About half of the produce is grown for cooking demonstrations, but in practice, about 90 percent of what's grown is donated to two local food pantries, said Macdonald. Elm Bank has provided 1,600 pounds of food for families in need this year, she said.
“It’s wonderful to be able to get fresh produce into these people's hands,” said the Wellesley Food Pantry’s president, Cynthia Scott. The Natick Service Council is the other food pantry beneficiary.
Scott said local organizations and gardeners have been donating produce to the Wellesley Food Pantry for a few years, but MassHort’s contributions have ensured that every client has access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
“When MassHort approached us about this last year, it was really the linchpin of the effort,” said Scott. “Instead of just offering a few things, we’ve been able to give people so much more.”
Near the vegetable garden, quiet reflection is available in the formal Italianate Garden that the Olmsted Brothers, the design firm of Frederick Law Olmsted’s son Frederick Jr. and stepson John Charles Olmsted, laid out in the early 20th century when Elm Bank was inhabited by the daughter of Benjamin Pierce Cheney, the man who founded the company that became American Express.
Bordered on one side by 16-foot-tall purple beech hedges that are cut by hand once per year, the garden’s carefully planned symmetry and paths lead to a central lily pond where a 14th-century baptismal font will be returned later this year. The Italianate Garden is the most popular location for brides who have turned Elm Bank into a thriving wedding destination, said Macdonald.
The 40-room neo-Georgian mansion abutting the Italianate Garden will remain closed indefinitely, however. The mansion, built by Cheney's daughter, Alice Cheney Baltzell, is structurally sound but needs renovations that Macdonald estimates would cost $25 million.
Fiske said that during MassHort's financial struggles a few years ago, preserving the gardens was the organization’s priority. That priority remains, and, for the youngest visitors, the reward is Weezie’s Garden.
“What a pleasure it is to work in that garden, to hear the laughter of the kids, to see them in the sandbox, chasing each other through the paths,” said Fiske. “People really enjoy Elm Bank.”
Megan McKee can be reached at email@example.com.