Betsy DeMallie
Trustee Emerita

Growing up in a suburban Boston neighborhood surrounded by woodlands, I experienced the joy, beauty, and curiosities of New England woods. This was my playground and the fact that, today, it has largely been lost to development is probably the genesis of my becoming an advocate for land preservation and conservation. At home, I was fortunate in having a mother who was a talented gardener. However, although I appreciated the creative floral arrangements and lovely gardens she designed and cared for, I did not immerse myself in the practice of horticulture in my youth. Of course, I dutifully weeded and deadheaded, but not participating in the complex process of gardening was a lost opportunity. I took for granted the delightful entrance garden behind the proverbial white picket fence, a beautiful three-season perennial border, and a backyard shade garden of native plants. I appreciated the beautiful Silk-tree (Albizia) which she grew from seed and tolerated plants deposited in the refrigerator, being held back in growth until it was time to groom them for display at the New England Spring Flower Show. Horticulture was a serious passion for my mother, and I regret not asking her to share her knowledge. It was necessary for me to design a self-tutorial later in life and that is where the Worcester County Horticultural Society comes into my life.

After moving to Worcester in 1963 following my husband’s law school graduation, we settled into a modest home which, regrettably, had minimal space for a garden. The Horticultural Society’s annual Spring Flower Show was, for me, the beginning of spring. I have lingering memories of entering the exhibition hall to the delightfully pungent, sweet smell of spring. In those days, the show was free to the public and 20,000-30,000 winter-weary people gratefully accepted this gift to the city after a cold, gray, blustery few months. I left those shows yearning for a garden of my own and our second Worcester home afforded me that opportunity, albeit still on a small scale. Lectures offered by the Horticultural Society and Worcester Garden Club furthered my interest in horticulture and the environment and a growing collection of garden books provided inspiration.

News in 1986 that WCHS had made the decision to purchase land in Boylston for the purpose of establishing a large, comprehensive botanic garden was exciting and I followed its development with anticipation. Shortly thereafter, Worcester Garden Club asked Executive Director John Trexler to suggest a project the club could undertake in the garden. I was Project Chairman for the club at the time so it fell to me to work with John to determine what that project might be. He first suggested siting a viewing structure atop New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill, but that idea was discarded because the rough uphill trail was not accessible to all. Ultimately, it was decided that the club would provide manpower to clear a site for the Wildlife Garden and funding to construct the screened ‘Bird House’ for mosquito-free viewing of wildlife at the edge of a vernal pool. It was designed as a place where individuals and school groups could gather relatively unobtrusively to observe and learn about the natural world. Club members donned work shoes and gloves and, shovels and clippers in hand, ventured into what was a tangled web of undesirable vegetation and discarded farm trash. We tip-toed around poison ivy which we were instructed provided food for birds and should be left in place. When completed, the site was in a natural, although more controlled, state. Birdfeeders were added, only to be destroyed by a foraging bear at a later date, necessitating a more inaccessible birdfeeder array. Bat houses were also installed, although it would probably take a night vision camera to know whether they were ever inhabited. Sandwiched between the Wildlife Pond and newly-planted Zacharis Woodland Garden, these areas continue to underscore New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill’s mission of connecting people to the natural world.

From that point on, my association with New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill grew. The woodland paths were reflections of my childhood and each new garden was an inspiration. I now live in West Boylston in a home we built amid five acres of woods. My husband,