walk for the Commandant’s House started with looking at the Cultural Landscape Report for the Charlestown Navy Yard, specifically photographs of the Commandant’s House and just any historical images that I could see of the front garden and there were a lot, which was really helpful and so I just compiled all those images and looked at the evolution of the landscape and then also took into consideration the evolution of the use of the landscape, as well as what the park was looking to do.

Two participants looking at photos of different plant materials that might be used in the new garden

Branching Out participants researching plant material for new garden design

Michelle Pizzillo: Having the Branching Out participants research the scientific name, the cultivar, the different variations of the plants that we were choosing to put into this garden, they were assessing what would be a good fit in terms of sustainability and growth factors, how tall the plants would be growing in the new garden, how they would be maintained.

Jonah Estabrook : So something that I really enjoyed doing was taking my ruler, going across the plan, measuring the scale, the inches, and then putting it, translating it into feet and seeing how long a gap between two plants would have to be or how far it would have to be from the beginning of the bed to here and I really really enjoy doing the planning and then the gardening.

Innocent Wozufia: To prepare the site for planting there are some crews who came here and took off all the plants. It was definitely one of the hardest phases of this project. That process included removing plants manually, as well as de-limbing the shrubs and using a Bobcat in order to remove root balls from the existing shrubs.

Three people using a shovel and wheelbarrel to remove plant material from the garden

Removing overgrown plant material in the garden

Emani Gonzalez One of the things that I did, was I planted a couple plants here and there but one of the big things that I did that was really important was I had to stand on one side of the garden bed to align with another one of my coworkers to make sure that we were planting in straight lines and that we were planting exactly two or three feet away depending on what plant it was from one another because I learned that it’s actually very important that they are spaced out properly, otherwise they’re not going to grow properly.

Branching Out participants using a tape measure to correctly space new plant material

Aligning plant spacing in the new garden

Ruth Raphael: So the effect of the redesign is that we have a lovely new garden that we have rehabilitated the front lawn of the Commandant’s House, we have really made a difference in what people see, what our visitors see and made a space that really is an enjoyable space for people to be.

Innocent Wozufia: I think the most rewarding part of the project was seeing the final product, because at times over the course of this project it wasn’t really obvious, given that it took a lot of hard work, so seeing the final product was definitely a highlight.

View of the Commandant's House garden, with low-growing, colorful vegetation flanking the walkway up to the house.

Redesigned Commandant’s House garden

Ruth Raphael: It takes a village it takes a whole group of people and I think that it was a much richer project by the fact that it was involving many different people.


Michelle Pizzillo is the Branching Out Coordinator at the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation.
Ruth Raphael is an Historical Landscape Architect with the National Parks of Boston.
Melissa Eloshway is a Designing the Parks Intern with the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation.
Jonah Estabrook is a second year Branching Out Field Team Member with the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation.
Innocent Wozufia is a Branching Out Field Team Leader with the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation.
Emani Gonzalez is a first year Branching Out Field Team Member with the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation.

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