Plant growing on the ram’s head fountain in the Secret Garden.

By Robert Burgess
Tower Hill staff

Some of my favorite plants are those that show an unexpected ability to thrive in unkind places. Maybe it’s because these plants are metaphors for life. They show a kind of resiliency that all of us will need at one time or another. “Look at that little plant. It’s so brave. It’s beating the odds.”

I recently came across such a wildflower growing out of a chimney attached to Tower Hill’s historic farmhouse. The structure itself is an inspiration, enduring since the 1700s, keeping a watchful eye over a property that has evolved from dairy farm, to survey site for the construction of the Wachusett Reservoir, to a stately botanic garden.

A wildflower growing out of the farmhouse chimney at Tower Hill.

While strolling through the Cottage Garden on a recent garden tour, the little flower caught my eye. There it was, dancing in the wind, its little roots somehow finding enough soil and water between two bricks a dozen feet above the ground. And aren’t we all little seeds, strewn into the universe, looking for a foothold, seeking our proper place and purpose? May we all be as fortunate as this wildflower, which carved out a corner of the world to thrive.

It wasn’t the only flower I’ve noticed this summer growing in at a higher than normal elevation. A couple months ago I spotted a little sunflower growing in my gutter. “You’re not supposed to be there,” I thought. “But good for you for trying.” And of course I can’t allow my gutter to become a raised bed, so I had to dispose of the little seedling, regretfully. Though I admired it for not following my attempts to confine sunflowers to “where they belong” in my yard. Some rules indeed are made to be broken.

A sunflower growing in Robert’s gutter.

And then there are the saplings that move me the most, the little twigs that sometimes pop out of large stumps. Years ago, I was disappointed to find someone had cut down a pine tree near my condominium I was quite fond of. From what was left behind it was easy to count the rings and admire the long life the tree had lived. To my surprise, I later noticed a tiny tree growing out of that stump, as affirming of a “never give up” attitude as I have ever seen in nature.

A pine at Robert’s old condo that wouldn’t give up.

Of course gardeners see this phenomenon with a bit of irony. So often we amateur gardeners struggle to have success with a pampered plant. We try to follow the advice of experts like Tower Hill’s horticulture staff, who remind us to put the right plant in the right place. But it doesn’t always come easy, and us home gardeners inevitably fail from time to time. And then we see a dandelion growing on a sidewalk and wonder why is can’t always be so easy! But then again, the challenge is part of the fun.

So keep your eyes open for Mother Nature’s living post cards, and take what meaning suits you from them. I like to see them as notes of inspiration. What do you see?

Robert Burgess, the public relations manager at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, can be reached at