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Boston's `Tree Lady' Keeps Back Bay Green

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FOR the past 25 years, Stella Trafford has planted, watered, and nurtured the trees of Boston's Commonwealth Avenue mall.

The Paris-style promenade, which runs through Boston's gracious Back Bay neighborhood, is one of this city's most picturesque features. The towering elms, ornamental iron fences, and statues of this eight-block-long city park stand here, in part, thanks to the efforts of Ms. Trafford.

This gracious woman volunteers 30 to 40 hours each week to raise funds and care for trees and greenery in Boston's parks, a task that the city says it lacks sufficient funds to do itself.

``She has raised a great deal of money from the community to help plant new trees and take care of old trees,'' says Richard Heath, director of Boston Greenspace Alliance. ``[And] she watches out for the care of the [Commonwealth Avenue] mall in a very personal way.''

For her efforts, she has been recognized by two Boston mayors. Recently, she received an award for her work from Historic Massachusetts, a private preservation group. And this summer she was named state winner of the ``Master Planter'' environmental contest sponsored by MasterCard International and American Forests, a nonprofit conservation group.

``I've been interested in gardening, green space, and outdoors all my life,'' Trafford says, seated in her outdoor Back Bay garden. She grew up in Mississippi but moved to Boston in the late 1960s. She and her husband, a Boston lawyer, first lived in New Hampshire. But when he tired of commuting, they moved to the city. As a lover of green spaces, she was drawn to the Commonwealth Avenue mall.

``That was the biggest green space in the area and I lived next to it. And also it needed help so desperately,'' she says.

During that time, the elm trees of the mall were succumbing to Dutch Elm disease. By the early 1970s, 200 of the old trees had been lost, some of them planted as far back as 1865. So Trafford and other city conservationists kept busy spraying, pruning, and fund-raising to save the elms and restore the troubled park.

To oversee the effort, she established the Commonwealth Avenue Mall Committee, a branch of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay and Friends of the Public Garden, a private conservation group.

Soon, new trees were planted - hardier species, like maple, sweet gum, and green ash.

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