The Cary Award, an award program of Tower Hill Botanic Gardeb, promotes outstanding plants for New England gardens. Named in honor of Shrewsbury plantsman Ed Cary, it highlights home landscape plants that have proven their performance in New England. Any person may nominate a plant they think is worthy of receiving this award. The award is given to the plant, not the person nominating it.

New England’s most seasoned horticulturists come together yearly to select Cary Award winners. Over the years many plants, from stately evergreen trees to brilliant shrubs, glorious vines to superior ground covers, have been selected for this honor. All of those chosen share a few key qualities – they are outstanding plants for New England gardens due to their hardiness, adaptability, availability, pest and disease resistance and season-extending characteristics. The award highlights plants of note for home gardeners, landscape designers, and architects.

Cary Award Winners 2018

Chamaecyparis thyoides

Atlantic White Cedar

Family: Cupressaceae

Description: Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) is a wonderful evergreen tree, native to the eastern seaboard and known for its elegant blue-green foliage, beautiful winter presence, and decay resistant wood. Numerous cultivars give the discerning gardener many size options and foliar hues to choose from. Diminutive cultivars like ‘Versent’ Blue Rock® grow slowly to 20’ in 10 years and turns plum in the winter, while the straight species can reach 50’ or more. This pest-resistant conifer can be found in moist soils throughout its range, but it is well suited to average soils. Site in full sun and grow in hardiness zones 4-8. With such adaptability, and so many cultivars to choose from, it’s easy to see why this species and its cultivars are considered winners.

Key features:

  • Type/Habit: Tree
  • Key season and features of interest: Beautiful upright shape and form adds interest to the dormant winter landscape
  • Flowering Period: N/A
  • Evergreen or deciduous: Evergreen
  • Native? Yes
  • Pollinator plant: N/A
  • Wildlife benefits: Provides cover for birds and small mammals
  • Site/condition tolerance: Tolerant of moist soils with average fertility; shelter from winter winds is recommended in colder zones
  • Sun/Shade preference: Full sun
  • Soil condition preference: Fertile, moist, well-drained
  • Low maintenance; pest and disease resistant

Growth Habit: Species is an upright tree growing to 50’ or more at maturity. Cultivars provide a variety of sizes, shapes, wind tolerance and winter coloration.

Size (mature height and spread): 50’ tall by 35-40’ wide (smaller cultivars available)

Hardiness (USDA Zones): 4-8

Nativity: Eastern United States

Suggested Uses: Can be used as a single specimen, screen or in areas with moist soils. Blue-green foliage adds winter interest and nice contrast to other evergreen plants.

Year of award: 2018

Aesculus parviflora

Bottlebrush Buckeye


Description: Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) is an exuberant North American shrub, well suited to woodland edges, or expansive shrub borders. Palmately compound leaves are tinged with red as they unfurl in spring, then settle into deep green with a tropical texture. In mid-July, when few other shrubs offer bloom, this shrub covers itself in upright panicles of tubular white flowers which sport enticing red anthers. Individual flowers are small but the effect of numerous 12” panicles over an 8-12’ shrub is of a cloud of white. It is beloved by pollinators and grows best in full sun in good garden soil. Allow plenty of room for it to sucker and spread. It is hardy in zones 4-8.

Key features:

  • Type/Habit: Multi-stemmed shrub
  • Key season and features of interest: Large, summer blooming shrub suited to woodland edges, woodland gardens and large shrub borders; showy panicles of white flowers
  • Flowering Period: July
  • Evergreen or deciduous: Deciduous
  • Native? Yes
  • Pollinator plant: Hummingbirds, honey and other bees
  • Wildlife benefits: Nectar plant for bees and hummingbirds
  • Site/condition tolerance: Average and wet soils; drought tolerant once established
  • Sun/Shade preference: Shade to partial shade
  • Soil condition preference: Moist, rich, well-drained
  • Pest and disease resistant, easily grown

Growth Habit: Multi-stemmed shrub which forms large thickets with time

Size (mature height and spread): 8’-12’ tall by 12’ or more wide

Hardiness (USDA Zones): 4-8

Nativity: Southeastern United States

Suggested Uses: Shrub border, native plant garden, naturalizing, rain garden

Year of award: 2018

Please see below for more information about the Cary Award

The Cary Legacy

Ed Cary in front of the Cary Brothers Nursery on Route 9, Shrewsbury MA, 1960

When Shrewsbury nurseryman Ed Cary died in 1987 at the age of 86, he had no idea of how valuable his family estate had become. “Ed was a true plantsman, who lived year by year to grow plants, to experiment with new plants, and to share his plants with others,” according to fellow nurseryman Richard Bemis of Spencer, MA. With no heirs to continue the Cary Brothers Nursery on Route 9, he left his estate to local charities, including the Worcester County Horticultural Society–half to support the library, and half to go toward awards and prizes for horticultural endeavors. “It was really an extraordinary windfall for the Society,” said its executive director emeritus, John Trexler. “It says a lot about the man, how he lived his own life so modestly, but was able to help others in this way…we eventually interpreted his desires and came up with the Cary Award, which will draw attention to many of the unusual and underused plants that Ed held so dear.” The design of the award was in part modeled on the Gold Medal Plants program of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

The Cary family estate, 1985

Now in its twenty-first year, the Cary Award program has thus far selected fifty-eight woody shrubs, trees or vines for distinction. Remaining true to the spirit of the Cary family, winners are chosen for their hardiness, uniqueness, and ability to extend the New England growing season. Plants can be nominated by anyone. Winners are selected by a panel of regional experts, along with members of the Worcester County Horticultural Society. The list contains species and cultivars unfamiliar to many gardeners.

If Ed Cary were alive today, he would no doubt be baffled but pleased by all the attention. “He was just a humble guy who thoroughly enjoyed plants and growing beautiful things, different things,” said Wayne Mezitt, president of Weston Nurseries and a member of the Society’s Board of Directors. ”So much of the outstanding work he did in his lifetime has been lost, or is in private collections. This Cary Award program is a fitting legacy for a unique individual.”

Cary award-winning plants can be found at fine nurseries through out the New England region, and beyond. The nurseries listed below are among the many nurseries that regularly offer Cary award winning plants.

Tower Hill Botanic Garden
11 French Drive
Boylston, MA 01505
Bigelow Nurseries
455 West Main Street
Northboro, MA 01532
508-845-2143 • Fax: 508-842-9245
New England Wild Flower Society
Native Plant Nursery-Garden in the Woods
180 Hemenway Road
Framingham, MA 01701
www.newfs.orgPlants available April 15th through September 30th. Seeds available
January 18-March 22
New England Wild Flower Society
Native plant Nursery at Nasami Farm
128 North Street
Whately, MA 01373
Equinox Valley Nursery
Historic Route 7A
Manchester, VT 05254
802-362-2610 • Fax: 802-352-2652
Spider Web Gardens
Route 109A
Center Tuftonboro, NH 03816
603-569-5056 • Fax: 603-569-3608
Hillside Nurseries
823 Washington St
Franklin, MA 02038
Weston Nurseries Inc.
93 East Main Street, Rte. 135
Hopkinton MA 01748
Weston Nurseries Inc.
160 Pine Hill Road, just off Rte. 110
Chelmsford, MA 01824
Tarnow Nursery
788 Sheridan Street
Chicopee, MA 01020
413-594-2172 • Fax: 413-592-0610
O’Donal’s Nurseries
6 County Road
Gorham, ME 04038
207-839-4262 • Fax: 207-839-2290
Clark Farms, Inc.
711 Kingston Road
Wakefied, RI 02879
401-783-8844 • Fax: 401-782-9430