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By James Ensor
Hometown Weekly Reporter
When visitors enter The Gardens at Elm Bank, home of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, they would be forgiven for thinking they had left the bustling suburbs of a major city and stumbled upon the Garden of Eden. Founded in 1829, the Society is in sight of its two-hundredth birthday and is going as strong as ever. Programs take place over seven different gardens and range in focus from children’s education to providing heirloom foods to food pantries.
Some of the more charming features of the gardens are its buildings; most are over 100 years old and spread across the estate. A manor house awaiting restoration, a carriage house home to functions like weddings, and a wooden belvedere overlooking the intersection between several gardens are just some of the charming facilities on the grounds.
The gardens themselves are both beautiful and highly practical. A trial garden provides a testing ground for crossbred seeds hoping to enter the market in a few years, and this trial garden is only one of three in New England. The children’s garden has a variety of educational programs every day and boasts carvings of faces, teepees, and water features. Near the children’s garden is a water feature in the middle of a group of 10-million year-old petrified tree stumps. The seed-to-table garden, which is organically maintained, provides 4,000 lbs of food to local food pantries - most of which is heirloom food, meaning it is native to this area and helps us remember how our ancestors ate.
“We are here to teach all the generations and want the community to know that we have great events and are on a mission to educate,” said John Forti, Director of Horticulture Education. “Kids today know less then ten plants or animals in their gardens and over a thousand corporate logos. Learning doesn’t have to be rote and from a book, it can be done in the garden with your family.”
Currently, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society is working on a new master plan for the next few years. Forti said he would like to see some buildings restored, including the manor house, as well as a small boathouse currently overrun by trees. If that were to happen, he would like to potentially implement kayak rentals and make the Gardens at Elm Bank reachable by boat from Boston. With more access to the surrounding river, the Horticultural Society would also like to begin teaching more about Massachusetts’ waterways and how they interact with native flora and fauna.
Memberships at the Society start at as low as $55 for an individual. Once a member, entrance is free every day of the week. The Gardens are also open to the public for a small fee at the gate, with tours and kids’ programs on offer.
“We’re crafting this new master plan carefully in order to articulate exactly how we are going to make this one of the premier botanical gardens in the region” concluded Forti.