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British Garden Authority Anna Pavord On Garden Style

By Brian Cruey

As the garden columnist for The Guardian and former editor of Gardens Illustrated, Anna Pavord knows what she’s talking about when it comes to gardens. She’s written two bestselling books on the subject — The Tulip and The Naming of Names — and was the recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Gold Veitch Medal. If you’re lucky enough to score a ticket to Berkshire Botanical Garden’s upcoming winter lecture on Saturday, Feb. 13, you’ll be able to experience first-hand what this expert from across the pond can teach us about creating our own garden style — the topic of her talk.

I had a chance to speak with Pavord this past weekend and was able to ask her a few questions about the lecture and what we can expect.

What do you tell novice gardeners who are just starting out and may not know what kind of “style” they are looking for?

I would say don’t worry too much about style — worry about your plot: the sun, the wind, are there frost pockets? Examine the soil. Is it alkaline? Does it drain fast? The more you know about your plot, the greater your chance of success. If you’re starting to look at particular plants, look up where the plant comes from — its origins will give you a direct line as to what it might be wanting in your garden.

If you’ve moved somewhere new where there is already a garden, there might be things in it that make you shudder. But give it time. Give it a year to see what it can do, go into it with an open mind and allow your opinions to be altered.

Is there a particular plant that you think best describes your garden style?

Tastes change! I’ve fallen in love with a lot of different things over my 50 years as a gardener. I went through a kitchen garden phase where I was dedicated to growing things I could eat. Then I went through a tulip phase (which gave me a bestselling book). Now, I’m in a magnolia phase. I’ve moved into a new place where the soil is good for magnolias and I just found four new buds on a magnolia that hasn’t had any before, which made me very excited.

What is the most common mistake gardeners make when planning their gardens?

Thinking too much about what other people are going to think of them! As you get older, you care less about what people think. It’s incredibly important to create a world of your own that you want to live in, and the only thing that matters is that you think it’s beautiful. Follow your nose and do what pleases you. Ultimately, that’s all that matters.

What do you want people to leave this lecture with?

I want people to leave feel excited again about the business of gardening. The winter months are a perfect time to reawaken the anticipation that gardeners have for spring.

Berkshire Botanical Garden Winter Lecture with Anna Pavord:
Creating Your Own Garden Style

Saturday, Feb. 13 at 2 p.m.
Monument Mountain High School
600 Stockbridge Rd., Great Barrington, MA
$35 members; $45 nonmembers

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/02/16 at 09:38 AM • Permalink

Never Mind The Forest, Let’s Talk About Trees

The Rural Intelligence region is fortunate to have so many gardening experts close by. This week, we welcome Madaline Sparks to our gardening column. She is the principal in her own design, installation and maintenance business, Madaline Sparks Garden Design, with clients in Columbia and Berkshire counties. For 12 years she was the contributing garden editor at Real Simple Magazine and writes a bi-weekly garden column for the Chatham Courier. Madaline and her husband, Wayne Greene, live in Spencertown, NY where both are very active volunteers at Spencertown Academy Arts Center.

I recently saw the gritty frontier epic The Revenant. I was looking forward to seeing a movie that has garnered so many accolades and dreading it at the same time. Having seen the trailers, I knew the plot was intense and the violence and gore were a little more graphic than what I can usually tolerate. I’m not a movie reviewer, so I leave the number of stars it should receive to others, but the character in the movie that had the most impact on me was not Leonardo DiCaprio (or the grizzly bear) but the landscape. The director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, famously shot the entire movie in natural light, whether shooting day or night. Iñárritu spends a good amount of time focusing on trees, magnificent trees. And trees are present in almost every scene because so much of the story takes place in the snowy wilderness: stands of aspen, the night sky through the web of branches. One huge evergreen plays a very important part.

Snow can admirably highlight the beautiful qualities of trees, especially evergreens. This year, I’m definitely missing the snow cover that insulates the ground in a typical New England winter. But I’m finding that the lack of snow is allowing me to see trees in a slightly different way; it’s not distracting me from appreciating the various bark textures, canopy shapes and the intricate branching structure of different varieties. 

In the growing season, the focus is mostly on foliage and flowers. But it is not until winter that we can see the true structure of trees. Bark is the feature that we notice most and evergreens are the stars of the landscape, when all their deciduous cousins are naked.

