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Archive for Monday, July 18, 1994

T MISS ITS WONDER.

July 18, 1994

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At any hour of the day there is just one thing pleasurable about driving on 23rd Street in Lawrence, which for the most part is like any golden-arched strip in any American city.

At the intersection with Massachusetts Street, those drivers whose eyes wander obliquely to the north may catch a flash of blue or pink or a waving auburn shimmer broken by a broad swath of green.

The city-owned and maintained gardens on the northeast and northwest corners of the Massachusetts Street intersection break up the asphalt and steel jumble of traffic.

The plantings are meant for quick glances from passing automobiles, with repeating sweeps of ornamental grasses like the wheat-like feather reed, the wispy maiden grass and dwarf fountain grass that contrast in color and texture with yellow sheets of black-eyed Susans and purple-lavender lythrum.

"It's a large space viewed from a long way off so you have to have groups of plantings that are the same," says George Osborne, the superintendent of the parks and forestry division of the city's parks and recreation department.

Osborne has held the job since 1970 and headed the planting of the northeast corner and island created in 1981 when a right turn lane was added to 23rd Street. The northwest corner was planted three years ago, also to add a turning lane.

Get him going and Osborne will talk about the many species and varieties of trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers that inhabit the gardens. But he's uncomfortable talking about the obvious thought and consideration that has gone into planning what goes where.

"The place almost speaks for itself," he says humbly.

Osborne says this year's garden is particularly fine, in part because of favorable weather conditions, but also because several Siberian elm trees were removed in the spring, allowing more sunlight to shine down on the flowers.

The city plantings at 23rd and Mass. are framed, like stylized paintings, by the woody branches of various pines, viburnum, yellow-twig dogwood, golden ninebark and other trees.

About 80 percent of the flowering plants are perennials.

Planting of annuals -- flowers that bloom for just one season -- and general maintenance of the plots involves city forestry, landscaping and grounds maintenance crews.

"It kind of represents all of us down here," Osborne says. "It's like frosting on the cake. There's a lot of the cake you don't see."

Spring is the busiest time of the year, but the planting isn't over yet. Later this summer workers will add mums, and in November and early December they will plant bulbs that will bloom next year.

As if to remind the gardeners of the service they are providing to this increasingly suburban and road-weary community, every now and then they find that flowers have been stolen from the city's various parks and gardens, including those at 23rd and Mass. To Osborne's knowledge nobody has ever been caught wrecking the efforts of the city's green-thumbed workers.

"Any time there's something vandalized there's always a general outpouring of rage and frustration," he says. "People here get very emotional about it."

The sculpted lawns bordered by low, creeping junipers are mowed 26 to 28 times a year, perhaps twice a week in late spring and early summer, about once every eight days in mid-July.

"A landscape or garden like that is always in a state of flux, a state of change" Osborne says. Those changes may be due to varying weather conditions, nearby construction projects, plus the growth that changes the garden day by day, week by week, month by month, season by season, and year by year.

"It never looks the same twice," Osborne says. "If you like the garden this year take pictures because it will look different next year."

Simply to look, though, is to appreciate it as it was intended -- a passing vision of life at the edge our commuting consciousness.

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