Sunday, August 24, 2014

Treat Yourself to The Gardens at Elm Bank Reservation

Bright color in Weezie's Garden
As I entered the Massachusetts Horticultural Society Gardens at Elm Bank Reservation in Wellesley a few weeks ago, I met two women on their way back to the parking lot. One of them was using a wheelchair.
“How are the gardens?” I asked. Smiles lit up their faces as they answered. “Wonderful!” 
This was my first visit to the Gardens at Elm Bank during the summer season. I was looking forward to seeing the cultivated beauty this DCR state park has to offer along the Charles River near Boston.  Beyond the accessible restroom facilities near the front gate, the brochure indicates several different garden installations on the property, each designed by a different noteworthy horticultural designer. 
The Gardens are a sensory feast of color, landscape design and artistic elements. Turns out some of the installations are more accessible than others. Two gardens are very wheelchair and stroller accessible. Two other gardens are fairly accessible if you can navigate thick mown grass. Some of the other gardens would require wheelchair assistance or gait support for those with less strength or balance due to eroded pathways. Overall the Gardens at Elm Bank are definitely worth a visit.

Bird's nest style seating can be found down one
spiral trail in Weezie's Garden
I found Weezie’s Garden the most fascinating. It is a whimsical natural playground designed for children but equally enticing for adults. Nine intriguing side gardens spiral off the main discovery area with different themes and sensory opportunities to explore. Some spots feature narrow footpaths that invite greater intimacy with plants but are not wheelchair accessible. Even glancing down the little paths evokes a sense of curiosity. Otherwise, Weezie’s Garden is very accessible.
The Italianate Garden is where I found another visitor with disabilities – an older gentleman using a rolling walker, seated with a camera to photograph birds. Nearby goldfinches were happily feasting on flower heads. This garden has paved pathways on flat ground surrounded by trimmed hedges with long rows of plantings and a central fountain. It connects to an old mansion no longer in use but which completes the feeling of being on an estate. This is one of only two Italianate Gardens open to the public in Massachusetts.
Cupcake style blossoms on Echinacea flowers
in the Trial Garden
The Trial Garden features new varieties of annual flowers for public viewing before they go on the market so it is a lovely way to see unusual blooms. The pathways between the neatly arrayed plots are grass, so some people in wheelchairs may need assistance depending on conditions. The same is true for the Bressingham Garden which magnificently displays four season perennials over an acre.
I was especially interested in the Teaching Herb Garden, with plantings in various themes such as colonial, Native American, culinary, fragrance, dye, medicinal, even ecumenical. This garden had best access at the sides rather than front and some erosion and overgrowth in the approaches made this one trickier to enter for those more challenged by uneven terrain. There was no self guiding information other than labeled plants on site, so if you are interested in herbs, print out the Teaching Herb Garden guide online before you go. This garden would be exceptional as a sensory experience and outdoor classroom. I hope physical access can be improved through routine maintenance that may just be a bit behind all the rainfall we’ve had this year. 
Side entrance to the Teaching Herb Garden

The Gardens at Elm Bank are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and are free to members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Admission: $6 per adult for the general public. (Boxes are located at the gates and the kiosk, when attendant is not on duty.) Non-members are encouraged to join Massachusetts Horticultural Society to help support the maintenance of the Gardens at Elm Bank.  Garden tours take place each Tuesday at 10am May through October. The tours are free for Mass Hort members and $10 for non-members. For further info call 617-933-4900 or visit
Elm Bank Reservation is at 900 Washington Street in Wellesley. It is easiest to get their by car. For further info on how to get close to Elm Bank by public transportation and use local cabs to arrive, click here.

No comments: