We’d been to Tower Hill Botanic Garden before, to escape the winter blues. But I was so excited to drive up there on a gorgeous fall weekend and finally see the outdoor gardens.
Tower Hill Botanic Garden is the home of the Worcester County Horticultural Society, a nonprofit organization with the goal of advancing the science and improving the practice of horticulture. In the 1980’s, the Worcester County Horticultural Society purchased property in Boylston MA with a gorgeous view of the Wachusett Reservoir, and built a botanical garden designed for year round education, exploration and enjoyment.
I’ll take you through the tour the way we experienced it.
Our group met on the patio outside the main entrance to the garden, where we learned about The Court. The Court is a garden designed specifically for access by people with disabilities and is planted with specimens with multi-sensory appeal. We were encouraged to touch, smell, and get up close to these soft, fragrant, and beautifully unique assemblages.
Just off The Court, a small path leads you to the incredible vegetable garden. Each year, the garden has a new theme and in 2016 it is “Growing Up.” The staff experimented with adding vertical elements to their garden, and beautiful tangerine trellises were set throughout the space to allow climbing vegetables and vines to grow skyward. The greens, chartreuse, and orange hues were simply striking on this sunny fall day!
Another important aspect of the garden is that each year, some of the gorgeous produce they grow is donated to a local food bank, and the botanical garden provides a list of that year’s plants for you in case you see something you’d like to grow at home.
Past the vegetable garden are the Lawn and Secret gardens. We saw these amazing fall crocuses that reminded me of sea anemones. We also learned how the staff prevents deer from eating their plants by tying hotel soaps and garlic pens to their trees.
Next, we walked to the other side of the property, past the courtyard and Winter Garden (where they were setting up for an outdoor concert) to the Systematic Garden.
The Systematic Garden is designed to showcase plant evolution and familial groupings. At the entrance lies a “primordial pool” fountain, to evoke the damp and post-volcanic environment under which ancient plant life such as green algae, moss and ferns evolved.
Though the official tour ended there, Jeff and I continued to follow the path that led out of the Systematic Garden into the woods. I had no idea the property was so large and diverse! As we entered the woods, we came upon these stunning Stickwork sculptures by North Carolina artist Patrick Dougherty. The sculptures are titled “Wild Rumpus” and the Botanic Garden plays up the association with the book Where the Wild Things Are with activities for kids, which sounded pretty fun!
Beyond the Stickwork sculptures, we continued to follow the wooded trails, past additional sculptures with a Roman theme and though the Wildlife and Shade Gardens.
Another reason we chose to visit this weekend was to experience the annual Fall Fest event. This year, Fall Fest took place over three weekends and included tours of the heirloom apple orchard, hay rides through the property, a chance to pet alpacas, local food vendors, and honey and heirloom apple tastings.
The apple orchard at Tower Hill Botanic Garden is a special one. It is filled with heirloom species of apples that were once common throughout New England, but are now hard to find in grocery stores. These heirloom varieties have delicious and complex flavors and wonderful names like “Black Gilliflower” and “Esopus Spitzenburg.” In the 1940s, a member of the Worcester County Horticultural Society named S. Lothrop Davenport started to save these heirlooms trees, which were then replanted at the new property once the Tower Hill Botanic Garden was built.
We took part in the tour of the heirloom orchard, but unfortunately there weren’t any apples to see this year. The staff at the Botanic Garden is taking great care to prevent the spread of two diseases that could decimate these trees. As part of this control, they remove the fruit in the spring. We were able to try some of these heirloom varieties from nearby orchards at the apple tasting table though, and they were delicious!
On the way out of the main building there was stunning Dahlia display and I was so excited to see that some of these gorgeous blooms came from a local farm, Little State Flower Co.
I know this post was long, but trust me, I didn’t give away everything this amazing place has to see. If it’s close enough to you, I can’t recommend a visit to Tower Hill Botanic Garden enough – there’s always something new to see and a new way to celebrate the season!