Built in 1901, Willowdale Estate was the summer retreat of prominent Boston businessman Bradley Palmer. The Arts and Crafts fieldstone mansion and surrounding grounds, originally titled Willow Dale, have been lovingly restored and enhanced with the addition of the Butterfly Courtyard Garden and tented pavilion.
I designed the gardens to reflect the Arts and Crafts period in which the estate was built, with a special focus on native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees that support myriad species of butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Sited in a sheltered central courtyard, the garden is visible from all of the rooms within the mansion and the adjacent pavilion. The butterfly garden is beautifully maintained throughout the year and we take extra care to grow only plants that are either regional to the northeast, or are exceedingly well-behaved ornamentals.
As part of the DCR Historic Curatorship Program, Willowdale is a shining example of a successful private and public partnership. Under the leadership of proprietor Briar Rose Forsythe, in 2007 Willowdale Estate opened its doors and quickly became the premier North Shore events venue for elegant events and parties. Willowdale offers full service wedding and party planning, including in-house catering. For information on hosting an event, wedding, or private party at Willowdale, visit the website at Willowdale Estate.
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New notes of fresh scents. Black earth, alive, revealed! The ground becomes awash in a sea of aquamarine striped squill. Warming winds and sun showers—all of New England rejoices in May’s heart song— and the nascent bud opens her grace to the garden.
Delicious pink and white flowering dogwoods and crabapples billow into blossom. The earth between affords a spring carpet of true-blue forget-me-nots, ‘Spring Green’ tulips, and warm, buttercream fragrant jonquils, woven with dashes of the Red of Riding Hood’s tulips. The much-awaited Eastern redbud arrives fashionably late in her brilliant Persian pink dotted dress. Ostrich ferns unfurl their fiddleheads and wildflowers violet, rockbell, bloodroot, and bleeding heart dance the spring fête. Lily of-the-valley takes hold the senses and the fragrance of lilacs and viburnums envelope the courtyard. So begins the seasonal revelry of sultry scented blossoms and kaleidoscopic hues.
As the summer unfolds, sweetbay and Oyama magnolias exude their lustrous satiny perfume—the fragrant festival swells—and aromatic, butterfly-attracting blossoms begin their florescence. The air becomes impregnated with the scent of lavender, rose, lemon lily, and peony. Coral honeysuckle twines round the entryway and there, you may capture a gleam from the hummingbird’s ruby throat. Buttonbush for swallowtails, meadowsweet for azures, a butterfly, or two, or three is spied! Coneflower and cardinal flower, poppy and phlox, moonbeam and catmint, balloon flower and buddleia—yield nectar punch for intrepid travelers. A tableau vivant to bedazzle royal Monarchs, the milkweed and gayfeather feast is arrayed. With whisper soft steps, we catch a glimpse of the clearwing moth nectaring at the verbena, and a sphinx at the wand flower.
Never quieting to the dog days of August, a Mexican mariachi of cosmos, nasturtiums, zinnias, and lantana continue to regale. Rose-of-Sharon throws another blossom and Rudbeckia ‘Autumn Sun’ stretches ever taller still. Late summer has arrived, and still the stalwarts flower. Now the moon vine and morning glories embower the courtyard entryway. Hazy, slanting rays gild the late season glory in the garden. Autumnal hues and fragrances are due in part to copious members of the aster family. New England and New York asters bloom in shades of pink and purple, smooth aster and ‘October Skies,’ in shades of lavender blue. The potent perfume of Montauk daisies is surpassed only by that of the apricot-pink washed Korean daisies. Not to be ignored is the divine scent of the peacock orchids, hailing from the banks of the Nile River, and the purple polka dots of toad lily and tissue paper petal-dress of anemone, both of Japanese fame.