Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Places to Visit: The Lyman Estate Greenhouses, Waltham, Massachusetts

Last Saturday, while the weather outside was the most wintery and inhospitable it had been in two months, my mom - she is visiting from Michigan at the moment, along with the family dog - and I visited the Lyman Estate Greenhouses in the town of Waltham just outside of Boston. The estate, named The Vale, was begun in 1793 by a wealthy Boston merchant named  Theodore Lyman. Beginning in 1804, a complex of lean-to greenhouses was added, beginning with three grape houses to which were then added a camellia house in 1820 and an orchid house in 1840. Apparently among the oldest greenhouses still standing and in use in the United States, they are today operated Historic New England. Not only are they open to visitors free of charge, but a range of plants, including some propagated from stock in the greenhouses, are available for sale at relatively reasonable prices. The main sales area is a fifth greenhouse, originally a cut flower house that was added to the back of the complex in 1930. Visitors enter the greenhouses at one end of the sequence of grape houses, so that is where we shall begin our tour.

View of the inside of Grape House A; the bare branches of the massive 'Black Hamburg grape' vine are visible along the ceiling

The space under the grape vines in Grape House A is currently filled mostly with Cymbidium cultivars

A white Cymbidium orchid

Apparently the old grape vines in the grape houses were grown from cuttings taken in the royal greenhouses at Hampton Court Palace in the UK, the current specimens having been in place since the 1880s.

View of the interior of Grape House B

Carolina jessamine (Gelseminum sempervirens) flowering in Grape House B

Orange blossoms (Citrus sinensis)

Grape House B also has grapes, but it is dominated by a massive pink Bougainvillea vine and filled with the typical denizens of Mediterranean gardens, such as Citrus species and succulents like century plants (Agave sp.) and various cacti.

Inside Grape House B

Various potted plants in Grape House C

More potted plant displays

Grape House C has a 'Green Muscat of Alexandria' grape vine instead of 'Black Hamburg' and lots of potted flowering and foliage plants, ranging from Pelargonium cultivars and Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) to tree ferns and Leptospermum cultivars.

View along the orchid house

A lovely orange-and-cream orchid - maybe a Dendrobium of some kind?

A white lady slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum cv.)

While there are orchids throughout the greenhouse complex, the large orchid house is entirely devoted to them. Originally used to grow roses, it now houses innumerable orchids displayed on stepped benches on both sides of the central pathway.

View into the Camellia House

A red-flowered camellia (Camellia japonica cv.)

A pink semi-double camellia

The Camellia House contains a collection of camellias with some specimens being over a hundred years old, as well as various plants with similar cultural needs, such as azaleas, cool-house orchids, and Clivias.

A glimpse of the Sales Greenhouse

After enjoying the greenhouses I ended up buying a crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii), a Anthurium scandens, and a Begonia 'Art Hodes' but there were many other plants that would have been tempting if my apartment were a bit cooler and brighter. For more information on the Lyman Estate Greenhouses you can find their page on the Historic New England website here.


  1. So cool! Did you touch the Nepenthes pitchers? I don't think I could have resisted.

  2. Hahaha no, I did not touch them... To be honest they scare me a little bit.


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