By Robert Burgess
Tower Hill staff

If you’ve visited Tower Hill Botanic Garden before, you know it is a must-see New England destination. But did you know that Tower Hill is much more than a pretty place? Staff, volunteers, and members work year-round to help improve the lives of as many people as possible by connecting them to plants. Tower Hill, a nonprofit organization run by the Worcester County Horticultural Society, is focused on inclusivity and wants as many people to experience the benefits of plants and nature as possible. Here are a few examples…

Volunteers planting a fruit tree orchard at Dodge Park in Worcester.

The Worcester Tree Initiative
The Worcester Tree Initiative, part of Tower Hill’s Outreach Department, is out in the community almost every day working with volunteers and partners to care for and plant trees. Examples include pruning trees at the The Healing Garden Cancer Support Center, planting an urban fruit orchard in Dodge Park in Worcester, and partnering with the Worcester Youth Center and MassPort to employ at risk youth in a summer tree watering program. What started in 2009 as a collaborative effort to educate the region about the invasive Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation and to help plant replacement trees for those that fell victim to that pest, has evolved into a shining and lasting example of what can be accomplished when plant, tree, and nature lovers from all walks of life come together.

EBT Card to Culture
Tower Hill has been offering a discounted admission price since 2014 to those with EBT cards. This is part of the state’s EBT Card to Culture program which offers discounts to museums all over Massachusetts.

WRAP students at Tower Hill.

A Refuge for Refugees
The Worcester Refugee Assistance Project (WRAP), a network of individuals committed to assisting local refugees from Burma achieve sustainable self‐reliance through mentoring, advocacy, and material support, partners with Tower Hill to re-connect program participants with nature in an effort to build community. Children and teens are able to cook, garden, draw, and hike together while making connections with their new home.

Welcoming all visitors
In 2017, Tower Hill started its tradition of raising its Pride flag in conjunction each year with Worcester’s Pride Week and staff members participate in the annual walk downtown.

Tower Hill’s vegetable garden.

Fresh produce donations
Each growing season, Tower Hill’s staff and volunteers collect fresh fruit and vegetables to donate to our local food pantry in Worcester. In 2017, more than 1,000 pounds was harvested from our Vegetable Garden and Youth Garden for Rachel’s Table patrons to bring home to their families.

Sharing the Garden
Tower Hill staff want everyone to be able to enjoy the physical and psychological benefits of being close to nature and plants. So in 2018, Tower Hill began offering Free After Three Thursdays from June through September. The program has been such a success it’s running again in 2020.

Worcester second grade field trip.

Worcester second-graders
With support from the George I. Alden Trust, The Stoddard Trust and in collaboration with the Worcester Education Development Foundation, Tower Hill hosts every second-grader in the Worcester Public School System on field trips to the gardens where students and teachers are able to reinforce STEM lessons learned in the classroom. Whenever children visit the gardens, they learn a little bit more about where their food comes from, why pollinators are important, how they can become nature’s advocates, and more.

Worcester Head Start
For the 2019-2020 school year Tower Hill has initiated a partnership with Worcester Child Development Head Start Program. Every classroom across five sites in the city is visiting Tower Hill for students to learn about plants and nature in a hands-on environment. Head Start is a federally funded preschool program that provides comprehensive services to parents, families, and children. The program enhances the self-esteem and personal growth of all children including those with special needs while preparing every child to enter school ready to learn.

The Garden Within Reach

Garden Within Reach
The Court: A Garden Within Reach opened in 2015 to offer a space on the property where visitors of all ages and levels of mobility could get close to plants and experience the positive benefits of time spent in nature. Journey Through Memory, which helps caregivers and people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, uses the Garden Within Reach. And volunteers from organizations like the Seven Hills Foundation help plant the garden each spring.

Horticultural Heroes
In March of 2019, Tower Hill Botanic Garden revealed the Horticultural Heroes art exhibit, which included 20 original portraits by mostly local artists of leaders, including those from marginalized communities, who have made a lasting impact in the plant world. The exhibit featured heroes from all walks of life, including some new and familiar faces, and information for visitors to learn from and be inspired by.

Making Connections
Starting in 2020, Tower Hill began inviting Little Sisters and Brothers to visit the gardens for free when accompanied by their Big Brother or Big Sister.

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

Donate here to support these initiatives and others soon to come.