I will admit, planting zinnias (or any flowers for that matter) in between corn plants is not something I had considered until admiring the attractive combination in the vegetable garden at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, home of the Worcester County Horticultural Society.

Corn interplanted with zinnias

Corn interplanted with zinnias

Last Thursday the MNLA Summer Field Day was held at this 132 acre botanic garden in Boylston, MA and afterwards I had time to tour some of the inspirational gardens and plantings.

Tower Hill boasts a number of gorgeous gardens and intriguing plant collections including a charming Cottage Garden, the Secret Garden with its fountain and pergola, a great Lawn Garden framed with unique cultivars of trees and shrubs underplanted with perennials, groundcovers and bulb, the Systemic Garden with its Italianate design and interesting garden ornaments and the Winter Garden with its wonderful turtle fountains. There is much more to see if you find the time to visit Tower Hill and stroll through the grounds.

Being a big fan of vegetable gardening I like to see what new theme they have for their vegetable/cutting garden. This year it is ‘Cultivate Taste’. While most correctly assume that how a vegetable tastes is related to the variety or cultivar, taste and flavor also depend on growing and weather conditions, soil type and management, amount of water plants receive, the stage at which vegetables are harvested and also how they are cooked. As a general rule of thumb, the more water a plant receives, the plumper and juicier the fruit but the flavor is often diluted. More drought-like conditions typically result in a more concentrated flavor giving you more pungent onions, hotter chilies and sweeter melons. Several studies have found that when plants are grown under organic production conditions, the fruit contains less nitrates and more anti-oxidants which also makes for more flavorful selections.

Good taste is also a matter of aesthetics. While there is nothing wrong with looking at those nice, straight rows of peppers and beans, interplanting them with aromatic herbs, cheery flowers or contrasting colors adds another dimension of pleasure to the vegetable garden. Some of my favorite combinations at Tower Hill were the black cherry tomato with purple nicotiana and yellow stemmed Swiss chard combined with purple ruffled kale.

Purple kale and yellow stemmed chard

Purple kale and yellow stemmed chard

Blacl cherry tomato with purple nicotiana

Blacl cherry tomato with purple nicotiana

For those lacking space for an in-ground vegetable garden, think vertical! This lovely bed of lettuce was growing on one of their walls. Plantings like this could be filled with other compact plants like many herbs, other types of greens and probably the compact basket tomatoes. Whether searching for unique plants or innovative gardening ideas, check out the offerings at Tower Hill.

Wall of lettuce

Wall of lettuce

Good Gardening!

Dawn

Last Sunday was rather cold and raw so a friend and I decided to take a ride to Tower Hill Botanic Garden in West Boylston, MA to bask in the glorious scents and sights of the Garden’s two citrus conservatories, the ‘Orangerie’ and the ‘Limonaia’. A few hundred of years ago, wealthy aristocratic Europeans developed a hankering for sweet oranges, tart lemons and other semi-tropical citrus fruits that shipped poorly from newly discovered foreign lands.

Orange tree at Tower Hill Botanic GArden

Their estate gardeners were charged with raising these much desired fruits and tried overwintering the large potted plants in sheds and other sheltered places. Eventually three-sided enclosures with a glass wall were developed so plants could receive some light all winter long. As the industrial revolution progress, steel framed greenhouses became available for such exotic fare.   

Limonaia at Tower Hill

 The conservatories at Tower Hill follow along a more classical, eighteenth century style of greenhouse with lots of bricks, stone, iron, glass and wood. They flank a lovely Winter Garden with turtle fountains created by the noted animal sculptor, Priscilla Deichmann. The Winter Garden is laid out in Italianate style. It was a little too cold to linger but the design lines and plants like the red-stemmed dogwood, boxwoods and ornamental grasses had strong visual interest even on this bleak day.

Winter Garden with Turtle Fountains

Other semi-tropicals were grown with the wide assortment of citrus trees. My favorites were the camellias which were in full bloom. My friend was particularly enthralled with the coleus and iresine. Both of us admired the clivia, acalypha, agaves and the many other plants that enjoy cool nighttime winter temperatures, say about 45 degrees F or so.

 

Beautiful semi-tropicals fill the orangerie and limonaia at Tower Hill

As far as I know, this is the only Orangerie in New England. It opened in 1999 and the Limonaia just opened to the public this past fall. While I don’t get to visit Tower Hill or any other horticultural destinations as much as I might like, it is always a treat to be introduced to new plants, both indoors and out especially now as we count down the days to spring and a new gardening season in our own yards.

Dawn