The New England Wild Flower Society is embarking on a revitalization project at its Garden in the Woods property designed to respond to climate and other changes, and to improve the experience of visitors to the 80-year-old botanical preserve.
“It’s radical but subtle,” said Debbi Edelstein, executive director of the nonprofit conservation organization, which is headquartered at the Garden in the Woods, off Hemenway Road in Framingham. “People use the words serene and peaceful and magical, and it is all of that and it will still be that, but it will be renewed.”
The society’s mission, to conserve and promote New England’s native plants, will continue, she said, but a key goal is to better integrate its conservation and horticultural messages.
The first step is to develop a master plan for the organization. Last month, the society announced that it had hired a Philadelphia-based landscape architecture firm to help map out the future of the 45-acre living museum, working over the next year. The company, Andropogon Associates, specializes in ecological and sustainable design.
“We know that change is upon us; we just don’t know how that change is going to occur,” said José Almiñana, a principal with Andropogon. “We need to anticipate that and develop a plan that provides resilience to the garden environmental, operational, and financial resilience.”
Edelstein said some of the physical improvements being eyed are reconfigured walking trails, better parking areas, new or improved buildings, and more areas where young children can run around.
The garden must also deal with changing weather patterns, the balance between its various plant species, and the need for periodic renewal, she said.
Warmer winters have resulted in new pests (or old pests that are proliferating in the balmier temperatures), as well as longer periods of flood and drought, Edelstein said.
For example, the garden’s Lily Pond can handle some spring flooding, but a couple of years ago much of its plant life was destroyed because it was under water far too long, said Mark Richardson, the society’s director of horticulture.
That is an effect of climate change, he said.
“As a public garden we really need to build in some resiliency to the collection,” Richardson said. “We need to better respond to those changes for the future.”
Garden in the Woods should also serve as a model for other botanical gardens, he said, because it uses no chemical fertilizers or pesticides, a practice that is a challenge to maintain.
Richardson said he hopes the master plan brings the society to a higher level of excellence and shows the way for using a larger portion of the property. Currently, only about 15 acres are in use.
“We have an outstanding organization and a beautiful garden, but it could be so much more,” he said. “There are natural features we don’t take full advantage of.”
Edelstein said there is no way to know how much all of the changes will cost, but she estimates the price tag will be in the tens of millions of dollars. A fund-raising campaign will start once the master plan is ready.
Changes will happen gradually over the next decade, and the idea is for the garden’s evolution to be shared with the public, as an educational experience for visitors.
Other improvements under discussion, she said, are to its accessibility, which has always been a challenge because of the steep topography, and the addition of a dining area, like a tea room. Now there are only picnic tables for the snacks and sandwiches sold at the garden by an outside vendor.
Another goal is to provide visitors with better interpretative displays, including more interactive tools, to explain what is happening at the garden, Edelstein said.
Garden in the Woods was born in 1931 as the private garden of landscape architect Will Curtis. In 1965, Garden in the Woods became part of the New England Wild Flower Society.
The master plan is being funded by grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Hope Goddard Iselin Foundation.
The society is holding public forums on its plans at the Garden in the Woods on Jan. 17, 1-2 p.m. and 7-8 p.m. To register, send e-mail to lreed@