Cars entering during the winter.
Visitation at public gardens is up across the United States, and here at Tower Hill Botanic Garden we are grateful so many people are excited about getting closer to nature and plants. At our 30-year-old botanic garden in Boylston, Mass., we’ve seen admission grow from about 80,000 in 2013 to roughly 143,000 in 2017. This kind of interest presents wonderful opportunities and as well as some challenges we can solve together.
Why are so many people from all over the region heading to Tower Hill in record breaking numbers? Perhaps in this technology driven world, more people are looking for an escape from their office environment and their computers to recharge outdoors. While some people prefer a natural woodland walk, others like a more formal garden experience: Tower Hill has both. Tower Hill has also grown its education program, offering classes, talks, and workshops for all ages. We’ve added special events – like the fascinating Carnivorous Plant Show and the popular Botanical Tattoo Weekend – that encourage all walks of life, in addition to longtime gardeners, to experience what Tower Hill has to offer.
Here at Tower Hill, we want to connect as many people to plants as possible because plants plants are not only a critical part of the ecosystem, but also provide mental and physical benefits that improve quality of life. We have increased our efforts to be a force for change in the community, donating hundreds of pounds of vegetables each year from our gardens to Rachel’s Table, a Worcester food pantry, partnering with the Worcester Refugee Assistance Project, supporting the Worcester Tree Initiative, and so much more. This creates an atmosphere many want to be part of and it has grown our Tower Hill family considerably. But the spike in growth has shined the light on areas we need to improve and expand, many of which are addressed in our updated Master Plan, unveiled in 2016. The most apparent need, clear to any guest who visits on a busy day, is parking.
Our updated Master Plan is a bold vision of what our botanic garden can become and includes plans for additional gardens and facilities. Those objectives are spread out in phases that will stretch through the middle of this 21st century. Among the first of these projects will be to expand Tower Hill’s parking to alleviate traffic congestion on our busiest days.
Design plans for the entrance to Tower Hill from French Drive.
Our plans also call for an improved entry and expanded parking with innovative and sustainably designed storm water runoff capabilities. We envision the most beautiful “parking garden” in New England. Our leadership team is diligently working on this project and intends to break ground as early as 2019.
In the meantime, Tower Hill staff are doing everything we can to make the current visitor experience the best it can be. We are partnering with Boylston Town Hall and the Boylston Police Department. We’ve acquired a mobile gatehouse to bring more vehicles up our driveway and off the road. We’ve rented shuttle vans to bring visitors to and from nearby parking areas during our busiest events. We’ve moved staff parking to behind the education center to free up parking lot spaces. We’ve instituted ticketing to Winter Reimagined to cut down on long lines and traffic congestion and hired a team of college students to help direct traffic at our most popular event.
If visitors and members wish to help us grow into the garden we want to be, they can in many ways. They can look to visit during non-peak hours. They can carpool. They can volunteer to help us improve the guest experience. They can help spread the word that we have a plan and that we’re working every day to solve the challenges as soon as possible. They can contact our Advancement Department to inquire about supporting this important project.
Expanded parking lot design plans.
Already, the building blocks for those next steps are being laid. We’re especially thankful to the generous donors, including the Worcester County Horticultural Society’s Board of Trustees, who have already stepped forward to make significant investments in these projects, such as the C. Jean & Myles McDonough Charitable Foundation, the George I. Alden Trust, the Manton Foundation, the Arthur and Martha Pappas Foundation, and the Fuller Foundation.
Could the founders of the Worcester County Horticultural Society, which oversees Tower Hill, have imagined that this many people would be excited about plants? You may be surprised to discover their goals, 175 years ago, weren’t much different than ours today: The joy and benefits of gardens, flowers, trees, and all plants should be available to everyone and is necessary to create balance in an otherwise busy and sometimes stressful world. We think they’d be delighted that tens of thousands of people each year were being inspired by plants on a little hill outside Worcester that looks out toward Wachusett Mountain. We’re honored to continue that legacy of excellence and that you, our visitors, members, volunteers, and donors, make space for Tower Hill in your lives, and for your support and patience as we take on these growing pains and opportunities.