Wandering Welcome: The Ramble, a garden for kids, opens at New England Botanic Garden

Amanda Collins Bernier
Baystateparent Magazine
BOYLSTON - Willow Limpert, 3, of Leominister runs ahead of her brother, Jacob, 2, through a tunnel sculpture in The Ramble, New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill's new 1.5-acre "family garden." 

Earthy and colorful, with so much to see and smell, a botanical garden might just be the perfect place for children to explore, though it might not be the first place parents think of bringing them. But a newly opened space at the New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill more than welcomes curious kids – “it’s an explicit invitation,” says the organization’s CEO. 

Grace Elton describes The Ramble, a whimsical 1.5-acre garden, as “not a playground, not just garden, but somewhere in between.” It officially opened in May at the sprawling botanical garden in Boylston, formerly known as Tower Hill. 

“This is a huge invitation,” Elton said, referring to kids and families. “This is a space that we created just for you.” 

While the entire 170-acre campus, with its 18 distinct gardens, open woodland spaces, hiking trails and apple orchard, has always been family friendly, Elton said they’re hoping to draw more children and parents with the addition of “a little whimsy and a little fun.”

Daily activities for kids will be offered at NEBG's newest garden.

The Ramble has been in the works for at least a dozen years, as the NEBG community dreamed of a garden that would inspire the next generation of nature lovers. Designed by renowned landscape architect and artist W. Gary Smith, it’s among a growing number of gardens created for children that have popped up around the country in recent years, according to The Cultural Landscape Foundation. But community children’s gardens date back much further; one of the first, according to the American Horticultural Society, is the River Farm Children’s Garden, based in Alexandria, Virginia, which opened in the 1990s and includes several themed areas for kids including a bat cave and a prairie garden.

With fully accessible paths and immersive activities, The Ramble draws families in ways not possible at Tower Hill in the past. Children can climb and scramble tree stumps in the “Stumerpy,” crawl through a tunnel of woven branches, or play lawn games in the grass. It’s a botanical garden where parents won’t find themselves yelling “don’t touch that!” 

Still, it has the stately beauty you’d expect from a botanical garden. Landscaped with hundreds of perennials, shrubs, and trees, it features a brook, a pond, and waterfall. 

“It’s more of a child-scale garden that really welcomes them and use their imagination,” said Elton. 

There’s also an outcrop amphitheater, a pavilion for outdoor classes, picnic tables, and quiet spots for reading or drawing. A forage garden with edible plants will be used to teach children where food comes from.

The new garden is fully accessible.

Family-friendly amenities at The Ramble include bathrooms and handwashing stations. Inside, there is a Mamava lactation pod for breastfeeding or pumping parents. 

The New England Botanic Garden has long boasted unique offerings for children and families. They hold workshops like fairy house making and insect safaris, themed week-long celebrations over school vacations, and Garden Bud classes geared toward preschoolers. 

Elton says the opening of The Ramble will make for even more robust children’s programming. The space will host drop in activities, nature play days, and even birthday parties.  

“Every day of the week there will be something going on,” she said. 

New England Bontanic Garden is dog-friendly and open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tickets are available in-person, or online at negb.org.