Learn more about our specialized educational gardens.

Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden is adjacent to the greenhouses, and includes a variety of herbs, flowers, and vegetables grown based on the interests of courses, student orgs including the Regen Farm org, and other themes, and changes each year! Summer interns at the Botanic Gardens work alongside staff to learn to care for, harvest, and enjoy the products of this small kitchen garden.

Creighton Educational Garden

The Educational Garden includes several specialty plantings: conifers, rock garden and alpine plants, pollinator-friendly plants, and shade-tolerant plants. These plantings are accessibly located along a fieldstone wall directly across from the Visitor Center, and this area is named for Wellesley College alumna and Professor of Botany Harriet Creighton '29. A picturesque bluestone stairway leads toward the main outdoor gardens, and a small seating area. The garden was designed by Mary Coyne, Professor Emerita in Biological Sciences at Wellesley College.

Conifer Reference Garden

Over 50 dwarf and miniature conifers, chosen in consultation with the American Conifer Society, are planted in the garden. These are unusual cultivars representing many different genera and species. Corresponding wild type (typical) specimens of many of these species are found elsewhere in the Botanic Gardens. The garden is a reference garden of the American Conifer Society.

Rock Garden

The garden area to the right of the stairway contains a collection of rock garden plants mixed in with the conifers. In the spring there is a succession of flowering bulbs and plants. Plants adapted to rocky slopes are planted in multiples around rocks in the Creighton Educational Garden, providing an opportunity to study microclimatic influences of rocks on plants. Plants in this garden are slow-growing and diminutive to stay in scale with the rocks. The rock garden specimens are interplanted with the conifer collection.

There is a specialized area representing conditions found in an alpine scree. A scree is an “accumulation of loose stones or rocky debris lying on a slope or at the base of a hill or cliff.” A characteristic of a scree is excellent drainage and consequently plants that survive in these areas do no like to have "wet feet". The scree in the rock garden has a mixture of pea stone and a loam/sand mix to a depth of 18 inches for maximum drainage.

Like the rest of the garden we are experimenting with plant placement in the scree. For example, do plants like to be behind a rock for protection from wind and sun or in a warm niche with maximum winter sun? Does a specific plant grow better in the typical acid New England soil or does a close association with a less acidic environment in or around a tufa rock make for better survival? Because some rock garden plants grow best in very specific conditions, the turnover of plant material in this area is always in flux as we experiment. We have found that there are only a few conifers that can survive in this environment.

If the label on a specific plant has the symbols for star + half moon, then the plant undergoes a period of dormancy (sleep). Many bulbs and spring ephemerals have a dormant period where the plant disappears from view.

Shade Garden

The Shade Garden hides behind the grouping of Myrica pensylvanica (northern bayberry) at the back of the Butterfly Garden. It was planted in the spring of 2011 after covering the grass with multiple layers of newspaper and mulch to suppress growth of weeds and grass. The plantings in this garden represent shade-tolerant plants that have variegated or colorful leaves, many of which are evergreen so that the garden does not disappear during the winter as a collection of hosta does. Native plants are labeled with the letter "N".

A group of shade-tolerant ground covers are planted under the group of large oak trees on the hill behind the conifer garden. Look for Tiarella, foam flower and Asarum canadense, Canada wild ginger, plus several patches of Hyacinthoides hispanica, Spanish bluebell or wood hyacinth. Some areas of this garden were disturbed or removed during construction of the new Science Center.

Pollinator Garden

The Elizabeth J. Smith ’32 Pollinator Garden has replaced the Butterfly Garden. The goal of the butterfly collection was to support butterflies known to occur in the vicinity of Wellesley, by providing host plants for their caterpillars as well as nectar plants generally suitable for butterflies. These plants are allowed to senesce naturally, to avoid disturbing any overwintering eggs or pupae. They are also allowed to spread and to seed in, although more aggressive species are thinned to maintain space for the full initial diversity of plants.

These plants are allowed to senesce naturally, to avoid disturbing any overwintering eggs or pupae. They are also allowed to spread and to seed in, although more aggressive species are thinned to maintain space for the full initial diversity of plants. In the fall of 2011, the butterfly garden was emptied of most plantings. Several of the perennials were out-competing the other plants and the number of butterflies was minimal. This garden was redesigned and replanted in the spring of 2012. See the Butterfly Garden brochure. Check back for more updates as the new Pollinator Garden unfolds!

Experimental planters

A series of experimental planter boxes along the Teaching and Research Greenhouses house a long-term study used for teaching. More information will be available as these experiments get established.

Experimental green roof

In 2006, construction of a new water treatment vault near the edge of the Maple Swamp provided an opportunity to experiment with native plants in a green roof habitat. In order for green roofs to provide “habitat islands” for native insects and ground-nesting birds, they should be planted with native species, but little is known about which eastern North American plants can survive the demanding roof conditions.

The goals for the WCBG green roof are to evaluate native plants for potential use on roofs, and to sustain a diverse community of native plants without supplemental water or nutrients in standard green roof growing conditions (e.g. a maximum depth of 6” of a growing medium composed mostly of expanded shale). Of the 28 species originally planted in April 2006, all native to eastern North America, most individuals of all but one species survived the first two growing seasons, including the extended drought of late summer 2007, and some species are spreading (Fragaria virginiana) or seeding in in large numbers (Sedum nevii). No additional plantings are planned.

The plants are monitored each spring and fall. Tap-rooted weeds are pulled, but no other management applied. Species persisting on the roof as of fall 2007 are a mix of forbs (herbaceous flowing plants that are not grasses, sedges or rushes), grasses, low-growing shrubs and a fern, quite a diverse community. Individuals of many of the species on the roof are also planted in the adjoining garden, for comparison of growth and survivorship under the contrasting growing conditions.