Category Archives: Tower Hill Botanic Garden

My Workshop at Tower Hill Botanic Garden this Sunday, May Day

Come join me this Sunday at 1:00 at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Worcester for the perfect May Day event–How to Create a Butterfly Garden. Pre-registration is required:

Monarch Butterflies Nectaring at Smooth AstersMonarch Butterflies Nectaring at Smooth Aster

I will be presenting the necessary elements to help you create a beautiful and welcoming haven for butterflies. Once you begin to think about your garden as food source and shelter, it will influence all your horticultural decisions. Native and well-behaved non-native plants, along with examples of architectural features, will be discussed based on their value to attracting specific butterflies. This lecture and slide presentation will help you gain a deeper understanding of the interconnected world that we human beings share with plants and butterflies and how to translate that information to your own garden. Butterfly gardening plant list included with workshop.

From wiki: The Floralia, also known as the Florifertum, was an ancient Roman Festival dedicated to Flora the goddess of flowers and vegetation. It was held on the IV Calends of May, April 27 to May 3, and symbolized the renewal of the cycle of life, marked with dancing, drinking, and flowers. While flowers decked the temples, Roman citizens wore colorful clothing instead of the usual white, and offerings were made of milk and honey to Flora.

Maurice Prendergast May Day Central Park 1901Maurice Prendergast May Day Celebration Central Park 1901


May Day is synonymous with International Worker’s Day and Labour Day. Read Howard Fast’s May Day – 1947, well-worth revisiting with the continued and increasing efforts to destroy organized labor.

Howard Fast May Day 1947 Rockwell KentRockwell Kent

Growing Citrus Indoors

Tour the Limonaia at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Register online for my workshop at Tower Hill Botanic Garden: Creating a Butterfly Garden, Sunday, May 1, 1:00 to 3:00. I hope to see you there!

~ Citrus ~

Growing Citrus Indoors excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

We would grow citrus, whether they bore fruit or not, for the lilting sweet scents of the blossoms alone. Whether entering a room in which a citrus is in bloom or approaching the plant on the terrace, one cannot help appreciating their exquisite fragrance.

During the Baroque period, orange and citrus fruits became equated with the golden apples from the mythical Garden of Hesperides. In 1664 Louis XIV of France commissioned the architect LeVall to build the first orangerie at Versailles. It was the Sun King’s love for gardens, and in particular his admiration for the “Seville” orange, which brought both citrus plants and the conservatory into prominence. The orangerie protected exotic and tender plants during the winter, and when the plants were moved out of doors during the warmer months, the orangerie was transformed into a setting for courtly events and celebrations.

The genus Citrus is indigenous to southeast Asia, occurring from northern India to China and south through Malaya, the Philippines, and the East Indies. The earliest records of its cultivation date back to about 500 b.c. The four original wild species from which all domesticated fruits are thought to have been hybridized are Citrus medica, Citrus aurantifolia, Citrus grandis, and Citrus reticulata.

The calamondin orange (Citrus mitis), with heavenly scented, pure white flowers, is among the easiest to grow. Although the fruit is too acidic to eat out of hand, it is fine for cooking, seasoning poultry prior to roasting, or combining with honey to make a piquant glaze. The key lime (Citrus aurantifolia), has an insinuating sweet and fresh fragrance and is used for preserves, garnishes, and juice. Oil of citral is extracted from Citrus aurantifolia for use in perfumes. Highly valued in Japan and China for use in Buddhist ceremonies, the Buddha’s Hand (Citrus medica) is a thorny shrub with fragrant fruits that resemble a human hand. The flowers are comparatively large (3–4 inches across), white shaded purple, and intoxicatingly fragrant.

One of the most beautiful and widely available citrus for pot culture is the Meyer lemon (Citrus limon x Citrus sinensis), also known as the Chinese lemon. It grows to a manageable size, less than two feet, and in a standard shape with a nicely rounded-head form. Not a true lemon, but a hybrid cross of C. sinensis, an orange, and C. limon, its fruit is sweeter than that of a pure lemon cultivar. But it is for the flowers that I grow the Meyer lemon. The blossoms are thick and velvety, creamy white tinted rose. Blooming in notes of honeysuckle and jonquil-like fragrances, the tree flowers prodigally.

Citrus thrive in a well-draining soil similar to what is an ideal medium for cactus. They must be grown in clay pots to insure good air circulation. The surest way to kill a citrus is by overwatering. Wait until the soil is thoroughly dried between watering. Place your finger a full three inches into the soil and water only when it feels dry at your finger tips, and then water deeply until a bit of water comes out the bottom of the drainage hole. With regular feedings of fish fertilizer throughout the summer and an all-purpose fertilizer during the winter months (when we find the odor of fish fertilizer to be repugnant indoors), citrus plants grow strong and healthy and are less likely to succumb to insect infestations.

Citrus plants are fairly indestructible, although they will quickly let you know when they’re unhappy. A few leaves will yellow and fall off, and if the problem is not resolved immediately, the entire plant will defoliate. This is typically due to overwatering and/or a soil mixture that does not allow for excellent drainage. Do not be discouraged, even if the entire plant becomes leafless. Water less frequently and try repotting the plant in a more suitable growing medium. Usually, they can be revived.

When grown indoors, citrus are occasionally bothered by spider mites and scale. Spider mites are easy to detect because they make a visible white web. Scale is a more challenging problem to diagnose as the light brown, pinhead sized and hard-bodied pest is difficult to see. They remain well hidden, where they attach themselves to the stems and along the ribs on the underside of the leaves. Scales produce a sticky substance that coats the leaves. For both pests, spray with a solution of diluted rubbing alcohol (three parts water to one part rubbing alcohol) to keep them in check.

