The Garden in the Woods

If you live in New England or are here on vacation and you love wildflowers and wild plants in general, you owe yourself a trip to The Garden in the Woods, a preserve run by the New England Wildflower Society. It is magical, awe-inspiring and an unbelievably precious resource. My mom and I visited the other day and were bowled over with the lush planting, the overwhelming variety and beauty of wild plants in their natural environments. There was so much to see and experience it almost made me cry. The dedication of the staff to the preservation and proliferation of wild plants is amazing. I can only imagine the endowment this jewel must have. Worth every penny.

For a couple of years now I’ve been meaning to get there, but kept forgetting. So last year I put it in my calendar to remind me at the beginning of May. A quick drive to Framingham, MA and we arrived. I didn’t know what the weather would be like when I made my date with mom, but as it turns out, it was perfect. Overcast, but not rainy and not too hot. I knew my Oly 90mm would get a workout and boy did it ever. There are so many displays and trails that we couldn’t get to them all and suddenly it was 5:00. I like the ‘subtle’ closing indicator to visitors. Sprinklers went off like crazy! I guess that was our cue.

The first amazing flower to catch our attention was the yellow lady slipper. Neither of us had ever seen these flowers before, either cultivated or in the wild. They are unbelievably rare. We oohed and aahed and tried really hard not to climb into the garden itself. Such willpower and restraint has never been witnessed before.

Mirror, Mirror

The next rarity to enthrall me was maidenhair fern. I’ve been looking for it for years in the forest, but have never seen it. The way it grows and the pale, delicate nature of the fronds is a wonder. It’s at once fragile, yet sheltering. Of course a fern freak like me would be all over it.

Maidenhair fern

Mom was so patient when I’d get sucked up into photographing a plant. The trilliums were all over in terms of blooming – some were past, some were fresh and some were imminent. This nodding beauty was tough to get to, but eventually after some persistence, I got a shot I like. It was a natural for a monochrome conversion, too. I didn’t notice the wee  jumping spider when I shot, but was bummed I didn’t get it in focus in any of the shots. Such a cutie.

Nodding trillium

From time to time, when I remembered and when the light wasn’t the best it could be, I used a little on-board flash to fill in and I was really pleased with the results. The OM 90mm  has some decent reach and I didn’t have to be right up on most specimens to get them in frame. This made the backgrounds really soft, with some lovely bokeh.

Greek valerian

Just along from the bed these were in, we found some more yellow lady slipper except they were mini! Seriously, this next blossom is an inch long, while the ones in the shot above are easily twice that. They were adorable. Luckily we arrived when the blooms were at their most dewy freshness.

Right profile

As we progressed through the day, the sun started to come out and it got tougher to photograph certain flowers. I like the job the fill flash did with these shooting stars though.

Make a wish

I was a bit dizzy and could hardly pay attention to the big picture, but here’s one of my favorite paths leading to the rare plant display –

My favorite path

And speaking of rare plants…here’s American Hart’s-tongue fern which only grows in rare limestone outcrops in the Northeast, but hasn’t been recorded as occurring in New England (at least according to my field guide which was updated by the New England Wildflower Society in 2005). What a treat to see it. My fern guide also says that ‘hart’ was another name for stag and the name refers to the shape resembling a deer tongue. Oh what strange stuff you learn in botanical field guides. I love the curly bits of the still unfurling leaves –

American hart’s-tongue fern

I had the camera on a rock to get this image and while I was shooting, another visitor who I will call Tripod Man came over to talk to me. Again. His opening salvo upon seeing my camera sitting on a bag of barley on the ground was “That’s one way to do it.” With kind of a disparaging tone. Ugh. Great. This time he wasn’t going to be satisfied with idle chit-chat about gear (The last time he asked me what lens I was using and I think he was taken aback by my reply. It was the old 90mm as usual, but I think it surprised him.) Anyway, this time he decided to lecture me about the things I should have like a quick-release plate for a tripod and a little light-blocking funnel thingie so I could see my LCD screen in any light. Ugh. Dude. I know you’re old enough to be my grandfather, but spare me your photography wisdom and go lecture someone else.

Anyway, we were soon rid of him and got to a lovely meadow display that made me sad we don’t have many meadows left. Paved over by sub-divisions and shopping malls. Too bad, too. There could be more of these –

Wild hyacinth

While mom was taking a break on a bench in this display, we saw these gorgeous pink flowers, but didn’t know what they were since they weren’t labeled the usual way.

Pink ladies’ bonnets

Jokingly I dubbed them Pink ladies’ bonnets and mom thought that was pretty good. Then I said they looked like giant pea flowers. We started looking around for more of them, but didn’t see more than a few plants. Then mom said they sort of looked like a locust flower and light dawned. Of course. Giant peas! They’re honey locust! We spied a much larger version nearby and yep, that was the ‘mother’ plant. Honey locust trees grow to be enormous and produce banana-sized bean pod things that fall to earth at the end of the summer. Being that the trees are so huge (at least the ones I’ve seen) I never could see the flowers before. Luckily there were tiny saplings at The Garden in the Woods and with the OM 90mm and a little fill flash, their beauty is revealed –

Honey locust

Once again I notice little green markings on the interior of the flowers – I think they must be guides for pollinators so they get right in there. So cool.

Well that’s all that I have from my time at the Garden in the Woods. I want to go back though as the season progresses. And next year since I missed the bluebells! Better put more reminders in my calendar and hope for overcast skies!

6 thoughts on “The Garden in the Woods

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  1. I just loved this post; I wish I could visit The Garden in the Woods myself. The American Hart’s-tongue fern was entirely new to me, and reminded me of some sort of alien plant on a sci-fi show! I was stunned at the bold blue color of your wild hyacinths. I had just photographed a lot of these recently, but mine were such a pale blue in comparison. The honey locust blossoms were also a big surprise. I see these trees all the time, and I see their pods laying about, but it occurs to me that like you, I’ve apparently never looked up at the right time to see their blossoms.

  2. You are so lucky to have seen and photographed all these beautiful wildflowers. I was extremely grateful and totally elated this spring when an acquaintance showed me some hidden wild orchid places in our woods here in the highlands of Virginia. I have 3 blog posts on spring wild flowers in VA under “Flora” including this post on yellow and pink lady’s slippers:

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