Some 10,000 years ago, glaciers carved the kettle holes, ridges and wetlands that cover a 30-acre parcel of land in northeast Framingham.
Will Curtis was a landscape designer and horticulturist, who stumbled across this area in the fall of 1930. At that time, nearby Nobscot village was quite rural. There was a chapel, a district school, the tiny combination post office and library surrounded by cultivated fields and apple orchards.
Curtis bought the land, and with his partner Howard Stiles filled their woodlands with native plants. They experimented with wild flowers and gardening techniques. The project, known as Garden in the Woods, opened in 1931 and became a hidden delight for the residents of the area and wildflower enthusiasts everywhere. Such prestigious places as Kew Gardens, in London and the Royal Botanical Gardens sought their expertise over the next 35 years.
In the meantime, change was coming to Framingham. In the early 1950’s prosperity returned to America following the long hard years of the Great Depression and World War II. An explosion of population, cars, roads and businesses was about to change everything. Housing developments were erected seemingly overnight and young couples took advantage of generous G.I. loans to buy homes.
Jordan Marsh decided to experiment with a new retail-marketing concept known as the regional mall. Shopper’s World was built on 50 acres of the Wyman Nursery land.
When it opened in 1951, it was the first mall in the nation. The multi-million dollar project included 44 shops on two levels, acres of free parking, a bank, barbershop, a small park, a movie theater and restaurants. It added to the attractiveness of Framingham, as a suburban community.
When housing developers began pushing north into the Nobscot area, land values rose. Will Curtis feared for his botanical garden. He was getting on in years and immune to the lure of financial gain. He wanted Garden in the Woods to remain a place of beauty and learning so in 1965, he transferred ownership to the New England Wildflower Society.
Curtis died in 1969 but the Wildflower Society has kept faith with his original intent. The Garden has grown to 45 acres, cultivated to conserve and promote the region’s native plants and ensure healthy, biologically diverse landscapes. There you will find walking paths, trails, benches, a pond and lovely native flowers, plants and woodlands.
Thanks to the Friends of the Framingham Public Library, passes for free admission to the Garden in the Woods are available at the Framingham Library. When the snow melts call 508 532 5570 or log onto www.framinghamlibrary.org and make a reservation.
Also there are great pictures of the original Shoppers World in the book Framingham by Laurie Evans-Daly & David Gordon. There are multiple copies at the library.