Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A May Visit to Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Back in May when I visited my son Iain in Massachusetts, we took a day trip to Boylston to go to Tower Hill Botanic Garden. Somehow I managed to live in Massachusetts for 50+ years without ever once visiting, so when he emailed us asking what we wanted to do on our visit, it was on the top of the list. Tower Hill contains 171 acres of gardens, collections of ornamental, edible, and native plants and offers classes, lectures, author events and other programs all year. On weekend afternoons docents lead tours of the gardens and conservatory.

When we arrived we parked and walked past the old farmhouse, past these intricately cut metal screens and entered the Visitor Center, where they had set out a quite extensive display of succulents and Agaves.

Variegated Agave americana

Agave titanota

Agave desmettiana

The Visitor's Center is flanked by two buildings used to house tender plants -- The Orangerie and the Limonaia.  In the center of this U-shaped area sits an ornamental pond with two spitting turtles.

The spitting turtles

In the photo above, note the large potted plant draped in white cloth near the door to the Orangerie. The garden was still in the process of moving all its tender plants out into their summer spots, and many were still draped, rather hauntingly I thought, in frost cloth.

I visited in mid-May, before they had moved everything out of the working greenhouses and into place. To see some wonderful shots of Tower Hill later in the summer, you can check out garden blogger Kathy's two posts about her visit in summer of 2017, from her blog Garden Book, here and here.

The Latin quote on the building translates into "If there be heaven on earth, this is it, joy everlasting"

Inside the Limonaia
A closer look at one of the Tillandsia tapestries hanging on the wall

After our exploration of the Visitor's Center, and the Orangerie and Limonaia, we headed to the cottage garden.

Looks like bloodroot foliage

A very tall Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata)

Alliums and a drastically coppiced golden Catalpa

Magnolia blossom

From there we strolled along the brick walkway toward the large arbor in the distance.

From there we headed back through the Visitor's Center to the Systematic garden, where plants are arranged in parterre-style beds according to families.

A pond edged in tufa, with nozzles that sprayed a mist into the center, and creepy draped plants

The Systematic Garden

Iain seems to be wondering what Dr. Moreau-like artist created the creature adorning this urn -- part woman, part Acanthus and part fish

After perusing all the plants in the Systematic Garden, we headed into the woodland. We had seen signs indicating we would find The Wild Rumpus this way. I had no clue what it was, and was surprised to discover it was a stickwork sculpture by Patrick Dougherty. Last year when I was at the Garden Bloggers Fling in the Washington, D.C. area, there was a Dougherty stickwork sculpture installed in a park a couple of blocks from our hotel. You can see some photos from Pam Penick's post about it here and Loree's photos and a video of it here.

Iain and I -- The title The Wild Rumpus comes from the Maurice Sendak book Where The Wild Things Are, one of Iain's favorite books when he was small

Here's a time lapse video of the construction of The Wild Rumpus.

There were lots of birds living in the Dougherty installation in D.C., but the one here in Tower Hill has lots of mosquitoes. We didn't hang around long. It was time to head for home anyway.


  1. That's fun to see you and Iain in the Wild Rumpus! Looks like well worth finally checking it out, so many areas to explore.

  2. What an awesome place. I'm so glad you finally visited so you could share it with us! You and Iain look adorable in the Wild Rumpus. There was a Patrick Dougherty installation in Tacoma at the Museum of Glass titled "Call of the Wild." Love those agaves and succulents! 171 acres? Just think of all that work...yikes!

  3. At least it wasn't a cloudy dreary day, or those draped plants would have been even more creepy! I'm confused by your image IMG_6522, at first I thought Albizia flower, but you visited in May, they're still buds here in Portland at the beginning of July. What is the pink puff ball?

    Oh and we've got a Patrick Dougherty installation here in Oregon too, I've not seen it in person but it looks fun:

    1. The pink puff ball is a Calliandra. At least that's what it was labeled. It was in a pot, probably one of the plants they had overwintered.

  4. I always wanted a Japanese umbrella pine, but only while they are in a 5 gallon pot; I'm well aware of their eventual size and gorgeousness. I'm loving each and very time I catch a glimpse of a stick work sculpture installation by Patrick Dougherty. I hope to one day run into one, serendipitously.

  5. Gorgeous! As I looked through your photos, I became more and more certain I'd seen this garden before. As I've never visited Massachusetts, I had to rack my brain. Kathy of The Garden Book posted on her visit, last year I think.

    1. Thanks so much for pointing that out to me. I'm adding a link to her two excellent posts. I did a search before I did mine, and Google didn't show me anything useful. It's great to see the garden later in the year when they have all the pots fully staged.

  6. Oh, I'm glad you had the chance to visit here-I think I've been 5 or 6 times , always later in summer;last year I was there in August.

  7. Looks like you had fun exploring and discovering, and rumpasing.

  8. Seriously amazing gardens! You could spend a week there :) Perfectly tidy cottage gardens make me swoon with happiness. Aspirational goals!!

  9. Many beautiful photos of that amazing botanical gardens and what about you two there in the Wild Rumpus, such a fun photo, love it.

  10. Drooling over that Tillandsia wall.


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