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.