Founded in 1848, Forest Hills predates the Emerald Necklace and for most of the 19th century was used by Boston residents as public park. For the Victorians, it was a fashionable destination for weekend walks and picnics, offering city dwellers a green sanctuary to reconnect with nature. The grounds are laid out in a picturesque style with curving roads, terraced overlooks, and ornamental features such as Lake Hibiscus.

Alexander Dearborn and the other civic leaders who developed the notion of the rural garden cemetery believed that the beautiful and harmonious environment created by skilled design and horticulture could have a consoling effect on mourners, helping them to heal from loss. Thus the park-like aspects of Forest Hills were conceived of as essential to its success as a place for burial and remembrance.

Dearborn's design of Forest Hills was inspired by the great country estates of England and his own experience with horticulture. His interest in landscape design, experimental gardening, exotic and domestic trees and plants had earlier led him to become the first president of the Massachusetts Horticulture Society and to help found and design Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. At Forest Hills he worked with Daniel Brims, the first superintendent, to shape farmland and rocky hills into a rugged but elegant landscape. They planted thousands of diverse species of trees from around the world, as well as a variety of native species, some grown on Dearborn's own estate.

Among the fine specimen trees you will find at Forest Hills are:

  • Japanese Maples
  • Japanese Umbrella Pines,
  • Hemlocks
  • Weeping Hemlocks
  • European Beeches, including a Weeping Beech that is over 120 years old
  • Mature Oaks
  • Ginkos
  • Sugar Maples
  • Horse Chestnuts
  • Tulip Trees
  • Several varieties of Dogwoods

The Cemetery's horticulture staff recreated an ornamental Victorian garden in front of the Gothic Revival Receiving Tomb, a beautiful granite structure designed by architect Carl Fehmer. Many of the plants winter in the Cemetery's greenhouses. Others are annuals that are propagated from cuttings taken at the end of the summer, a practice which has been maintained for over three decades.