Eden on the Charles - A Love Story from Elm Bank


Wellesley, MA February 28, 2014 - Love is in the air at the Boston Flower & Garden Show, where the theme Romance in the Garden will provide the backdrop to this year’s festivities from March 12th to 16th.

Postcard of Asian Garden at Elm Bank

The Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s exhibit, Eden on the Charles, adds to the romance with two love stories that are close to its heart. The first is that of Dr. William and Mrs. Alice Cheney Baltzell, who established a happy home at Elm Bank. Alice was the daughter of Benjamin P. Cheney who founded the estate in 1875. It was Alice and her husband who transformed the property into the beautiful landscape we enjoy today.

The second story belongs to someone with an equally special connection to the property: Ray Frost, the son of the Baltzell’s estate superintendent, Henry Frost. When the Frosts moved to Elm Bank in 1935 from Beverly, MA., Ray and his childhood sweetheart, Betty, decided to continue their courtship long distance. During Betty’s frequent visits to the property, the two would embark on canoeing excursions along the Charles. This early romance at Elm Bank blossomed into a marriage that lasted seventy years.

Katherine Macdonald, President of Massachusetts Horticultural Society, was contacted in 2011 by Ray Frost of Beverly. Kathy commented: “Ray called to tell me about his connection to Elm Bank and that he lived here a long time ago with his family. He would often help his father with his work at Elm Bank and in competitions at the New England Spring Flower Show, where Henry would exhibit his skill as a horticulturist. Henry was working for Alice Baltzell in 1938 during the horrendous hurricane that battered New England.”

Ray had slides showing the damage to the property and he proposed that he visit Mass Hort to give a presentation to the staff. He was ninety-two at the time and drove down from Beverly to Wellesley to share his treasures. During the presentation, Ray said: “The damage to Elm Bank in 1938 broke Alice Baltzell’s heart.”

What stood out most about Ray’s presentation were the stories about his life as a young man at Elm Bank and his courtship with Betty ― from one misadventure getting his car stuck in the mud when trying to drive Betty back home to Beverly, to another watching their canoe float away down the Charles as they sat enjoying a picnic. The staff was moved by his love story; he called Elm Bank, “Eden on Earth”. Ray’s lifelong sweetheart, Betty, passed way soon after Ray’s visit in 2011, and Ray died in November of 2012.

The Boat House on the Charles

Inspired by Ray and Betty, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s exhibit concept is “Eden on the Charles”, an intimate picnic area on the banks of the Charles River. The exhibit uses plants to evoke both romance and intimacy. Through variations of texture and gradation of hue - white to pink to red – the exhibit creates a mood of romance around the isolated spot on the banks of the river. The exterior pathway mimics the Charles River, and draws the eye through the exhibit to emphasize shapes, unify design elements, and highlight various horticultural features.

Several skilled designers have contributed to Mass Hort’s exhibit: Julia Esteves is owner of Julia Garden, Osterville, MA is a landscape designer and a Massachusetts Certified Landscape Professional (MCLP); Piera Sassaroli of Piera’s Landscape Design, Boston, MA is a designer based out of both Boston and Milan, Italy; Jeff Dube will be returning to The University of Michigan in the fall to complete his Masters of Landscape Architecture; Suzanne Higham is owner of Frog Hollow, a landscape design, installation and maintenance company based in Georgetown, MA; and Bill Cuddy is owner of WJC Services, a full service design, building, and maintenance landscape company in Rowley, MA.

Donations of materials and assistance were provided by Boston Architectural College, the Landscape Institute, Ball Seed, Northeast Nurseries, Inc., Weston Nurseries, Bartlett Tree Experts, Northwoods Canoe Company, Szczechowicz Landscape Services, and Stonewood Products, Inc.

Founded in 1829, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society is dedicated to encouraging the science and practice of horticulture and to developing the public's enjoyment, appreciation, and understanding of plants and the environment. Massachusetts Horticultural Society is located at 900 Washington Street, Wellesley on 36-acres in the historic Elm Bank Reservation, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Please visit us at the show!