Cover Story » Vol. 8

Worcester County in Bloom

Butterfly basking in the sunshine at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Butterfly basking in the sunshine at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

By Cristal Perriello

As we notice the days getting slightly longer and sense a hint…just a hint…of warmth as the midday sun shines down on still-snowy sidewalks, what better way to reassure ourselves that spring is on its way ~ and what better way to remind ourselves just how beautiful spring and summer are in Worcester County ~ than to tour the local gardens that provide us with peaceful

surroundings, gorgeous blossoms, and yet another reason to love life in New England.

Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Tower Hill is without question one of the finest public gardens east of the Mississippi.

~ John Trexler, Executive Director of the Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Owned and operated by the Worcester County Horticultural Society, Tower Hill Botanic Garden is home “to what is considered by horticultural authorities to be the best plants ~ trees, shrubs, vines, annuals, perennials, vegetables ~ in Central New England,” beams Trexler, who has been the garden’s Executive Director for the past 25 years.

Located in Boylston, the Garden opened its doors in 1986. Since 1989, it has been following a 50 year master plan which is scheduled for completion in 2040. “The next phase of development, Phase IV, will include the building of a Winter Garden, a second display greenhouse called Limonaia, which will feature Camellias (a flowering plant native to eastern and southern Asia), and a new café and kitchen,” says Trexler.

The Orangerie, an 18th century style greenhouse at Tower Hill, provides a 4,000 square foot environment to plants for winter display. The gallery ~ complete with ferns, a potting shed, growing house and pit house ~ makes it a four-season growing space. Even in the snowiest of winters, Tower Hill Botanic Garden provides visitors with enjoyment as well as education.

The Garden has a strong focus on education. “We have what we call the Tower Hill Farm School which deals with youth education,” says Trexler. The programs include arts and crafts, nature walks, and a youth gardening program which is scheduled to start in late March. They also offer adult education classes and programs which include workshops, lectures and demonstrations, symposia, trips and tours.

Educating people is one of their priorities, so it’s no surprise that green issues are at the top of their list. “By virtue of being an organic garden, Tower Hill is green. We encourage e-memberships, which cut down on use of paper, our buildings are new and highly efficient, we recycle all product and waste,” explains Trexler.

At Tower Hill there is something for everyone, from the Lawn Garden, which houses more than 350 species of trees and shrubs plus thousands of spring bulbs and summer-blooming perennials, to the Secret Garden, which displays perennials chosen for their fragrance and delicate texture.

“My favorite garden is the Inner Park (our native plant garden) which is laid out like an 18th century English Park,” shares Trexler, who grew up in Colorado but now calls Boylston home.

Upcoming exhibits include: Ikebana International Show, March 13-14, Concert: A Celtic Equinox with Aine Minogue, Celtic Harpist on March 21, and Spring Open House (Free Admission!) on March 29.

Break out of those winter blues and head to Tower Hill to smell the elegant Lady’s Mantle or the intoxicating perfume of honeysuckle, or if you prefer ~ the roses.

To check out upcoming events or to plan your trip visit,

Bronzed Indian statue standing proud in The Enchanted Garden

Bronzed Indian statue standing proud in The Enchanted Garden

The Enchanted Garden

Down Route 20, tucked away off the side of the road 400 yards from the Hebert Candy Mansion in the Hill Farm neighborhood, there is a hidden gem. This “secret garden,” otherwise known as the Enchanted Garden, is maintained and cared for by self-made business man Bob Tarkenian.

Once you walk under the entrance archway you are transported to a truly magical land with 10-20 different types of trees including evergreens, Golden Cyprus, and Blue Spruce. It is easy to become overwhelmed ~ but gloriously so ~ by impatiens, coleus and astilbe ~ but this isn’t just your typical flower garden. Yes, the flora is absolutely breathtaking, the colors mesmerizing, but everywhere you look there is also an amazing piece of artwork or a stunning sculpture.

“I find art everywhere, but I find most of it at the Paradise Craft Show,” explains Tarkenian.

