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Article Published November 23, 2017

Looking for Some Holiday Adventure? Go Botanical

By By Kathy Connolly

November may seem an odd time to think about botanic gardens, but two of southern New England’s best-known tempt us outdoors with colorful holiday events from Thanksgiving to New Years.

Tower Hill Botanical Gardens in Boylston, Massachusetts, for instance, holds an evening festival of lights called “Winter Reimagined.”

“The purpose of the event is to illustrate the forms of trees and shrubs in their dormant state along lighted pathways,” says Robert Burgess, public relations manager. “It also offers a reason for people to go outdoors at a time of year and time of day when most don’t think of it.”

Tower Hill staff and volunteers begin working on the displays in late August. “We wrap trees and shrubs with 20 miles of LED lights,” says Burgess. “When we’re finished, lights cover about one-quarter of the property.” He adds that LED lights produce almost no heat and pose no danger to the trees and shrubs.

In addition to lighted trees, there are fireside marshmallow roasts. Tower Hill’s buildings and conservatories are open as well. Hand-made ornaments decorate a “wishing tree forest,” kids can play in an up-cycled igloo, and two glass houses have seasonal music. The garden shop is open.

Tower Hill is one of the most popular gardens in southern New England, with 140,000 visitors last year to its 132 acres of horticultural displays, walking trails, and events. Tower Hill opened to the public in 1986, but its origins date back to 1842.

Advanced tickets are required for Winter Reimagined’s timed entries; there are no tickets at the gate. See or call 508-869-6111. Dates: Friday, Nov. 24, through Sunday, Jan. 7 (closed Mondays). Tower Hill is 97 miles from Old Saybrook.

In Bristol, Rhode Island, on Narragansett Bay, Blithewold Mansion, Gardens, and Arboretum takes the holidays outdoors with two winter event series.

First, it holds Sparkle nights on Friday evenings, No. 24, Dec. 8, and Dec. 22. Staff and volunteers deck the mansion in themed holiday décor. This year, it’s Roaring 20s. Outside, lantern-lit pathways lead to warm greenhouses and bonfires where visitors enjoy hot cocoa, s’mores, crafts, and singing. According to Tree Callinan, director of communications and visitor experience, Sparkle draws about 800 people on a Friday night.

Also, Blithewold holds afternoon tea Tuesday to Friday, Nov. 24 to Dec. 29. Visitors to Thursday tea can take a “Starlight Stroll” on lantern-lit paths until 8 p.m.

The 33-acre Blithewold estate was started by the Van Wickle family in 1895 and opened to the public in 1978. It hosted more than 20,000 visitors last year and, like Tower Hill, has experienced double-digit growth in the past five years.

Hint: If you get to Blithewold before dark, don’t miss the giant redwoods (Sequoia giganteum) on the front lawn. According to Tree Callinan, these may be the oldest of their kind in the eastern US.

Like Tower Hill, Blithewold has staggered start times to manage the flow of visitors. You’ll need advance tickets; there are no tickets at the door. See or call Phone: (401) 253-2707. Blithewold is 91 miles from Old Saybrook.

Ready for a little adventure during these long winter nights? Go botanical.

Kathy Connolly is a landscape designer, writer, and speaker from Old Saybrook. See her speaking schedule or contact her at