Sunday, July 26, 2015

Tower Hill Garden–July 2015



We visited Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts last week. Dawn Davies, the garden horticulturist, gave a guided tour of the kitchen garden behind the old farmhouse. She designs the garden each year around a colors theme and an educational theme. This year it was Hot, Hot, Hot! Hot colors, spicy flavors, and the effect of air and soil temperature on crops. Her tour is hands on and always informative, as she gives the background of the plants she selected and culture information.




She recycled some towers she used two years ago, taking them apart and painting them hot colors. You can see them in the photos above. She also painted the metal tomato cages and the rebar she uses as tomato stakes (those are not going to suddenly snap when the plant gets loaded with tomatoes, as happens to me almost every year).


I enjoy seeing the various plants actually growing in conditions similar to my garden, far better than just a picture in a seed catalog. Plants I am growing this year that I first saw at Tower Hill include Boro King radish, Magenta Sunset chard, Sweet Treats  and Opalka tomatoes, Marshall lettuce, and Azur Star kohlrabi.  I am always looking for new and interesting vegetables to try in my garden. This year there were no blow your socks off plants but many attractive and interesting varieties, shown below.




In the Beta vulgaris family, this stunning red chard is called Charlotte, and seed is available from Pinetree and the Cook’s Garden. It features a deep red stem with puckered, dark green leaves. The deep red of the fairly narrow stalk is striking in its depth of color. Remember, eat your colors.




In the same family was Beet Olympic, with beautiful dark purple foliage. Dawn emphasized this beet was largely grown for its foliage (greens doesn’t seem the right term), but some of us kept pointing at the roots under all that foliage.




Here are two Olympic beets growing next to each other, with roots maybe 9-10 cm. in diameter and touching. Her brochure claims seed was sourced from West Coast Seeds but they do not list it on their web site, and Google fails to find a single reference to this beet (but lots of hits on Olympians juicing beets for a natural performance boost).




My impulse when I saw this was to pull it. This is chicory, or Italian dandelion, a variety called Garnet Stem. It is a very attractive plant and is supposed to taste very good when cut young as a salad green. Seed was sourced from Johnny’s Seeds.




Now this plant is a knockout. This is Jagallo Nero , a kale of probable Italian origin. Restoration Seeds describes it as an oak leaf form of Cavolo Nero.




The leaves are very lacy and a beautiful grey-green color. Taste is supposed to be sweet and mild. The plant, however, is not cold hardy and can be killed by a freeze, so it won’t winter over in the Northeast US nor the North UK. Dawn sourced her seeds from Chiltern Seeds in the UK.




Another kale caught my eye, this one is called Scarlet and is similar to Redbor, the difference being Scarlet is open pollinated and Redbor is an F1 hybrid. Dawn said she slightly preferred Redbor, but Scarlet makes fantastic chips because the frills are good at holding on to the oil and salt. Seed is available from Johnny’s and Baker Creek in the US and Thompson & Morgan in the UK.




And yet another kale, sorry I did not get a closer shot. This is a variety of Cavollo Nero called Black Magic.  It is a very large plant producing lots of long, deeply puckered leaves that are so dark green they are almost black. It is supposed to be very cold tolerant. Seeds are available from traditional seed vendors such as Park, Gurneys, Harris and Jung in the US, William Dam in Canada and Suttons and Marshalls in the UK. This is one I may try next year. Never can have too much nutritious, delicious kale (although the food pantries here are not wild about receiving big bags of kale and the seniors at the senior housing project flee in terror).




Color and attractiveness always influence the selections for this garden and the Indigo tomatoes have been used both in the kitchen garden and around the garden grounds. This is a new one, Indigo Kumquat, I guess named for its shape. It certainly looks more like a kumquat than grape or plum tomatoes look like their fruit.




This is another new Indigo variety, a small cherry shape called Indigo Cherry Drops. Neither tomato was fully ripe so they don’t yet show that shiny, black metallic coloring that makes the Indigos so striking. These have not been tasted yet, but Dawn says flavor of Indigo Rose is good, with a tomato flavor rather than the candy sweet flavor of a lot of cherry tomatoes.


I did not not get pictures of everything but I will mention a few more interesting plants:


A tomato I did not photograph is Ildi, a yellow grape tomato that sounds very attractive. It produces clusters (multiple trusses) of yellow, tear drop shaped tomatoes, 50-75 tomatoes per cluster. It is early, seldom drops fruit, and clusters can be harvested and hung indoors where the tomatoes keep well. Vines quickly grow to 5-6 feet in height and then set large clusters of fruit. although it is considered indeterminate. Seeds are carried by Totally Tomatoes and Thompson Morgan. I am intrigued by this tomato and will have to make a trip back in August to see what the fruit clusters look like.


Among basils (Ocimum basilicum and tenuiflorum), Dawn likes to grow Holy Basil in the garden. The plant and flowers are very fragrant and the flowers drive the bees crazy, so it is a great pollinator attractant. An interesting culinary basil is Cardinal, which is a Thai basil with a beautiful red plume of flowers. It is similar to Siam Queen but taller, leaves are larger and its flowering doesn’t impact it, so you can harvest all summer while enjoying the flowers. Seeds are available from Baker Creek, Burpee and Cooks Garden.






  1. Sounds like a neat place to visit and get some good ideas. I'm not sure if anyone in my area does that type of garden tour but I'm going to look into it.

  2. That sounds like such a wonderful place - I love seeing the veg garden section of botanical gardens, but more often than not, there is little information provided on the what, how & when of what is growing.

    I grew Ildi last year - the trusses were very impressive...I have a picture near the bottom of the page here:

    1. Thanks for the pointer. Really is an impressively large truss of tomatoes.


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