Secret Flowers, Hidden Gardens

It’s time to celebrate our local concealed flora: lady slippers, the Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill tour this Thursday, May 20, and the Secret Gardens of Cambridge tour June 13.

First, let’s talk about lady slippers (Cypripedium aucule). They bloom around Boston roughly between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and they’re going gangbusters right now. Contrary to what many well-intentioned parents have told their impressionable children, they are not endangered in Massachusetts. They can live for a hundred years! However, they flower only once or twice a decade, and set seed less than half the time–so if you pick one, you’re pretty much dooming the plant to not have offspring for another ten years. Is that the kind of world you want to live in? I think not.

They’re also fantastically fussy plants, as this article by Bill Cullina explains in great detail. If you try to dig them up and move them to your back yard, you will kill them, guaranteed. Go into the woods to look at them, or buy a potted lady slipper at Garden in the Woods in Framingham. It will cost you, but at least you won’t destroy the one you love.

Ah, but you ask, how do you find lady slippers?  Well, it should be easy–they’re pink! and three inches long!–but I’ve seen people walk right past them. To quote Bill Cullina, they appreciate environments where “shade and dry soils limit undergrowth to sparse shrubs like blue­berries and huckleberries.” What, you can’t identify blueberries and huckleberries?  Have no fear. Just go to the nearest forest that’s fairly shady and doesn’t have a lot of grass or tall shrubs, and start looking. Did I mention that they’re pink, unlike anything else in the woods?

If you’re not fond of freelance flower-finding expeditions, you can get yourself a nice safe map and $30-35 tickets to see the Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hillon Thursday, May 20, 9 am-5 pm. You’ll still have to find your way by yourself, but at least you’ll know where to find flowers–or, rather, a lot of attractive foliage. Beacon Hill’s hidden gardens tend to be on the shady side, though pots of impatiens do dazzle things up a bit. Since several of the gardens are only accessible through a Beacon Hill house, the tour is worthwhile at least to see the native habitats of Boston Brahmins, who really are an endangered species.

For a slightly more varied exploration of our urban environment, consider the Secret Gardens of Cambridge tour on June 13, 10 am-4 pm for a mere $20-25. According to Carol Stocker, “This year in addition to the private gardens featured, there will be a variety of innovative gardens, including a newly-launched sustainable garden project; an urban habitat certified by the National Wildlife Federation; gardens that support multiple ecosystems and recognize the importance of native plants; a garden that functions as outdoor classrooms for elementary school children; and a cooperative community garden.” It sounds like Secret Garden fans will be visiting one of the CitySprouts school garden sites, which is fantastic! I doubt you’ll see any lady slippers, or Brahmins, but you might get a look at those slinky Valente Library cats.

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