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seasonal influence | the gardening life

Go to the winter woods: listen there; look; watch; and the “dead months” will give you a subtler secret than any you have yet found in the forest.
—Fiona Macleod

Walking in a Winter Wonderland
It may be a leap of faith for some to describe the winter garden as beautiful. While warming up to a freezing landscape may seem counterintuitive, winter in New England is an opportunity to explore nature in its unadorned splendor. Public gardens open throughout the winter encourage reflection, and much about a landscape can be discerned from a visit to each of the following magical places.


Four Magical Destinations that Extend the Gardening Season
writer and diplomat John M. Hay (1838–1905), The Fells (Scottish for rocky upland pasture) boasts extensive formal and informal gardens, and a commitment to education and conservation that transcends all seasons. With a blend of garden styles, including a walled woodland garden and expansive rock garden, The Fells and surrounding forest are a perfect winter retreat. Open every day from dawn to dusk, walkers, hikers, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and children, especially, are encouraged to hark back to simpler times. “In winter, you can see the bones of a garden, stripped away of the sometimes overwhelming flowers and foliage,” says Karen Zurheide, executive director of the Fells. “Often, you’ll have the place to yourself, and a private experience with a

The Fells Historic Estate and Gardens

456 Route 103A, Newbury, N.H. | Nestled amid nearly 1,000 acres of forest, and with spectacular views of Lake Sunapee, The Fells is New Hampshire’s premier historic garden. The former lakeside estate of


November/December 2008

real sense of peace, stillness, and a connection to the natural world.” The gardens are part of land safeguarded by the Society of Protection of N.H. Forests and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Fells is operated by a non-profit organization that has cared for the estate since 1997. The landscape is designated by The Garden Conservancy as a preservation project, and the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the connection to the natural world that defines the mission of the Fells. According to Zurheide, “the goal of The Fells is to foster the Hay family's special legacy of land stewardship, and to create a center for understanding the natural world with a focus on history, horticulture, and the environment.” Educational programs for adults and children alike, including a Knee-high Nature series for pre-schoolers, a Wild Harvest Arrangement class and Christmas at the Fells (November 8–10 and 15–16), round out the organization’s planned winter activities.

2005, the Pine Tree Conservation Society granted Coastal Maine 120 additional acres, securing its place as New England’s largest public garden. Coastal Maine continues to grow today. The gardens are open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, and while every area of the coastal oasis beckons travelers in any season, the Rhododendron and Perennial Garden is breathtaking in winter. Walkers reach the destination after a contemplative sojourn through quiet Birch Alee, and become aware of the magnificence of their surroundings in virtual slow motion. A slightly sloping, terraced pathway flanked by a stone wall introduces one Rhododendron and perennial at a time, until the visitor reaches a crest. An exquisite, multitiered granite waterfall announces its presence — for the first time, it seems — as one begins a circular descent on sculptural stone steps. The show and sounds nearly overwhelm the senses; in winter, it is simply magical.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

Mount Auburn Cemetery
580 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge, Mass. | A stroll through a cemetery in a major metropolitan area may not at first glance top your winter to-do list. But Mount Auburn is unlike any ordinary cemetery, and a visit to the 177-yearold, 175-acre landmark is a must-see for any serious gardener, naturalist, or historian. Replete with marble, granite, and brownstone-laden statues, sculpture, chapels, and the historic gravesites of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Buckminster Fuller, Mary Baker Eddy, and Asa Gray, among others, Mount Auburn is renowned internationally, and recognized domestically by the U.S. Department of the Interior as one of the country’s most significant cultural landscapes. According to Mount Auburn horticultural curator, Dennis Collins, “the notion of public parks in the United States derived from the Mount Auburn Cemetery.” Founded in 1831, Mount

Images on this page are of The Fells Historic Estate and Gardens

Barters Island Road, Boothbay, Maine Like every good garden, Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, New England’s largest botanical paradise, started with a seed. A couple of men with a penchant for plants chatted at a local shop about creating a public landscape. In 1991, they assembled a board of 12 like-minded directors (each of whom mortgaged their homes to raise money), and began searching for land. The founders soon discovered 128-acres that hugged the shores of a saltwater river along a dense forest that promised future trails. They planted the first gardens, a Rhododendron and Perennial Garden and a Shoreland Garden of Native Plants in 2001 and 2002, and each year since has witnessed the design and development of additional gardens, including a Rose Garden, Woodland Garden, Great Lawn, Entry Walk, Hillside Garden, Meditation Garden, Kitchen Garden, and Birch Alee. In

Tower Hill Botanic Garden

The Orangerie at Tower Hill Botanic Garden


November/December 2008

Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Auburn was the first-of-its-kind public landscape project in the U.S.; it led to the inception of garden cemeteries, and in turn, to public parks. Mount Auburn was conceived 25 years before Frederick Law Olmstead, considered the father of American landscape architecture, began his design career. Mount Auburn is a gardener’s treasure. According to the Friends of Mount Auburn, the landscape “reflects different styles, ranging from Victorianera plantings to contemporary gardens, from natural woodlands to formal ornamental gardens, and from sweeping vistas through majestic trees to small, enclosed spaces.” In winter, Mount Auburn’s approximate 6,000 trees and 4,000 shrubs stand sentry, the conifers cradle soft-fallen snow, and the deciduous trees boast architectural forms uncluttered by the leaves of milder days. “Mount Auburn is a walking, contemplative place,” says Collins. Skis and snowshoes are prohibited. Gardeners, birders, and nature-lovers seeking the shadows of a winter sun streaming through trees, or those interested in taking a course or two on plant identification, are welcome.

Tower Hill Botanic Garden

11 French Drive, Boylston, Mass. Tower Hill Botanic Garden is a refuge in any season. Open year-round, and located less than an hour west of Boston, Tower Hill rests on 132 bucolic acres overlooking Mount Wachusett and the Wachusett Reservoir. Tower Hill invigorates the winter-weary with six distinct theme gardens, an orangerie brimming with sub-tropical plants and blooming bulbs, and a festive Holly Days event that runs from the day after Thanksgiving through January 4th. According to Michael Arnum, marketing and public relations director at Tower Hill, each of the gardens at the botanical oasis were designed with winter in mind. “We have nearly 6 months of plant dormancy in New England, and all of our gardens were planned to be of interest year-round.” Trees with exfoliating bark, shrubs boasting plump and colorful berries, and the deliberate placement of pergolas, statuary, and ornament (including the not-to-be-missed Folly), characterize the Entry Garden, the Lawn Garden, the Secret Garden, the Systematic Garden, the Inner Park, and the

Wildlife Refuge Pond and Woodland Trails. Each garden invites both the garden enthusiast and expert to extend the season; visitors may traverse the trails on foot, cross-country skis, or snowshoes, or take a guided tour on any given Sunday, weather-permitting. “Walking in the winter landscape is surreal,” offers Arnum. “A lot of avid outdoors people that are desperate to get outside find inspiration for their own gardens in the bones of the winter landscape at Tower Hill, then venture inside for lunch at the café, and a visit to the orangerie.” The orangerie is one of Tower Hill’s most distinct and elegant features. Just as the aristocrats of the 18th century longed for the lushness of the tropics in cold weather, so do New Englanders. This a magnificent 20th century interpretation of an 18th century architectural art form, housing exotic plants too tender for the outdoors and a breathtaking respite from a cold winter’s day.



November/December 2008