There are hidden whimsies all over the garden, from mirrors to faces to sculptures of frogs, roosters, angels, even a moose.

“The mirrors bring energy back into the garden,” explains Tarkenian.

Close to the entrance is a bronzed Indian. “There are only six of them in the world and the original is made of white marble,” elaborates Tarkenian. “A friend who is a Chippewa Indian made it for me.”

While visitors walk a path made with recycled glass stone, they can watch fish ~ including many coy, swimming in a small pond. But if you keep walking, you’ll come upon an even larger pond that’s perfect for trout fishing and offers a selection of benches that beckon you to relax on them and take in the sights, smells, and sounds of the garden.

“Kids love this place, everywhere they look there is something else,” says Tarkenian.

There is even a secret shed that’s disguised as a rock so as not to disturb the tranquility of the garden.

Tarkenian, a North High graduate who has always been interested in landscape architecture, has been living on the property and taking care of the garden for 17 years. The estate used to belong to the St. Pierre family, who owned a chain manufacturing company in Worcester. In the 60s, they sold it to the Hebert Candy Mansion.

Tarkenian says he works in the garden about 25 hours a week. How does the public find this secret sanctuary? “It is mostly word of mouth,” says Tarkenian.

If you find yourself in the area stop by and say hello to Bob and take a walk through this truly enchanting garden.

A spring scene at The Garden in the Woods ~ photo courtesy of Walt Louiseann Pietrowicz

A spring scene at The Garden in the Woods ~ photo courtesy of Walt Louiseann Pietrowicz

New England Wild Flower Society

At 109 years old, the New England Wild Flower Society (NEWFS) is the oldest plant conservation organization in America. “It was founded by a group of women who were banned from joining other horticultural organizations of their day based solely on gender,” explains Scott LaFleur, the Society’s horticulture and botanic garden director. “These women were concerned with the over-collecting of native plants from the wild, which remains one of our core mission values today.”

The Wild Flower Society is the only conservation organization in America that owns a botanic garden: Garden in the Woods, located in Framingham, stretches 45 acres and is one of the premier wildflower gardens in the country. The Garden in the Woods was started by Will Curtis in 1931 and Lafleur explains, “This garden was his dream ~ a place to learn about wildflowers and share that with the public. As Will was entering his 80s the sound of bulldozers and the sprawl of suburbia was at his door step. He had to do something to protect his life’s work.”

In the 1960s, the New England Wild Flower Society stepped in. “The Wild Flower Society undertook its first capital campaign and raised $250,000 to endow the garden,” says LaFleur. “In 1965, Will Curtis deeded the garden to NEWFS on his 82nd birthday.”

Seventy-seven years later, the garden still exists, nestled into a suburban neighborhood as a refuge from development and sprawl. Garden in the Woods is still a pioneer, having used and espoused the virtues of ecological gardening long before it became the fashion.

There are over 1500 species of native plants and rare and endangered species blossom throughout the garden. Visitors can follow the woodland trails through hilly terrain, past ponds and rippling streams, high leafy trees and thick stands of pines, masses of rhododendrons, and vistas of wildflowers, shrubs, and ferns.

NEWFS offers adult classes for beginners, amateur botanists, gardeners, teachers, landowners, and green industry professionals. Other programs include workshops, hands-on activities and field trips to locations throughout New England.

NEWFS has made many new additions to the garden over the last three years and is ready to share with the public. They recently created a place called The Idea Garden, which shows people how to use native plants in their yards in formal and designed settings. Other highlights include a native lawn of carex pennsylvaica ‘pennsylvani sedge,’ an innovative green roof, native plants and exceptional containers using native plants, floating gardens in the lily pond, and an all new invasive plant jail educating the public on the issues surrounding invasive plants and what they can do about them. “A beautiful new meadow observation deck will be complete this year,” says LaFleur. “This viewing platform will lift people above our meadow plants, offering them a bird’s eye view of the amazing ecosystem that the meadow has to offer.”

