A visit to Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Photographs by Laurie Metzger

As 9am rolled around on Wednesday, we piled into the van for our third garden visit. Driving away from the morning commuters, we saw city sprawl dwindle to small neighborhoods, neighborhoods become single houses, and finally houses make way for the beautiful Massachusetts countryside. Rolling hills, rocky outcrops, dense woodlands.

Up a winding lane, we reached our destination, Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Walking up from the parking lot, we were immediately distracted by a stunning black tomato growing in the mixed ornamental and vegetable beds outside the Visitor Center. Finally making our way inside, we were greeted by Joann Vieira, Director of Horticulture.

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‘Indigo Rose’ tomatoes

Joann introduced us to Tower Hill, giving a brief history of the property and the Worcester County Horticultural Society, the founding and governing organization, which was first organized in 1840. However, Tower Hill was not established until the 1980s; officially opening in 1986. The botanic garden was conceived and designed with a long-term vision. Tower Hill prominently displays its Master Plan and 50-year vision for the gardens on the wall near the café.

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Arbor with container plants

After walking through the cathedral-like Limonaia, we sat down for a round-table with senior staff, including Executive Director Kathy Abbott. As we nibbled on pastries and drank hot coffee, Tower Hill staff shared with us their insights and challenges of developing a younger institution. Staff was very candid and even shared their thoughts on potential topics for our upcoming Symposium. The hours passed very quickly and we were shocked when someone announced it was time for lunch.

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Inside the Limonaia

We delayed lunch in order to spend time touring through the gardens. We were particularly entranced by the historic apple tree collection. Tower Hill preserves historic apple tree cultivars by growing them on the property and selling scions. Although fire blight and other diseases pose challenges, Tower Hill is nevertheless committed to preserving the apple orchard. Given the go-ahead by Joann, we happily sampled a few early varieties.

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Historic apple variety

After lunch in the on-site Twigs Café with senior staff, we spent more time in the gardens and hiking the paths around the property.  Stepping outside the Orangerie, we encountered the Systematic Garden where  plantings are arranged according to how scientists understand plant evolution. The garden begins with algae in a pool near the building and then stretches out in 26 Italianate style flower beds overflowing with plants massed according to their families and other classifications.

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Flower border

There are several hiking trails on the Tower Hill property. Situated on top of a hill, Tower Hill overlooks the Wachusett Reservoir and capitalizes on the views of the water and rolling hills when designing its system of paths and gardens. We could only imagine how stunningly beautiful the gardens and views must be in late autumn, as the leaves change colors on the hillsides.

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View of the reservoir

We left Tower Hill late in the afternoon. Tired from lots of walking, we were nevertheless energized by the enthusiasm of the Tower Hill staff and the beauty of its landscape. We are excited to see what this young botanic garden becomes in the next few years.

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Statue with roses