Get Your Hands Dirty (And Make Boston Cleaner and Greener)

Ways you can volunteer to help maintain and expand Boston’s green space

by Michael Beckett
March 4, 2022

Cover Photo Courtesy Esplanade Association

Many gardeners will tell you that working with plants is good for the soul. But in a place as dense as Boston, how do you get in on this healing experience? 

Luckily, Boston has a lot of green space compared to other American cities – from the grassy banks of the Charles to the lush gardens of the Greenway. But keeping these cherished (and heavily used) spaces vibrant and inviting takes work. 

Photo courtesy Greenway Conservancy

And these days, every city can use more trees. On a small scale, they provide health and wellness benefits to people in neighborhoods with little tree cover. And trees remove carbon from the atmosphere; they’re steadfast soldiers in the battle against climate change. 

So donning some gloves and weeding gardens by the North End, scooping trash along the Charles, or watering trees on a barren sidewalk is a win-win-win … for you, your neighbors, and the environment. 

Check out these organizations where you can roll up your sleeves and keep Boston green. (And volunteering is a great way to meet people, too!) 

Keeping It Colorful on the Greenway

Photos courtesy Greenway Conservancy

Not only is the Rose Kennedy Greenway one of Boston’s gems, it’s a prime example of the “greening” of an urban core. The linear park replaced the rusting steel and gridlocked traffic of a highway with a public park full of native plants – and activities for folks of all ages. 

The Greenway follows organic and sustainable practices, and welcomes volunteers to help with horticultural tasks. Various days and shifts are available. Ready to plant petunias by the carousel or trim bamboo by the Chinatown gate? Join the Greenway team for fun, inspiration and maybe a little dirt under your nails.

For more info, visit the Greenway Conservancy’s volunteer page. 

Get Your Green On (with a Side of Blue)

While a 1960s song proclaims Bostonians’ affection for that “dirty water,” the Charles River is much cleaner these days. And the riverside Esplanade is the city’s front porch. This 64-acre stretch of flowering trees, gardens, trails, lagoons, and more has delighted visitors for over a century. 

The Esplanade Association is dedicated to keeping the park beautiful, healthy and enjoyable – both now and for years to come. Hundreds of volunteers care for this popular natural resource while making friends and building community. 

Help the Esplanade team maintain flower beds, clean up the shoreline, remove invasive species. And more. All while taking in that sparkling blue water! Volunteer season begins March 22, 2022.

For details, visit the Esplanade Association’s volunteer page.  

Can’t Commit to a Cat? Adopt a Tree!

Photo courtesy Speak for the Trees

Boston ranks high among American cities for green space, yet some areas have few if any trees. This affects a neighborhood’s quality of life on many levels. Trees keep you cooler in summer. They host songbirds. They clean the air. They look pretty – and just make you feel happier. 

The nonprofit Speak for the Trees plants trees throughout Boston – nearly 450 so far! Life is tough for a young tree on a city sidewalk. It needs three years of loving care to set strong roots – literally – so it can thrive. 

Photo courtesy Speak for the Trees

The organization lets you “adopt” a newly planted tree – giving it plenty of water and mulch and removing weeds and trash. (You can talk to your tree, too. They tend to be good listeners… and they like it!) Over time, your leafy “child” will grow to become a beloved fixture in the neighborhood.  

Ready to expand your family and adopt a tree? Visit Speak for the Trees. 

This Necklace Is One Long Jewel

Boston’s Emerald Necklace is an 1,100-acre chain of parks running from downtown to Dorchester. Many portions of the park were designed by esteemed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, including the Back Bay Fens, the Riverway, Jamaica Pond, and Franklin Park.

This extended urban oasis boasts riverside paths, stone bridges, community gardens, ponds, and more. That’s a lot of space to maintain! 

The Emerald Necklace Conservancy has many opportunities for volunteers, including regular volunteering on Saturdays from spring through the fall. On Tuesdays, you can show some love to the rose gardens. Group sessions can also be arranged for your organization.

Want to keep the sparkle in this green jewel? Check out the Emerald Necklace Conservancy website. 

Michael Beckett is an award-winning writer with experience in a variety of genres. Topical interests include lifestyle, wellness, travel, food, personal development, and social impact.

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