Spring Azaleas lining the steps at The Garden in the Woods ~ photos courtesy of Lisa Mattei

Spring Azaleas lining the steps at The Garden in the Woods ~ photos courtesy of Lisa Mattei

The Garden in the Woods is open from April 15 from 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Ticket prices: adults $8; seniors (65+) $6; youths (3-18) $4; students (with student ID) $6; children under 3 free.

“The New England Wild Flower Society is a small but powerful organization in the world of conservation and horticulture,” says Lefleur. “We do so much with so little.”

For more information visit

The Higgins House in bloom ~ photo courtesy of Mario Christopher

The Higgins House in bloom ~ photo courtesy of Mario Christopher

The Higgins House

A mini castle called The Higgins House, hidden away on the grounds of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), is home to some picture-perfect gardens.

“Beginning in the spring, the gardens at WPI’s Higgins House bud with beauty, presence, and history,” said Alfredo DiMauro, WPI’s Assistant Vice President for Facilities. “An elegant backdrop to countless nuptial photos, the nooks and niches of the gardens’ intimate spaces are framed by a pergola, gazebo, arbors, trellises, and benches.”

Ronald Klocek, WPI’s grounds crew manager, says the College’s perennial planning department determines what will be planted in these formal gardens. “The type of plants and flowers planted each year depends on a plant’s durability, the popular color of that particular season, what blossoms at that particular time of the season, and what’s most attractive,” he says.

On a typical spring day you may find students playing Frisbee, sunbathing or eating lunch in the gardens among the magnificent azaleas, rhododendrons and magnolias.

“The gardens offer unique places of respite on campus for our faculty, staff, students, and guests, for quiet contemplation or for just enjoying the colors and fragrance of the flowers and shrubs,” explains DiMauro.

The large Tudor-style mansion once belonged to Aldus C. Higgins, son of Milton P. Higgins, the first superintendent of the Washburn Shops and a founder of Norton Co. in Worcester. The Higgins House was donated to WPI after the death of his wife in 1971.

“The gardens are open to the public. However, on numerous Saturdays in the summer there may be a wedding in progress there,” says Klocek. “WPI’s events office likes to schedule people visiting the gardens so as to not disturb the weddings.”

Today the Higgins House is home to the WPI alumni office and is frequently used for meetings and conferences.

For more information, visit

Ali’s Garden at Notre Dame Academy

Ali’s Garden at Notre Dame Academy

Ali’s Garden at Notre Dame Academy

Behind the gates of Notre Dame Academy on Salisbury Street in Worcester, “the only all-girls independent college preparatory school in Central Massachusetts,” you’ll find many a beautiful garden. The Sisters of Notre Dame have maintained several of them over the six plus decades they have lived at Knollwood, the Academy’s convent. “One of the loveliest and most personal gardens is found outside the backdoor of Knollwood,” explains Mary Shea Kennedy, an alumna and the Director of Publications at the school for the last 26 years. “Surrounding a statue of St. Joseph is ‘Ali’s Garden,’ dedicated to Alison Ling Pierce, a member of the Class of 2000.”

Kennedy explains that Ali died of cancer her freshman year at Notre Dame. “Although she never was able to attend a class at the Academy, her spirit lives on in her classmates and in the garden they dedicated in her memory.”

“Roses dominate the garden because Ali’s favorite color was red,” shares Kennedy. Ali’s Garden and the surrounding flowering trees and shrubbery include dogwood, flowering crab and plum trees, mountain laurel, azaleas and rhododendrons.

The garden is a favorite spot for faculty and students to enjoy some quiet time and is also a popular destination after spring graduation ceremonies for family picture-taking.

“The Academy is presently constructing a new addition to the academic building near Ali’s Garden,” says Kennedy. “A three story glass structure, it will house the school’s art and music departments and a student center. Plans call for the construction of an outdoor patio and garden area to complement the established gardens, including Ali’s, on the school grounds.”

The public is welcome to visit Ali’s Garden; the administration just asks that you check in with the school first.

For more information, visit

To find a garden or a garden club in your area, visit The Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts


Want to add some color to your yard? Don’t miss the Central Massachusetts Flower & Patio Show Feb. 27 – March 1 at the DCU Center.

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