BOSTON — Elizabeth Ellis first went to the Boston Public Garden out of frustration. She hadn't been able to sell her paintings and was seeking inspiration.
"I told myself, the Boston Public Garden is so beautiful that it's guaranteed success," she said.
Ellis painted a typical moment in the garden — its two resident swans, Romeo and Juliet, floating past fall foliage in the garden pond — and sold the painting.
The swans and the famous Swan Boats that tour the pond are the most popular attractions in the 24-acre Boston Public Garden. Located in the heart of downtown Boston, the garden is the archetype urban park. When its design was completed in 1859, it was the only botanical public garden in the country.
In warm weather, the garden's paved paths swell with joggers and walkers. Others stroll to clear their minds amid the flower beds. Mandarin trees from China stand opposite elms. And ducks are everywhere.
People always line up in droves to ride the Swan Boats, which have been operating for 130 years on what many call "swan pond" in the middle of the garden.
For 15 minutes, guides paddle boats decorated with swan facades in a figure 8 — under what was once the world's smallest suspension bridge, and around Romeo and Juliet's nest.
Phil Paget's family has been building and maintaining the boats for the past 12 decades. And although he didn't think he was going to follow past generations of Pagets into the swan boat business, he's been manning the docks since 1991.
"Working in the Public Garden … what better job could you think of?" he said from the dock.
Bounded by Arlington Street, Boylston Street on the south and Beacon Street on the north, the garden is located in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, so named because the area was once a marshy, tidal estuary bay.
Uriah Cotting, a developer, thought the tides could be used to power mills, and he wooed investors and reshaped the land.
But the tides were not as powerful as he had hoped, and the project was a failure. The city turned the land into a park in 1837. The garden design came later, followed by the swan boats.
Walking the path that winds around the pond, visitors will find an equestrian statue of George Washington; walk over the suspension bridge, and pass by "Make Way for Ducklings," a series of bronze statues of a mother and eight baby ducklings based on a 1940s children's book of the same title by Robert McCloskey.
Groups of children often tour the park, following the story line of the book. Shirley Jones, a teacher at an Early Learning Center in Boston, brought 20 pre-kindergartners to the park to ride the swan boats, feed the park's real ducks and have a picnic.
But the fun wasn't just reserved for the kids.
"I like the quack, quack," Lombard, 44, said, motioning toward the ducks. They brought back memories of a time when her now-teenage children were just toddlers.
"Those are the memories of the garden I will keep," she said.
If You Go…
Boston Public Garden: Surrounded by Beacon Street, Charles Street, Boylston Street and Arlington Street. Take the MBTA Green Line to Arlington Station. Free admission to the garden.
Swan Boat Rides: http://www.swanboats.com/ or 617-522-1966. Adults, $2.75; children 2-15, $1.25; seniors, $2. Boats run 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Labor Day, and then noon-4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends until Sept. 17.