Considered a harbinger of prosperity and good fortune, citrus have been grown in Chinese gardens and courtyards for thousands of years. We can take a lesson from how seasonal changes are reflected in a Chinese garden. Different areas of the garden are used in rotation for social events, depending on the prominence of a particular tree or shrub in flower, and flowering plants growing in pots are brought into the current living areas. After blooming, they are moved to a less visible location, and the focus shifts to flowers that are coming into florescence.

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, Publisher)

Citrus and Camellia at the New Tower Hill Botanic Garden Limonaia

Camellia 'Haru-no-utena' in bloom at Tower Hill LimonaiaCamellia japonica ‘Haru-no-utena’

Arriving at Tower Hill Botanic Garden late Saturday afternoon, I soon realized that it was the perfect time of day for enjoying and photographing the camellia and citrus collection housed in the new Limonaia. The crowds had thinned and the late day sun lent a warm glow to the conservatory collections and the surrounding hillsides.

Limonaia at Tower Hill

The hallway leading from the Limonaia to the Orangerie was lined with luscious displays of camellia blossoms, which were part of the special camellia exhibit taking place at the botanic garden, and were provided by members of The Massachusetts Camellia Society.

Camellia japonica 'Bob Hope Camellia japonica ‘Bob Hope’

Originally from the Isabella Stewart Gardner collection, Camellia japonica in the Limonaia are part of the permanent collection at Tower Hill. The Limonaia is a joy to wander through–not in the least over crowded–allowing the visitor to see the bones, or structure, of the plant, which is especially appreciated with larger specimens of citrus and camellia. Myriad and beautiful examples of Camellia japonica abound, including well-labeled known cultivars, as well as those of unknown lineage. With plumpest buds of promised beauty held tightly along stems, and the high-gloss evergreen foliage offsetting opened blossoms, I would be hard pressed to name a favorite. Look for the vivid red striations bespattering the Persian pink petals of C. japonica ‘Haru-no-utena’ and the sunlight-white  splodges in the carmine pink blossoms of C. japonica ‘Masayoshii.’

Camellia japonica is related to Camellia sinensis from which beverage tea is cultivated, and many of the flowering Japanese camellias on display have the similarly nodding habit, where you gaze up into the blossom. In its wild habitat Camellia japonica grows 20 to 30 feet; many of the oldest camellia plants in the Tower Hill collection stand a good eight feet, which is the perfect height for admiring the bowing blossoms. I recommend a visit to the Limonaia now, or in the very near future, if you wish to see the garden’s stunning collection of C. japonica in bloom.

Camellia japonica Tower Hill Bolyston MA


Camellia japonica ‘Masayoshii’

Camellia japonica ‘Masayoshii’

Camellia japonica ‘Masayoshii’The above three photos are of the exquisite Camellia japonica ‘Masayoshii’

Members of the Rutaceae, commonly called rue or citrus family, are well represented with great specimens of kumquats, Ponderosa lemon, calamondin orange, Persian lime, and more. The larger trees are potted in sturdy and attractive “Versailles Boxes,” which are custom made replicas of those built for Louis the XIV’s Orangerie du château de Versailles.

KumquatCalamondin OrangeCalamondin Orange (Citrofortunella microcarpa)

Shoo away those winter blues and head to the Limonaia and Orangerie at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. You will be delighted with the fresh scents, brilliant plant arrangements, color green in all its infinite many hues, and every other delicious color of the rainbow—a welcome respite from our monochromatic winterscape. The walkways from the parking lot to the visitor center are well maintained, with no treacherous ice!

Limonaia Fabulously Fragrant Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'Fabulously Fragrant Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

Camellia japonicaCamellia japonica 'Alba Plena'Camellia japonica ‘Alba Plena’


Camellia japonicaLooking out the greenhouse windows to the old farmhouse

Sunset at Tower Gill Botanic Garden

Sunset at Tower Gill Botanic GardenWachusetts Mountain and Wachusetts Reservoir lie just beyond the pavilion

The following text is provided from the sign near the pavilion pictured above: Wachusett Resevoir and Wachusett Mountain ~ Tower hill summit, at 641.5 feet above sea level, is one of the highest points in the area. It takes its name from a tower erected atop the hill used as a survey site for the construction of the Wachusetts Reservoir to the west. Completed in 1905, the reservoir provides drinking water for Boston and 64 surrounding cities and towns. Water originates mid-state at the Quabbin Reservoir and travels through a 24.6 mile tunnel to join the runoff from the Wachusett watershed. Tower Hill Botanic Garden lies within the Wachusett watershed. Every effort is being made during the development and daily maintenance of the garden to protect this valuable resource.

The Wachusett Reservoir covers 6.5 square miles within a 37 mile shoreline. Gravity powers the flow of water through the reservoir system east to Boston. The name “Wachusett” is Algonquin for “by the Great Hill.” Just beyond the reservoir looms Wachusett Mountain. At elevation 2006 feet above sea level, it is a popular destination.


Limonaia is the name given to an architectural feature or room originally designed to shelter lemon trees.

Limonaia at Tower Hill Botanic gardenLimonaia at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

As the orangerie, orangery, or orange house is to the French, the limonaia, lemonary, and lemon house is to the Italians.

Camellia Show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Not to be missed is the Camellia Show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, today and tomorrow, February  12th and 13th. I am heading out to Bolyston today to see the exhibit, which will be held in their brand new Limonaia, and in the upcoming weeks will bring you photos and updates about the stunning and distinctive gardens at Tower Hill. On Sunday May 1st I am giving a workshop at Tower Hill on Creating a Butterfly Garden, with more information on registering for the class in a future post.

Camellia Show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden