In this spotlight, you’ll learn about a wonderful outdoor botanical garden focused on highlighting native plants in the New England region. Garden in the Woods is a great way to learn more about sustainable gardening practices, ecosystems, and habitats of the Northeast, as well as current plant conservation efforts.
What is Garden in the Woods?
Garden in the Woods is a 45-acre outdoor woodland botanical garden that is open to visitors.
It is the largest landscaped collection of wildflowers in New England and hosts a wide range of educational programs for public education. The Garden provides a habitat area for wildlife and sensitive plant species, with several rolling hills, ponds, and forest areas.
This plant sanctuary is a favorite of HerbSpeak at any time of year. Whether it involves winter walking or summertime exploration, there is always something new to see.
The Garden contains more than 1,700 kinds of plants within the oak forest and visitors can experience different microhabitats at every step of the way. A one-mile paved loop offers a relaxing and enjoyable walk for visitors that lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on pace.
Officially designated as a botanical garden, this site is one of the first gardens to be awarded an Advanced Conservation Practitioner Accreditation. (1)
“Plant conservation is a core part of our mission at Native Plant Trust. We are honored to be among the first organizations recognized by BGCI for high professional standards and for achievements in our plant conservation program,”
This is awarded by the Botanic Gardens Conservation International, otherwise known as BGCI. This demonstrates that the garden is a leader in regional conservation efforts and sustainability practices. Some criteria assessed are the staff’s specialist skills, compliance with international conventions, participation in international scientific research, and conservation activities.
Who Owns Garden in the Woods?
Garden in the Woods is owned by a nonprofit organization called Native Plant Trust, also informally known as NPT. This organization has a wide reach in conservation policy across New England, heading the United States’ first native plant conservation program. They also grow local ecotype plants for gardeners, making them one of the largest retail native plant nurseries in the New England area.
In addition to the expansive outdoor garden, the property is also home to one of their two education centers, where participants learn about the native ecosystem indoors. Many of Native Plant Trusts’ classes happen with a blend of outdoor and indoor learning. Garden in the Woods provides the perfect setup where teachers and students alike may venture out into the garden for hands-on learning steps from the education center.
Native Plant Trust manages several native plant sanctuaries throughout New England and authors several plant resources, tools, and books that enable everyday people to begin learning about botany in their own backyard.
Where is Garden in the Woods Located?
Garden in the Woods is located at 180 Hemenway road in Framingham, Massachusetts. This location is the main headquarters of Native Plant Trust where their conservation efforts and public programs are based.
Framingham, MA is just outside of the Boston metroplex. With plenty of urban development, Garden in the Woods is a welcome natural respite in the middle. There is enough variety and interesting flora that local visitors can escape for a casual walk during lunchtime, and others will enjoy making it into a big family trip.
The Garden is perfectly positioned between several main cities including Hartford, CT, Providence, RI, Boston, MA, Worcester, MA, and Concord, NH. Nearby highway access makes Garden in the Woods accessible to plenty of people, without being so close that the sounds of traffic overtake the sounds of nature.
The History of Garden in the Woods
In 1931, Garden in the Woods was founded as the original owner Will C. Curtis purchased 30 acres of land in northern Framingham, MA. Passionate about landscape design that leaned towards the ‘wild gardens’ trend at the time, Curtis sought to highlight the natural glacial landscape and its native habitats.
Together with his partner Dick Stiles, Curtis cared for the property for over thirty years. Upon Curtis’ death in 1965, the deed was bestowed to the New England Wild Flower Society, which later became Native Plant Trust. Since then, NPT has sought to stay true to Curtis and Stiles’ legacy and provide a space where people can come to enjoy the native landscape. The organization has since expanded its reach to include public education programs, member events, a retail nursery for native plants, and a prolific conservation program.
Today, Garden in the Woods is influencing the garden trends of New England toward native plants. Not only are native plants beautiful, but it is a sustainable, ecological approach that lowers overall garden maintenance and provides food and shelter for wildlife.
Trail Maps and Guided Audio Tours
Garden in the Woods offers a range of tours throughout the year for individuals who are interested in learning more about the habitats and plants in the garden. Drop-in walking tours are available in-season from April through October at certain scheduled times.
Cart or group tours are provided by Garden Guide volunteers and are only available when scheduled in advance. Schools may also schedule class tours in advance at a special rate.
