Demolition begins at Prouty Garden

By Jeremy Fox

The demolition of a beloved garden at Boston Children’s Hospital has begun, frustrating many who fought for years to preserve the space.

A hospital spokesman said Sunday that Children’s has closed Prouty Garden and begun removing trees and plants to prepare the site for construction of a new clinical building.

Opponents of the demolition lamented the apparent removal one of the half-acre interior courtyard’s most distinctive features, an imposing 65-foot tree.

“It looks like they’ve completely taken down the dawn redwood tree, which for me is a symbol of the heart and soul of the hospital and what the hospital has been giving to the patients and families and staff,” said Anne Gamble, who started an online petition to save the space. “For me, it is personally devastating.”

Rob Graham, the hospital spokesman, said in a statement that the hospital’s planned expansion will improve care and the patient experience while honoring the garden.

“We have preserved statues, plants and other materials from Prouty Garden to use in the new gardens created as part of new clinical building and the renovated Longwood campus,” Graham said. “Among the new gardens includes the Anne and Olivia Prouty’s Wishingstone Garden, a 1/4 acre ground level outdoor garden.“

The garden was donated in 1956 by Worcester-born novelist and poet Olive Higgins Prouty, who lived most of her adult life in Brookline. Prouty hired the Olmsted Brothers design firm to create the courtyard in memory of her daughters Anne and Olivia, who died in childhood.

The garden is being demolished to create space for the 11-story clinical building, part of a planned $1 billion expansion of Children’s. Opponents, who brought a lawsuit in an attempt to block the teardown, have said the garden is a cherished space of recovery for the hospital’s patients.

“The significance of the healing power of the garden has been an integral part of the core values of the medical profession, as I’ve perceived it, at Children’s for decades,” said Gus Murby, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The opponents sought an emergency injunction to halt demolition, but last month a Suffolk Superior Court judge denied their request.

Murby said he visited the hospital Thursday to donate blood and saw that signs for the garden had been removed. First-floor windows facing the courtyard were blocked.

“I don’t think they wanted anyone to see what they were doing behind the screens, to be honest with you,” he said.

Though the work has begun, Murby said the lawsuit will continue in hopes that it can be halted and the garden at least partially restored.

“It’s too late for the dawn redwood,” he said. “It’s not too late for the garden.”

Dr. Wendy Wornham, a pediatrician affiliated with Children’s, said the garden was a “unique space” and its razing was a great loss “for the community of health care providers and the families that come to the hospital for healing.”

“It was unique because it allowed a space for sick children, their families, and health care providers to step away from suffering and the incessant beeping of machines and pagers … and attempt to put this all into some sort of perspective,” Wornham said.

Mason W. Smith, a grandson of Prouty, said he was sad to see the garden go but accepted that nothing is permanent.

“I was asked if my grandmother said that the garden could never be changed, and my reply to that was that she might hope it wouldn’t change, but she also knew that stuff changed,” Smith said.

Smith said he was heartened to see that designs for the hospital expansion include several new green spaces.

“I guess my feeling is life moves on, and we have to deal with it, and lets keep as many of the attributes as we can as we move forward,” he said. “And I think that would be consistent with the grandmother I knew.”