Eleanor Gould has joined the iconic Mount Auburn Cemetery as vice president of horticulture and landscape. She is the first woman to oversee the botanical richness of this National Historic Landmark celebrated for having initiated the American public parks and gardens movement almost 200 years ago. Mount Auburn was founded as the nation’s first rural cemetery and experimental garden by physician and botanist Jacob Bigelow and designed by the (then newly formed) Massachusetts Horticultural Society.
Gould represents the new generation of public garden leader who is an advocate and innovator. She brings a unique perspective to this storied burial ground and thriving cultural institution. She said, “I’m pleased to add gender diversity to the nation’s first garden cemetery, which is itself a great equalizer for gathering people of diverse backgrounds.”
Gould is former curator of gardens at Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, a UNESCO Heritage site, where she worked with a team of horticulture staff to expand the legacy of the gardens in all their complexity, depth, and scope. She plans to do the same at Mount Auburn, cultivating the urban oasis of more than 20,000 plants, representing 115 botanical families, and comprising more than 2,000 different taxa. While Virginia might seem far from Massachusetts, Gould was delighted to learn about a surprising historical tie between Monticello and Mount Auburn. She discovered from a former Monticello colleague that Jefferson’s granddaughter was buried there, Eleonora Randolph Coolidge. While on a tour of the cemetery, Mount Auburn visitor services assistant and former Longwood Fellow Jim Gorman, surprised Gould with a beautiful floral wreath, made by Mount Auburn Greenhouse staff, to lay on Eleonora’s grave.
Gould recently completed the prestigious Longwood Fellowship program at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, a unique leader-development program that emphasizes strategic planning and management. At Mount Auburn Cemetery, she will design and implement landscape improvements that will achieve long-term strategic objectives, such as increasing plant diversity and enhancing the sustainability and wildlife habitat value of the landscape (there are more than 500 species of trees and 130 species of wildlife), while preserving the historic character of this 175-acre urban refuge.
Gould plans to build upon the Cemetery’s age-old strategic initiative as a leader of ecologically sound landscape maintenance practices. For example, Mount Auburn is converting old family lots that were formerly covered in grasses, to perennial beds, with period-appropriate plantings that use less water and reduce mowing needs. The Cemetery doesn’t fertilize its grass, yet its stays healthy year-round due to the practice of mulching leaves in place in the fall, which returns nutrients to the ground and improves the soil pH. She will work with wildlife conservation & sustainability manager Paul Kwiatkowski, to enhance the Cemetery’s burgeoning citizen science program and ongoing collaborations with local scientists and professors to further biodiversity research and education studies. “Eleanor will bring strong leadership to an already phenomenal horticulture team of 17 full-time and 35 seasonal staff members. She comes to us at a perfect point in time, as we are reflecting on the vision and goals for the future of Mount Auburn as a place of beauty and solace for the bereaved and the larger community, as a garden and model of environmental stewardship, and as a leader in horticulture and historic preservation,” said David Barnett, president and CEO.
While Gould was studying landscape architecture at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, she began interning at Monticello, where she worked to ensure the gardens were relevant to Jefferson’s own plantings and time period. Starting as a seasonal gardener, she maintained the historic flower and vegetable gardens and led interpretive garden tours, eventually becoming curator of the botanical showpiece.
Now that the Charleston, WV native has moved to the Bay State, she is inspired not only by Mount Auburn’s internationally renowned horticultural collections and rich historical legacy, but also its community—whether mourners, tourists, citizen scientists, birdwatchers, artists, poets, or mushroom foragers. “I love that Mount Auburn Cemetery is a continually evolving landscape—and I’m very excited about habitat creation, biodiversity, and community outreach,” said Gould. When she’s not exploring the gently rolling grounds of this venerable Cemetery, she enjoys touring Boston by bike. “But I’m always drawn back to Mount Auburn’s stunningly beautiful and tranquil landscape,” she said. “Mount Auburn exemplifies the power of place, both in life and in death.”