Though the branches may be bare and the grass brown, wintertime vistas have a beauty of their own which should be cherished.
Though the branches may be bare and the grass brown, wintertime vistas have a beauty of their own which should be cherished.

There is an old landscape theory. Open space is only as big as you can see. Through the woods – lovely dark and deep. Through the fields. Or through the garden. It applies to parks and streets as well. Think the Champs-Elysees in Paris or Olmsted’s’ Emerald Necklace.

In Belmont, think of the town conservation land on Mill Street. Its vista was recently opened by clearing the overgrown brush and scrub forest that blocked the view of the land. It now looks much as it did when it was first acquired over 40 years ago. An open field, and a view to woods at the end. It’s a welcome wide vista not only for those few who walk its trails, but for the many, many people who drive by and are also able to enjoy it.  

Its vegetable allotment gardens are wonderful to look at, a real treat, even with the 7′ tall fencing to keep out the deer. In Europe people build summer retreats in their gardens with chairs and tables, even little houses, as well as grow their vegetables and flowers.

Another beautiful vista, now preserved forever, is Lone Tree Hill, a portion of the McLean land, which was saved as open space. It has a nice parking lot off Mill Street built with a donation from the Cosman Fund.

Recently some of its stone wall was rebuilt, and its invasive bamboo weed removed. (We’ll see how much of it comes back this summer. One of its old common names was "dead man underground" because the roots are so deep and so persistent.)

The Lone Tree vista has been kept open for more than a century by having its fields regularly mowed once or twice a year (after the cows left). Mother Nature does not care for vistas. She blocks them with brambles and puckerbush and messy early forests. Audubon’s Highland Meadow used to have a beautiful long vista ending in a climax oak forest, however brambles and random evergreens are beginning to overtake the grassland. The Conservation Commission neglected mowing its land for some years, and so had to do an expensive clearing to restore its view.

Lone Tree Hill is a very special place. Olmsted helped with the original design for the McLean and some of his land use ideas still remain. However, when he moved to McLean in his old age, he complained that they did not follow his advice, properly.

He believed in using the existing land forms to create fields and meadows with vistas, and wooded areas at the end. His roads follow the land’s contours. But there were also straight avenues for horses or carriages. The outline of one can still be seen in the old trees in the Pine Allee.

Belmont is over 20% open space. Check out Clay Pit pond through the now leafless scrub that usually blocks a view of its water. And be sure to look up above Pleasant Street, through McLean’s oak forest, lovely, dark and deep. Long vistas are a winter treat. Enjoy their seasonal beauty.

Ruth S. Foster is a landscape consultant and arborist. More gardening
information can be found on her website