Polly Wakefield: A Brief Story Of Her Life

Mary May (Polly) Binney Wakefield
(January 25, 1914 - October 25, 2004)

A Brief Story of Her Life
Mary May (Polly) Binney Wakefield
Polly Wakefield was born on January 25, 1914 in Boston, the daughter of Henry Prentice and Alberta Sturtevant Binney and sister of Henry P. Binney Jr. (known as Hal). She attended Beaver Country Day School and the Winsor School, followed by three years at the Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture for Women in Groton which was associated with the M. I. T. Architectural School in Boston.

In an autobiographical piece written many years later, she noted that: "since that time (at Lowthorpe), I have never been able to fit into a small space. Drafting equipment, photography, reference books, collections of plants and my gardens cannot be condensed, but they provide a never-ending source of interest and delight, and there is always more to be done than is humanly possible! That training teaches one not to accept things without further thought as to how they might be improved."

Polly inherited the estate from her parents before marrying George Kennard Wakefield in 1952.  Polly and Kennard lived in the farmhouse until the death of Polly’s mother Alberta in 1963, at which time they moved in to the Isaac Davenport Mansion, the main building on the property.

In a short, hand-written essay written in her later years and simply titled “Platform,” Polly articulated her vision and purpose for the Wakefield Estate:

“Let us organize to re-establish the contact between the land and the people.”

Polly became very active in garden clubs and volunteer organizations. The list includes the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, the New England Wild Flower Society, the New England Spring Flower Show, and Garden Week in Massachusetts. She was a Trustee of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and Chairman of the Garden Awards Committee and the Library Committee. Her own camellias were “best of show” winners  and continue to be after her death. And for many years she served as an accredited Garden Club of America Judge.

One of her passions was the Public Garden in Boston. A founding member of the Friends of the Public Garden in 1971, she became long–time Chairman of its Horticultural Planning Committee.

As a WGBH producer said after her crew included Wakefield’s famous dogwoods in a Victory Garden segment, “Without Polly, one of Boston’s most beautiful landmarks never would have been restored to its original glory. Polly was not only a tremendous gardener with a substantial plant collection and a keen sense of design,” continuing, “she was influential—and successful—in rally­ing support for a revival of her beloved Boston Public Garden.”

Her knowledge and skills led her into public life and the world of legislation. She downplayed this activism, claiming that it was "not inspiring," and stating that “every citizen should actively participate in if democracy is to function successfully."

Mary May (Polly) Binney Wakefield
She pushed bills through the Massachusetts Legislature to protect non–game wildlife and set aside a variety of ecological areas, so they would be protected as habitat for endangered wild plants and wildlife in their natural state.

A member of the Massachusetts Governing Board of Nature Conservancy and of the Highway Corridor Land Use Committee of Massachusetts Department of Public Works, she was also, for years, the Chairman of the Blue Star Memorial Highway for Massachusetts and New England.

One of the strong themes in Polly’s life was her avid interest in science and nature, both observing and studying it. Polly continually augmented her knowledge, accumulating a broad understanding of arboriculture and propagation methods, ultimately leading to her development, selection and naming for eight patented dogwood cultivars. She strived to create a formal garden that defied formality and convention, tested nature’s limits and embraced whimsy and a bit of the wild. An innovator when it came to sustainable gardening methods, she deliberately “crowded” her plants, remarking that “nature prefers it this way,” adding that “it eliminates much weeding … while giving it a more natural appearance and retaining a more even degree of natural moisture.”

 Mary M.B. (Polly) Wakefield
Polly was recognized by many organizations and awarded for her life-long commitment to the environment. Among them were the:

  • Gold Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society Medal of Merit
  • Garden Club of America
  • Massachusetts Conservation Council Environmental Award
  • Presidential Citation from the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts for recognition of distinguished service
  • Massachusetts Tree Wardens and Foresters Association, George E. Stone Award for excellence in the field of arbor-culture dedication service in association with the Boston Public Garden in the restoration of it as a botanical show place
  • Garden Club of America's Amy Angell Collier Montague Medal for civic achievement, for improving horticultural assets of New England Roads and Parks
  • Massachusetts Conservation Council Environmental Award
  • Achievement Award from the United Inventors and Scientists of America in recognition of special contribution of science and inventions

Photograph from the Wakefield EstatePhotograph from the Wakefield Estate

Polly wished that her land, trees and gardens be for the enjoyment of all -- and it is Polly’s memory and legacy that has inspired the Wakefield Charitable Trust to carry out her wishes.

Polly Wakefield

Copyright © 2014 Mary M.B. Wakefield Charitable Trust. All Rights Reserved.
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