For several hundred years, the cemetery with its curvilinear roads and pathways has been shaded by mature maples, beeches, red oaks and lindens. Stately pines and hemlocks line avenues and borders and old fashioned shrubs such as lilacs, viburnum, mulberry, forsythia and bridal wreath spirea provide accents on street corners. During the 19th century , the plan of Milton Cemetery evolved by design of several well known proponents of the rural garden cemetery movement, the firm of Whitman and Breck, Ernest Bowditch, Robert Morris Copeland and William S. Cleveland. Although the grid like “old burial grounds” had been in use as a burial place for Milton families since 1672, there was a need to expand for the town’s growing population. Many wealthy people summered in the mansions and estates of Milton and with their support , the cemetery trustees hoped to create a place of tranquil beauty that would compete with other developing cemeteries such as Forest Hills and Mount Auburn. The landscape gardeners who designed the expanded cemetery were contemporaries of the “Father of landscape architecture”, Frederick Law Olmstead, and like him, designed large scale public spaces which took advantage of the natural topography and water features.
Over the past twenty years, in order to enhance its intended purpose as a garden cemetery, many more varieties of trees have been added to the landscape including Sweet Gum, Sourwood, Stewartia, Liriodendron, Weeping Cherries, Japanese maples and Magnolias. Spring showcases the bulbs of giant purple allium, tulips, daffodils and the flowering of dogwood, crabapple and cherry trees. Blue scilla planted years ago colors the hillsides of the southern part of Centennial Avenue. Perennial beds have been added which feature the fall plumes of ornamental grasses, and the flowers of sedum, coreopsis, black eyed susans, lavender, roses and catmint.
Shrubs and perennials popular in the 19th century were chosen for the entrance way to the old grounds and include oak leaf hydrangea, pulmonaria, inkberry, periwinkle and blueberry bush. A cart path constructed of cobbles leads the visitor from the front entrance to the old grounds.
Over the past few years due to the generosity of the Copeland Family Foundation, both new trees and replacement species have been planted throughout the cemetery and period signage, designed by the Boston Sign Company has been installed.