Tower Hill leaves an impression on us all

Worcester Business Journal photo of CEO Grace Elton.

By Grace Elton 
Tower Hill CEO

After four months on the job as CEO of Tower Hill Botanic Garden, I wanted to reflect on what I’ve learned and observed while I still have the perspective of being fairly new.

Originally from south Florida, I have also lived and worked at gardens in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and the UK. I had only ever visited New England once before considering this job, so many people often ask me what drew me to Tower Hill. At the time I accepted the job, I could only say that something irresistible was pulling me to this Garden, but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what that was. Now, after a few months of reflection, I can say that it is the plants, the people, and the Garden’s mission.

Farmhouse in the fall.

Last October, my husband and I first visited Tower Hill when I was considering applying for this new job. We left Virginia and drove north through Washington DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and finally Massachusetts. Honestly, we were questioning why we were looking at a Garden so far from home, but as we drove north, the fall colors became more and more vibrant and the forests became more dense and beautiful. Once we reached Tower Hill, we made the slow approach up Fuller Drive, and as we first saw the meadows and old apple orchard, our blood pressure dropped and we could tell that we were in a special place. At that time, most of the perennial gardens were starting to go into their winter dormancy, the ornamental grasses were in full bloom, and the Conservatories were filled with tropical potted plants. We loved not only the formal gardens, but also the trails, the wildlife pond, and the breathtaking view of the Wachusett Reservoir. Fast forward a few months from that initial visit, I started working full time at the Garden in early April and I have greatly enjoyed the experience of seeing the Tower Hill landscape break dormancy and come into bloom for the first time. You only get one first spring in a Garden and I’ve treasured every minute of it!

View of the Wachusett Reservoir.

Working in gardens around the world, I have enjoyed observing the connection that visitors have with horticulture in different cultures. The plants lay the foundation of a great garden, but people make it vibrant. Each Tower Hill visitor that I meet and each staff member that I have the pleasure of working with, has their own story about why Tower Hill is important to them. Some have watched the Garden grow and develop since it was nothing but a farm on a hill, while others have spent the most important events of their lives in our established Gardens. The talented staff are dedicated to creating a place where visitors can learn, explore, and be inspired. They, in turn, inspire me through their daily work in our Gardens.

Worcester Refugee Assistance Program participants visited this spring.

The thing that brings everything together for me is the mission of Tower Hill: Inspire the use and appreciation of horticulture to improve lives, enrich communities and strengthen commitment to the natural world. Connecting our visitors to horticulture has been an essential part of our mission for our 175-year existence as the Worcester County Horticultural Society. I love working at a Garden with such a rich history. I feel that our past can inform how we move forward as a horticultural society and as a garden. I’m also inspired by our commitment to teaching all populations. Just in the past few months, I have been able to observe and hear stories of how our garden programs are making an impact educating Worcester city second graders, refugees, and differently-abled populations. At the same time, we are opening our garden gates to yoga classes, chef demonstrations, and live botanical tattooing. I’m amazed that we can welcome each of these populations and provide each of them a meaningful experience and I am so proud of our staff who work to educate our visitors at Tower Hill. We truly are a garden that welcomes all, though we constantly strive to attract new audiences and serve our current constituents better.

Tower Hill’s first Botanical Tattoo Weekend was held in July.

Our staff feels that although we have achieved great growth as a garden and a horticultural society, we can still improve in fulfilling our mission through our on-site programs, outreach, and horticultural displays. That commitment to our mission continues to make me feel humbled that I have the honor to lead this Garden into its next chapter. I know I’ll continue to learn just as much as I will contribute and I look forward to the adventure ahead!