he Worcester County Horticultural Society has been connecting people and plants since 1842. You don’t reach that kind of longevity by resting on your laurels. You take bold steps along the way, including opening a botanic garden on an old dairy farm in the bucolic town of Boylston in 1986. You celebrate your past achievements, but always look to evolve and improve so you may better serve the communities that rely on you. Now, thanks to generous benefactors, selfless volunteers, and over a million visitors across 34 years, Tower Hill Botanic Garden is poised to take another bold step forward.
If plants and nature are to thrive for generations to come, society needs to nurture the next generation of naturalists, gardeners, environmentalists, horticulturists, botanists, and orchardists. But children of our times are spending less time outside and becoming more sedentary than ever before. Too many are missing those opportunities many of us had in our youth to engage with the natural world. Parents instinctively know their children thrive outside, but are increasingly challenged with how to facilitate those natural connections. Some caregivers discover places like Tower Hill Botanic Garden where children are encouraged to explore the plants, wildlife, and landscape of our 171 acres. That drive to connect with nature is so strong that our annual admissions numbers have more than doubled in the past seven years.
In recent years, visitors and members have pondered whether our nonprofit organization could expand our family-friendly outdoor offerings. Behind the scenes trustees, benefactors, and staff have been working through how to accommodate and inspire the growing number of visitors who arrive at our garden. A central theme emerged: The need for a space where children and the young at heart could connect and commune with plants and nature. We call that garden, which will become our 18th, The Ramble.
The Ramble will be an 1.5 acre exceptional garden where families and anyone curious about the natural world can explore and let their imaginations run wild. Learning opportunities — about plants, pollinators, bird, climate, bugs, soil, nature’s cycles, and more — will be abundant. STEAM lessons will be subtle, natural, and impactful. Paths will meander allowing visitors to get lost in the wonder of the wooded space without ever being too far from civilization … or bathrooms. Inspirational elements, envisioned by internationally-renowned artist W. Gary Smith and the award-winning Waltham landscape architectural firm Ryan Associates, will bring out the kid each of us while subconsciously instilling appreciation of plants, ecosystems, and horticulture. We won’t ever want to leave, but when we do we’ll take with us the warm memories born from our time in the natural world. Those reveries will, with any luck, linger for a lifetime, informing our decisions in favor of nature across our lifetimes.
In order to reach The Ramble, and to ensure that anyone regardless of background or mobility level is able to enjoy this space, Tower Hill is tackling a series of construction projects which will bring even more beauty and functionality to the grounds. Frequent visitors no doubt recognize the need for additional parking and a streamlined entry experience. To accomplish those goals we’ll be reimagining the parking lots to become more spacious (going from 281 spots to 512), eye-catching, and environmentally-friendly. We’ll be moving check-in to our renovated reception area. We’ll be creating accessible paths — including adding an ADA compliant boardwalk down Pliny’s Allée — to help navigate the new and existing spaces on the property.
When we’re finished, our garden overlooking the Wachusett Reservoir will still feel like that welcoming, beautiful, peaceful, inspirational place you remember. We’re working diligently to build on prior work that has created such a special place, while connecting even more people to plants. To accomplish these goals we’ll need your help. Chat with your friends about our plans. Share our updates with other members. Visit often to see the progress. Embrace the longview when faced with short-term disruption. Together we can ensure Tower Hill has a bright future ahead.
Construction can be disruptive, of course, in any venue. At Tower Hill, we’re embracing that change, because as any gardener knows, sometimes you have to make a bit of a mess to achieve worthwhile results later in the season. Look for special events and exhibits that will complement this year of evolution in the gardens. We hope you’ll become as excited as us about the potential to make improvements to our botanic garden that will benefit all visitors for years to come.
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