Just hanging around the Fells neighborhood on a beautiful spring day.
The Massachusetts Horticultural Society, which calls Elm Bank Reservation its home at 900 Washington St., is offering residents of Wellesley and Dover free membership for a year. The Cheney Bridge at Elm Bank’s entrance, and Mass Hort’s address, are in Wellesley, while the bulk of the reservation is in Dover.
One membership per household gets you free admission to the gardens, which used to be free to everyone but have become increasingly gated off over the years as Mass Hort has looked to become more financially stable and protect its property.
Membership includes access to lots of flowers and other plants, as well as the always fun Weezie’s Garden for kids. Membership also includes discounts at a bunch of nurseries and garden centers, discounts on Mass Hort workshops and events, plus a subscription to Fine Gardening magazine.
If you don’t live in Wellesley or Dover but are interested in a membership, a range of options are available:
We’ve been out and about, marveling over the prettiness that is a Wellesley spring. We feel wrapped in freshness every time we step out the front door.
For more beautiful Wellesley pictures, check out our Instagram page. We update it several times a week with everything from iconic spots that scream out “Wellesley!” to unusual sights we come across (kitty-in-a-capsule, anyone?). Don’t forget to like our Insta account while you’re enjoying the pics. It makes us feel loved.
Recently we got a reader question about parking restrictions put in place at Elm Bank Reservation in the three lots maintained there by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. A sign at the entrance to the big lot near the gated entrance to the gardens informs visitors that no public parking is allowed. Barriers to entry at each of the lots have been put into place.
Signage notes that parking is allowed for vehicles associated with The Boston Outdoor Preschool Network (BOPN), which operates Mon. – Fri.-, 9am – noon, and for Mass Hort employees. “I see no reason why the lot can’t be open in the afternoons and on weekends/holidays. Also, after the big December snowstorm the parking spaces next to the main entrance to the woods were not plowed although the main roadway near had been,” the reader said in an email. Leaving the lot unplowed appeared to him “an obvious message to those who wanted to go for a winter walk” in the adjacent network of woodland trails that runs along the scenic Charles River.
Is perception of such a snub to trail walkers a reality? According to Mass Hort’s 99-year lease agreement covering its 36-acre use of the 175-acre state-owned property, plowing the loop and five of eight lots on the property is the Department of Conservation and Recreation‘s (DCR) responsibility. When it snows, DCR keeps that roadway and those five lots clear. I know they do. I can hear them at it all night long from my house.
The other three lots are maintained by Mass Hort, and those three parking areas happen to offer the easiest proximity to the trails. At this time the 150+ year-old organization chooses to clears its three lots of snow on an as-needed basis as it perceives need. So when Festival of Trees was in full swing in November and December, all three lots were fully plowed when a big storm hit during that timeframe. For the rest of the year, Mass Hort currently clears only enough spaces needed to accommodate garden programming, renters such as BOPN, and staff.
We checked in with Mass Hort head James Hearsum to learn more about parking onsite. He said the question about parking really turns on a wider lack of public clarity regarding Mass Hort’s lease of its 36-acres portion of the site. “It is perhaps not widely understood that the lease encompasses all areas inside the loop road, except the marked sports pitches and DCR lots. We invest approximately $700,000 directly into the leased site annually and take pride in that this large investment relieves a significant financial burden from the state. This was explicitly part of the reason for the long lease agreed to in 1996, and was seen as a much better solution than the housing previously proposed. We also keep open to the public all areas not in active and developed garden use.”
As for keeping open to the public its three parking lots, Hearsum says, “Due to the growth of the organization and the programs we offer, we now need the full capacity on a regular basis for our staff and garden visitors.”
We wonder if the organization is saving pots of money by leaving several dozen spaces under snow and inaccessible to the public for the season. Hearsum concedes that the DCR lots aren’t as immediate to the woodland entrances as the Mass Hort lots, but says getting to the entrances of the best hiking on the property merely involves “a short but pleasant walk over the open fields.”
We admire open fields as much as the next person, still, why make winter even more inconvenient than it already is? The tundra is frozen. The snow across those wind-whipped expanses deepens with each passing storm.
There’s hope. Mass Hort’s stated focus is on the development of the garden and growth in its programming. However, Hearsum has expressed an interest in friendly relationships with all stakeholders. “I will in the spring seek to meet members of the immediate community around Elm Bank, something that has not been possible since my arrival in early 2020. I would like to learn about the many interests and ambitions for Elm Bank and how I can facilitate rather than frustrate these. We are committed to doing so in a participatory way.”
Members of the Wellesley Gardeners’ Guild took advantage of the mild early-December temperatures to work their holiday magic on the planters at the Wellesley Free Library. Member used evergreens, boxwood, red dogwood branches, and more to create a display that will welcome library patrons and staff throughout the winter.