Self-guided audio tours are also available through their audio-tour app available on Google Play and Apple. Visitors should plan to download the app before arriving, as reception may become spotty within the Garden itself. A virtual self-guided tour is available for individuals who may not be able to attend in person. (2)
“Garden in the Woods lies just west of Boston, on 45 acres sculpted by retreating glaciers into eskers and steep-sided valleys, with a brook, pond, and wetlands.”
When you check in at the garden shop, be sure to grab a trail map to help orient you through the different microhabitats displayed along the path. If no trail map is available, there is a trail map available for download on Native Plant Trust’s website.
Best Time to Visit Garden in the Woods
You can visit Garden in the Woods throughout the year as a member, though winter walking must be done by appointment. The Garden is seasonal otherwise, and visitors will get the best array of wildflowers and native plants by visiting during the warmer months. The best time to visit Garden in the Woods is in early to mid-May. This ensures you get the best of both worlds: warmer weather and peak wildflower blooms.
The Garden can get a little crowded during this time of year, so if you’d like to skip the crowds without missing the blooms, you can still see many wildflowers throughout the summer months. There is no bad time of year to visit as long as the garden is in season. As an oasis of nature in the middle of busy Framingham, Massachusetts, there is always something to see on any of the main paved trails. For a little bit of a quieter walk off the paved path, you can also explore several unpaved public trails any time the garden is in season.
Native Plant Trust Events Throughout the Year
Native Plant Trust hosts events throughout the year. Through public programs, anyone can sign up for educational workshops and lessons about botany, gardening, landscape design, or conservation with a focus on native plants.
Members receive a discount to register for these public programs and gain access to members-only events hosted at the Garden. Typically, upcoming member events are posted online once the Garden is open for the year. Members at the garden access level and above gain free entry into Garden of the Woods to take advantage of self-guided tours any time of year, including during the winter by appointment.
FAQs About the Plant Sanctuary
Garden in the Woods is the only plant sanctuary in New England that has attendants on-site. Between that and its convenient location, it is one of the most popular choices for visitors. Still, there are plenty of questions you might have before your visit. Get answers to the most asked questions here:
Is Garden in the Woods Free?
No, Garden in the Woods has an entrance fee for non-members. This entrance fee goes to keeping the grounds maintained, supporting their public programs, and backing regional conservation efforts.
Adult admission is $16 per person for visiting the gardens, and you are welcome to stay and visit as long as the garden is open.
They have a discount for students, seniors, as well as active military and their spouses. Active service members and their spouses are admitted for free, and veterans receive 50% off admission.
Seniors and students pay $12 for admission. Children under 5 are free, while visitors under 18 pay $6.
Members may choose an ‘Individual with Garden Access’ annual membership that allows them free admission into the garden, or a ‘family and friends’ level membership that allows them and up to four guests admission to the garden and member’s events.
Is Garden in the Woods Easy to Walk?
Yes, Garden in the Woods is an easy walk for most people. The one-mile paved loop takes you up and down several hills, so it is important to be mindful of this before you arrive.
If you are looking for something more than a paved trail, there are several offshoot trails mapped that take you through different areas of the property. These trails will prove more difficult than the paved accessible pathway but are often open for enjoyment unless roped off temporarily. You should always stay on the trail and avoid disturbing any wildlife or wild plants in these areas.
When is the Garden Open?
The Garden in the Woods sanctuary is open from early April to late October. It is important to note that, because the space hosts naturally occurring plants outdoors, the variety of blooms and flourishing plants changes throughout the year.
During the off-season, the Garden is not accessible to drop-in visitors, but members can still walk the garden by appointment. Winter walk appointments are available to members from November 1st to the end of March.
Is There a Gift Shop?
Yes, Garden in the Woods has a quaint garden shop at the entrance, adjacent to the parking lot. This shop has a range of items for sale, from native plants grown at Nasami Farm, to nature and gardening books. Handmade nature-related art and novelty items line the walls, with frequently changing stock that always makes the garden shop a fun place to explore on your way out.
At the garden shop, you can also check in with Native Plant Trust staff and pay for admission. Members should still check in with staff even if visiting the garden with free access.
If you are feeling puckish, the garden shop also sells small snacks and drinks that you can take to the picnic tables to enjoy.
What Parking is Available?
Garden in the Woods has a full 42-car parking lot at the entrance to the garden that includes two handicapped-accessible spaces. During the busier months, the parking lot may fill up quickly, at which point guests are allowed to park along public streets.
