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The water is warmer and the ponds, lakes, and rivers are often swelling with water from summer thunderstorms. Whether it’s in a kayak or a canoe, paddling on the open water offers a unique perspective to witness wildlife, get exercise, and recreate outdoors.

Summer is camping season! Campgrounds are open, tents are aired out, and the makings for s’mores are ready for starry nights surrounding the campfire telling stories and enjoying each other’s company. The smell of campfire and early morning rises in the woods during the cooler hours of the morning define the spirit of summer outside in New England.

Season of Summer Wildflowers & Gardens

Summer is the season of flower-studded meadows and blossoms on the wayside or at home in our gardens. Nothing says summer like a freshly picked bouquet of Oxeye Daises or New England Asters. Summer is also the time of year when public gardens are open to visitors wanting to learn about botany or just enjoy the beauty of cultivated flowers. These public gathering places connect community to the growing season, these senses in the form of color and scent, and to the incredible beauty and diversity nature has to offer. In Western Massachusetts there are a few public gardens to explore and enjoy that may offer inspiration to the artist, writer, or botanist inside:

When visiting, take your camera, sketchpad, colored pencils, and identification book. See if you can capture the structural differences in different species by considering their leaf shape and petal variations. Later in the season, once the bloom has passed, how does it go to seed? What are the shapes of the seeds? Can you capture this with your camera? How about through illustration? All gardens and flowers to be your study as you attempt to create a botanical illustration.

Botanical illustrations were once a common practice, dating back to the 16th century in Europe. Before cameras, botanical illustrations were particularly useful for the recording of medicinal herbs. Botanical illustrators of gardens were also employed by royal courts to paint the royal gardens.

In the 19th century, many women illustrators produced books showcasing their watercolors and paintings of different flowers and plant specimens. Women were active botanical artists, often painting in their spare time as a hobby, or some that were serious illustrators and writing literature on the topic. In fact, many important horticultural journals often included the illustrations created by women artists. Learn more about these well-known female illustrators of the Victorian era at www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spec/exhibits/hort/women.htm.

Interested in becoming a botanical illustrator? The New England Society of Botanical Illustrators often host juried shows open to the public. Attending one of their shows is an opportunity to see the kind of contemporary botanical illustrations being done in New England and to give a curious artist a chance to see what kind of media are used and techniques utilized to create botanical works.

Additionally, taking a class with an artist that specializes in botanical illustration provides the scientific and artistic instruction needed to learn how to create botanical drawings. Botanical illustrations are not just limited to painting flowers, but also include sketching trees and other plant specimens. Not only is botanical illustration a creative outlet, but also a scientific one that lets you explore a plant species at an observational and focused level!

The American Society of Botanical Illustrators provides different resources and tools to help students locate classes in their area or informational books on doing an individual study of botanical illustration.

Gardens and wayside growing flowers offer an opportunity to engage with the landscape through art, literature, and community. Whether it’s botanical watercolors, illustrations, photography, or a relaxed visit to your local public garden, flowers blooming in a community support interests and connect residents to their public parks and the patterns of the seasons.

[Photo credits: (cc) Don Burkett; (cc) tanakawho; (cc) Richard West]


Think about this:

  • How does botanical illustration bridge art and science?
  • How are public gardens places of connection, not only to the nature cultivated there, but also to local community and people?
  • Why do you think botanical illustration flourished in the Victorian era?

Download our July/August edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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The summer time is the season for fishing! There are many places to go fishing in Western Massachusetts as a way to connect with the local landscape while spending time outdoors. There are different types of fishing, such as saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing, fly fishing, and ice fishing. Fishing, or angling, is a sport that provides a direct interaction with our rivers and lakes as well as a meditative and tranquil way to relax and enjoy nature quietly.

Learning Ahead: Vacation Destination

Season of Berries Summer is the season of berry picking and canning! It’s the time of year when pies are baked and fruit is canned to enjoy during the colder months. During the months of July and August, blueberries become ready for picking. There are many farms in Western MA where you can pick your own berries, or farm stands and markets to purchase local berries to enjoy at home. At http://www.poets.org,… Read More

While winter in New England brings Nor’easters and blizzards that cover Western Massachusetts in deep snow, summer brings thunderstorms that soak the soil and bring a deep intensity to the summer’s verdant landscape. There is something humbling about a strong thunderstorm as it approaches with it’s dark clouds, bolts of lightning, and claps of thunder that exemplify nature’s unpredictability and larger-than-life personality.

Summertime in Western Massachusetts brims with opportunities to spend time outdoors and gather in community spaces to listen to live music, discover new musical genres, and share musical interests while supporting local musicians. Given all of the beautiful parks and outdoor spaces in Western Massachusetts, there are many summertime concerts and music festivals for all ages to attend. Pack a picnic and share the experience with family, neighbors, and friends.

While visitors to Eastern Massachusetts can walk the Freedom Trail, learn about the Boston Tea Party, or tour the home of Paul Revere, folks in Western Massachusetts can explore the history of the American Revolution by witnessing historical reenactments of major battles, visit memorials to the cause’s courageous soldiers, and commemorate the war for American Independence through community celebrations such as fireworks, parades, annual events, and local resources.

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for
Western Massachusetts
Seasons: July & August

Who am I? Where am I? These are the fundamental questions proposed by the humanities. Inquiries related to local history, literature, and education, inspire us to think deeply about the places where we live and how our identity fits into the context of our community and the seasons.

Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts is a bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

With these downloadable seasonal itineraries, self-directed teens, lifelong learners, and families are encouraged to engage together in cultural opportunities that support similar interests, resulting in a shared history, strengthening sense of place.

Looking through a seasonal lens, a July and August cultural itinerary for Western Massachusetts includes:

  • An American holiday as a CATALYST for learning: Independence Day
  • PLACEMAKING at parks and community spaces through music: Outdoor Concerts
  • Resources that are ubiquitous and NATUREBASED: Summer Storms
  • Sweet fruits that celebrate FOOD TRADITIONS: Berries
  • Western MA as a CULTURAL destination for relaxation: Vacation
  • Outdoor activities that are INTEREST-BASED: Fishing
  • Ephemeral seasonal HABITAT: Flower Gardens
  • INTERGENERATIONAL outdoor living: Camping
  • Learning LENS that connects us to the season: Boating

Click here to download free pdf (32 pages).


Mass Humanities This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Special thank you to sponsors of this issue, including: New England Air Museum.

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