The club has a lot going on lately. Members also decorated the Wellesley Square and Wellesley Hills post office boxes right after Thanksgiving. Cypress was used for the spiller; many varieties of boxwood were used as the filler; and a variety of red, white and sparkly sticks were used as the thriller to give the planters pizazz with height and sparkles. Here are the beautiful results:
They also joined in with the Festival of Trees—a Community Celebration, in which storefronts throughout Central Street, Church Street, Grove and Washington Streets, and Linden Square have been decorated with scores of festive trees hand-cut from wooden pallets and similar materials. Each tree, adopted by a local business, community organization or charity, has been creatively decorated to represent their mission and holiday vision.
The Club has once again donated a fully decorated tree to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Festival of Trees, which showcases dozens of decorated trees and a Snow Village that includes a model railroad display. This annual event takes place at the Society’s headquarters at The Gardens at Elm Bank. Mostly displayed in the Hunnewell Building, the Festival offers beautifully decorated holiday trees that are donated and decorated by local businesses, garden clubs and other organizations, and individuals.
At first Phil the Philodendron, my once-bedraggled Wellesley Recycling and Disposal Facility rescue plant, didn’t mind being moved into the house for the winter. For September and most of October, his sunny upstairs conditions closely matched those of his summertime happy place on the front steps. I kept the windows open for him so that, ensconced in my office, Phil could feel the breezes and warm-enough temperatures of early fall. Every day I tell him how handsome he looks, and how much I appreciate his company.
Sweet talk hasn’t been enough. Once November hit, I closed the windows, and Phil went into a small pout. He expressed this by turning bits of himself yellow and affecting a faint. But he didn’t squander his biggest most beautiful leaves, I noticed. Just those that were already a little scraggly and weren’t doing much for the overall bold aesthetic Phil strives for.
That’s how I could tell Phil’s funk was only minor, and he doesn’t really mean to worry me. He can’t fool me, nor can he hide the two new shoots he recently sent ceiling-ward. He also allowed two roots to escape the confines of his pot with instructions to explore the braided rug and hardwood floor beneath, and report back. That’s not the behavior of a houseplant that’s giving up.
Phil doesn’t have it so bad, as I remind him. For one thing, he’s kept properly hydrated. Watering Phil during the cold months is a very different proposition than during summer. When he’s outside enjoying the sunshine and sending up multiple shoots per week, Phil needs daily watering. Once inside, his water rations are doled out to but once per week. I take care of that on big grocery day—feed the family, feed Phil. As a memory technique, it works.
Don’t tell Phil, but I’ve recently been dallying with other plants. Uncle Jerry from Dorchester over the summer gave me a clipping of an unusual, spindly sort of houseplant. After a few months in a container of water, its root system has sprouted and seems ready for something more substantial. This weekend’s project: finding a suitable pot and letting its roots run free in a lightweight potting medium. (“Why not a potting large?” Swellesley Junior would ask.)
Also, I’ve decided that the spider plant is no longer happy on the kitchen shelf and needs a new home.
Next up: fussing around with winter bulbs. I just found the most wonderful amaryllis at the grocery store. That one’s for Uncle Jerry, pandemic-bound in Dorchester, but in good spirits and surrounded by his massive collection of well-tended plants. There’s always room for one more in Jerry’s front parlor. Mr. Swellesley is heading into Dot soon to take in Jerry’s collection of garden ornaments for the winter. No doubt he’ll send Bob home with another interesting clipping for me. A Christmas Cactus, I’ll bet. Even though Jerry knows I always somehow kill those. This time I’ll try extra-hard not to squander his faith in me. But no promises.
Knowledgable plantswoman KC emailed to identify the above plant for me. Turns out Uncle Jerry gave me a clipping of Hoya. KC informs me that “it loves to be neglected.”
I see a long and happy future for Hoya and me.
Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s twelfth Festival of Trees will showcase dozens of decorated trees and a Snow Village that includes a model railroad display. This annual event takes place at the Society’s headquarters at The Gardens at Elm Bank. Mostly displayed in the Hunnewell Building, the Festival offers beautifully decorated holiday trees that are donated and decorated by local businesses, garden clubs and other organizations, and individuals.
During the festival, visitors may purchase tickets for a chance to win the tree(s) of their choice at the end of the event. Winners need not be present for the drawing. It’s fun, and for many it has become a family tradition. Tree sizes vary from one foot to nine feet in height and some have gifts in addition to the decorations.
Don’t miss Snow Village, an indoor exhibit that features model trains wending their way through villages and vignettes, including Christmas in the City (Boston of course!), Fenway Park, a Dickensian village, the North Pole and hundreds of decorated houses and lights.There are too many Santas to count, as well as skaters galore. This is a visual treat for young and old alike, and each year it’s a little different.
Outside there are decorations in The Gardens at Elm Bank, and visitors can keep warm and cozy melting S’mores at the fire pit.
Both the Festival of Trees display in the Hunnewell building and the Snow Village are accessible.
DATES TO VIEW TREES: Fri., Nov. 27 – Sun., Dec. 20
LOCATION: Massachusetts Horticultural Society, 900 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482
HOURS: Wed. – Sun.; 10am – 8pm, with the last entry at 6:20pm; closed Mon. and Tue.
Timed-entry tickets must be purchased in advance.
In strict observance of all COVID protocols, visitors will be escorted through the Festival in small groups.
This year there will also be a virtual Festival in addition to the physical display.