If parking on a public street, it is important to take care not to park in front of driveways or on private lawns. Parking is prohibited along Raymond Road and Hemenway Road because they are narrow thruways that must be able to accommodate emergency vehicles.
The City of Framingham permits parking only along one side of the street, which changes depending on the year. For information about which side is acceptable to park along on that year, you can call the Garden in the Woods’ main office before or when you arrive.
Can Dogs Go to Garden in the Woods?
No, dogs are not allowed at Garden in the Woods unless they are service animals. There are many species of plants and animals in the Garden that are sensitive to disturbance, and it can be difficult to keep dogs on the path in crowds. Keeping pets at home also makes the experience better for fellow visitors, as the path can be narrow at times, and there are no designated areas for picking up after your dog.
Is Garden in the Woods Family Friendly?
Yes, Garden in the Woods is family-friendly and welcomes children of all ages, encouraging learning and play in the natural world. Families may take their children on a self-guided walk. There is a dedicated play area that encourages children to interact with natural elements such as sticks, building blocks, and leaves.
This Family Activity Area is located towards the end of the paved trail loop, not far from the Coastal Sand Plain area. Before you arrive at the family area, you will also see a stegosaurus sculpture hidden in the woods to your left.
There are also several child-focused events that Native Plant Trust hosts at the Garden, such as ‘Plant Play’ which offers children an hour-long session of nature-inspired crafts and songs. During the warmer months, scavenger hunts are common; you can pick up a scavenger hunt sheet at the main office during check-in.
Is Garden in the Woods Wheelchair Accessible?
Yes, Garden in the Woods is wheelchair accessible, but accessibility is limited due to the steep natural terrain in some areas of the garden. (3) According to AllTrails, wheelchairs with all-terrain tires that can handle gravel pathways are recommended for individuals looking to visit a wheelchair-accessible property.
“Visitors using wheelchairs, mobility equipment, or strollers may need assistance in the steeper sections or to avoid them for safety.”
The entrance plateau is ADA-compliant and there are two handicapped parking spaces available for visitors in the main parking area. For more specific information about the accessibility and recommendations from staff, it’s recommended that you call the main office for questions.
Why Are Plant Sanctuaries Important?
The concept of wildlife or habitat sanctuary may already be familiar to you thanks to nature documentaries and the positive impacts these spaces have across the globe. Many people are not familiar with dedicated plant sanctuaries, however, and even fewer realize that there are plenty of sanctuaries local to their region.
Plant sanctuaries are important areas of untouched or restored habitat that allow certain plant species to thrive. Native plant sanctuaries are specific sanctuaries that encourage plants genetically suited to the region with a historical presence.
In New England, Native Plant Trust manages 6 sanctuaries, not including the Garden in the Woods, which is considered a botanical garden. These sanctuaries typically only allow a limited amount of outdoor recreation – often limited to walking on designated trails – as this land is intended to preserve and protect plants that may be sensitive to disturbance of any kind.
Image: Members event ‘Night of Illumination’ 2022.
How Becoming a Member Benefits Garden in the Woods
Native Plant Trust is a nonprofit organization that depends on member support to keep Garden in the Woods maintained and regional conservation efforts in action. Membership support is critical to keeping these amenities open and innovative.
Memberships, public programs, and grants all help the organization manage additional plant sanctuaries across New England. These funds also fund the pursuit of native plant research and habitat restoration projects throughout the year, provide continuing education opportunities to professionals, as well as educate the public on ecological sustainability on a local scale.
How Access to the Garden Benefits You
The Garden in the Woods provides an escape into nature when you are feeling overwhelmed. Many people visit the Garden to relax or get their exercise in for the day.
Others may visit to get inspiration for their own native plant garden, learning about different habitats and companion plants that work well together or attract certain pollinators.
Garden access at the ‘family and friends’ level and above allows up to four others to join you during your walk through the woods at no charge. With easy paved paths and picnic benches available, it is a great place to come with friends for a relaxing afternoon.
- American Public Gardens Association, Native Plant Trust/Garden in the Woods Named as One of First Recipients of Advanced Conservation Practitioner Accreditation by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), https://www.publicgardens.org/news/article/native-plant-trustgarden-woods-named-one-first-recipients-advanced-conservation
- Native Plant Trust, Garden in the Woods, https://www.nativeplanttrust.org/visit/garden-woods/
- AllTrails, Garden in the Woods Trail, https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/massachusetts/garden-in-the-woods-trail