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Gibson Gives Back: Leslie Singleton Adam and The Friends of the Public Garden Preserve Boston's Green Spaces

Friends of the Public Garden


Leslie Singleton Adam has long been an admirer of the stunning parks that decorate the Back Bay. Leslie recalls taking rides on the iconic Swan Boats each spring with her mother and grandmother, a memory which left a lasting impression. For more than a century, the Public Garden, Boston Common, and the Commonwealth Mall have been an integral part of life in Boston.  Leslie is committed to the preservation of these special parks, and serves as the Board Chair of the Friends of the Public Garden, where she advocates for their care, maintenance, and longevity. Though the parks had once fallen into disrepair, today they are flourishing, providing spaces for public gatherings, play, and enjoyment for all who visit. Read on to discover how Leslie turned her passion for the parks into a philanthropic mission, and how the Friends of the Public Garden are preserving these green spaces for years to come.

Tell us a bit about your work with the Friends of the Public Garden! What initially inspired you to get involved with this organization? How long have you been involved?

I am currently the Chair of the Board of The Friends of the Public Garden having been elected chair in June of 2017.  The Friends was first established in 1970, and I am only the third Chair in its history. I started as an ex-officio board member, while I was President of the Beacon Hill Garden Club in 2015.     

As one of the oldest park advocacy groups in the nation, The Friends are essential partners with the City of Boston in their mission to renew, care, and advocate for the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall. These parks have been an integral part of Boston’s identity for generations, in many ways the souls of the city, sites of countless events, public gatherings and private moments, and are called upon to serve the recreational and restorative needs of millions of people.

I was amazed at the depth of the care of The Friends in these three parks, something I and so many others just assumed that the city took care of.   Once I saw firsthand how crucial this work was to these spaces, I felt compelled to accept the offer to become Board Chair.  I grew up in Boston in the 1970s and 1980s, and have strong memories of the horrible condition of the Boston Common in those years. I felt inspired by The Friends and founder Henry Lee, and their enormous contribution in saving what was almost beyond saving.

Can you share any fun memories from your work with the Friends of the Public Garden over the years? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

One of my favorite memories of the Public Garden was annual swan boat rides with my mother and grandmother over the years.    When I married, my mother gave me two antique handkerchiefs: one with my new initial embroidered in blue, and the other of the Boston Public Garden Swan boats. This was an early sign I needed to be committed to the preservation of these parks for generations to come.  

The first challenge I faced was the battle over the shadows cast by the Winthrop Square development.  While we lost the battle in the end, we learned a tremendous amount. We learned to use phrasing that emphasizes the preservation of sunshine, rather than the prevention of shadows. Most importantly, we received a commitment from the City to invest funds into the parks, focus on zoning, and formalize an agreement between ourselves and the city on almost $2 million annual investment.

Today, I enjoy the parks every day, especially seeing neighbors, students, visitors and daily commuters using these spaces. Whether they are picnicking, protesting, passing through, riding the swan boats, giving tours, or volunteering in the Rose or Border beds, it’s rewarding to see our hard work come to fruition and bring joy to others.  

Do you have any recommendations for those considering taking a deeper dive into philanthropy?  

I love this work. I truly enjoy caring for the parks and engaging with park users. I spend a lot of time on this endeavor.  While this work might not be for everyone, there are so many opportunities to volunteer in your local communities.  Just start small, get to know an organization, and find opportunities that match your time and skill set.  Everyone benefits in volunteering:  the organization, the mission, the volunteers, and the community.   

To learn more about the Friends of the Public Garden and get involved, visit

Get in touch with Leslie Singleton Adam at 617-901-3664,, or by visiting our Beacon Hill office at 66 Beacon Street, Second Floor.

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