Susan Dwight Bliss, former owner of the Nature Center property, planted a small arboretum which includes magnificent specimens of native and non-native trees. Its rare to find such a large specimen of Sciadopitys verticillata (Umbrella Pine) in this area, its thick, glossy, plastic-like needles whorled on each stem like an umbrella. Behind that is a handsome grouping of large Chamaecyparis pisifera Squarrosa (Moss Sawara Cypress) and Chamaecyparis pisifera Plumosa (Plume False Cyprus). There is also a choice row of Pinus densiflora Umbraculifera (Japanese Umbrella Pine), which has ornamental red bark and an unusual shape.
The Herb Garden
Foundation boundaries of the original greenhouses form the parterre beds of the Herb Garden at the Nature Center. The various categories of plants serve a three-fold purpose: for education, income and pleasure. They provide a rich harvest throughout the year, and the senses are sharpened as workers and visitors taste, smell, feel or see the plants of legend, lore and commerce.
Largest space is given to the CULINARY GARDEN with its separate salad and tea beds, which encourage trying both old and new natural flavors. Familiar plants such as the mints, alliums, parsley and thyme share space with the newest tomatoes, lettuces and edible blossoms of Nasturtiums, lemon marigolds and Calendulas.
The FRAGRANCE GARDEN is filled with colorful blooms chosen for scent of flower or leaf. Silvery artemisias, lambs ears and snow-on-the-mountain are found in the GRAY AND SILVER GARDEN, planted with sun-loving plants, many with soft, felted leaves. DYE plants, some still used in the trade, are in one garden, as are MEDICINAL or healing herbs, such as foxglove, Alchemilla and Vinca rosea.
BEES, BUTTERFLIES AND BIRDS are attracted to their own space, although are not limited to it, by such plants as Anise hyssop, butterfly weed, beebalm, thyme and Lobelias. Space for plants whose flowers and/or foliage can be dried for crafts and arranging is principally filled with annuals and is the last area to be done since these are warm-weather lovers. There are also a bed of lavender, another of Artemisia 'Silver King,' and holding beds for replacement or overflow plants.
Learning to grow and use the plants from these gardens of scent and texture is important to the volunteers who take care of them. they propagate, research, compost, dry, cook, dye, craft, arrange and find fascination in the long histories of these plants from our own and foreign cultures. From the ubiquitous dandelion to the exotic cardamom, each of the more than 300 varieties enhances our lives.
The Wildflower Garden
The Wildflower Garden, which won the 1997 Homer Lucas Landscape Award from the New England Wild Flower Society, has an enchanting appeal of its own. The garden meanders along a stream on one side and ascends a stone stairway into the woods along another. The central lawn area, under the canopy shade of a cork tree, has several memorial benches. A recent extension, a colorful transition planting into the wildflower meadow, attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
About 90% of the plant specimens are native species, including Bloodroot, Columbine, Mayapple, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Wild Geranium, Solomons Plume, Starflower and Trillium. Shade-loving perennials include Bleeding Heart, Crested Iris, Jacobs Ladder, Hepatica, European Ginger and Virginia Bluebells. There are also many Azaleas, Rhododendrons and a nice stand of our Connecticut state flower, Mountain Laurel. The composition of the plantings is also noteworthy.
Supported by memorial gifts, the Wildflower Garden also features several rare species which are not listed publicly as a precaution for their protection.
The Bird and Butterfly Garden
Occupying the sunny berm on the south face of the Solar Greenhouse is a perennial butterfly and hummingbird bed with all-season interest. Originally planted in 1983-84, the garden was revuvenated and augmented in 1994-95 to improve its overall health and to provide food and habitat for butterflies and birds. Within two weeks of its completion, over a dozen species of butterflies visited the garden, including an elegantly-beautiful Red-Spotted Purple (first sighting at the Nature Center).
Ornamental cultivars of plants which attract butterflies and birds in the wild, such as the cultivars of Joe-Pye-Weed (Eupatorium sp.), were selected for the new design. Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida) and Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) provide nectar for Monarchs, Swallowtails amd Fritillaries, and the Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) is an excellent butterfly-attracting shrub. Lupines (Lupinus polyphyllus) and Columbine (Aquilegia sp.) are spring food sources for hummingbirds. Ornamental grasses and parsleys are excellent food plants for caterpillars. Tall Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia maxima) seeds are highly attractive to goldfinches in the fall. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a crucial shrub for providing a late-winter food source for birds.
The Naturalists' Garden
Opened in 1991, the 85' x 100' Naturalists Garden was planted as a "model backyard," designed to show homeowners how their own property could be maintained for positive ecological effects. Located west of the Solar Greenhouse, its design features native and long-naturalized species of plants which benefit a wide range of local wildlife, from insects to mammals, by providing food, nesting/denning areas and other shelter. Low-maintenance needs were a design consideration throughout. A wooden deck off the greenhouse overlooks this garden and its two small, man-made ponds.