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Cultivating the Future

By Sharman Andersen

A visit to the gardens at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in Wellesley presents a wonderful dilemma—where to look first. The rich profusion of flowers and trees and the vast array of colors can be overwhelming, until the visitor realizes that each of the almost one dozen gardens has a carefully designed and executed theme.

The Italianate Garden, for example, has been painstakingly restored using the original plans from 1926. Its formal plantings and pathways lead up to the 40-room manor house, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In contrast, the society’s newest initiative, the one-acre Chefs’ Gardens, boasts containers and raised beds overflowing with veggies and fruits. During its first season, this garden provided more than 2,000 pounds of produce to local food pantries.

Since January, Katherine Macdonald MBA ’99, has been the executive director of the nonprofit organization. One of her goals is to serve the needs and desires of its members, many of whom envision gardens as more than decorative adjuncts to their homes, but rather as extensions of their lives. So now the society offers onsite cooking demonstrations to complement the harvests, and provides recipes, nutrition, and even composting information.

These changes also play into Macdonald’s desire to strengthen the society’s focus on education and educational outreach, sustainability, and the environment. “The society was part of the botanical innovation and educational movements when it was formed in 1829,” she says. “While it may seem counterintuitive, the best way for the society to meet the needs of the 21st century is to return to those roots.”

Photographs by Tom Kates