I think we tend to take trees for granted. We plant them too close to electrical lines so they get hacked into bizarre topiary, we shred their surface roots with lawnmowers and damage their bark with careless weed whacking. They are not immune to these slights. The environment of the 21st century can be the biggest challenge our trees have to contend with. Severe and unpredictable weather extremes and fungal and insect infestations are all threats to our cherished forests and specimen trees. It is not until we are threatened with losing a treasured tree on our property that we call an arborist to “fix” it.

Unfortunately, it’s often too late to save a valued tree and the only safe and prudent solution is a take-down. Saying good-bye to a 100-year-old maple or oak is like losing a member of the family. A leafless winter view offers the opportunity to inventory the health of your valued trees and to have an arborist come to assess any work that should be done to preserve their life for many years to come.

If adding trees to your landscape is on your To Do list for the coming planting season, think carefully about what variety will give you and future generations the most beauty and enjoyment. For me, looking for trees that offer multiple seasons of interest forms the foundation of selecting new varieties to plant for clients or myself. Researching disease resistance and opting for trees that offer benefits to native fauna are also important features on which to focus. Noting the mature height and spread of trees is very important when selecting material. The age-old rule of “Right Plant, Right Place” is essential to this task. There’s a tree suited to fit every condition and taste. Some stunning smaller trees I covet for my own landscape are Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina), Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia) and Paperbark maple (Acer griseum), shown in the photo at the top of the page.

The bible for researching trees for professionals and amateurs alike is The Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs by Michael Dirr. It’s hefty and pricey but worth it. An excellent way to shop for trees and see them in their maturity is to go to the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Mass. Look at them now and then again in the growing season.

If you like to look at amazing trees from a cozy place beside the fireplace, check out the American Forests website. All the champions of the National Big Tree program, which was established in 1940 to celebrate the magnificence of this country’s oldest and grandest trees, can be viewed there. If you know of a spectacular tree that might be the biggest of its kind, you can also nominate it on their website.


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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/18/16 at 10:39 AM • Permalink

Page Dickey Pens The New Go-To Book On American Gardens

The National Garden Conservancy “Open Days” — a program of private gardens open to the public — are wildly popular in the Rural Intelligence region. After all, there are some magnificent ones in our area, and a number of greatly respected and renowned gardener-slash-garden experts who live among us.

To mark a milestone year in the conservancy’s history, the organization just last week published Outstanding American Gardens: A Celebration — 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy. The book is filled with exquisite photos of 50 gardens from coast to coast, and, we proudly note, private Edens in the Rural Intelligence area are well represented. The gardens of Lee Link, Bunny Williams, Margaret Roach and Hollister House are brilliant examples of the gardening creativity that abounds in our region. All of the gardens selected for the book capture the dedication it took to build these spectacular settings.

The coffee table-worthy book is edited by Page Dickey, author of several garden design books and one of the founders of the Open Days program. Dickey, who recently relocated to Falls Village, Conn. (from upstate New York) will be signing the book at Pergola Home in New Preston on Saturday, Oct. 3.

“This book really is the new, definitive book on distinctly American gardens,” says David Whitman, who co-owns Pergola along with his business partner, Peter Stiglin. “There has’t been a book like this in a very long time. It’s going to become the new go-to book for American gardens.”

Come meet the author, buy a book, enjoy some refreshments and — speaking of gardens — take a few moments to enjoy the waterfall garden behind the shop.

Outstanding American Gardens: A Celebration — 25 Years of the Garden Conservancy
Booksigning with author Page Dickey

Saturday, Oct. 3, 2-5 p.m.
Pergola Home
7 East Shore Road, New Preston, Conn.
(860) 868-4769

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/28/15 at 03:05 PM • Permalink

Know Your Hydrangeas

The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by Brian Cruey, who as General Manager of Naumkeag for the Trustees of Reservations, knows about beautiful gardens.

If one had to pick a true superstar of the late summer garden in our area, I think most would agree that hydrangea would take the honors. Big, showy, prolific blooms punctuate flower gardens across the region this time of year.  It’s a show that extends well into fall as blooms often turn color from shades of white to pink and red, eventually drying on the branch, creating a point of interest that can last straight through the winter.

However, all hydrangea are not created equal. Though there are tons of cultivars, there are really four main types of hydrangea that are most common. That includes Hydrangea macrophylla (mopheads and lacecaps), Hydrangea aborescens (of the Annabelle family), Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea.)

Mophead hydrangeas

Hydrangea macrophylla
These are usually the most colorful of the bunch with blooms that start out pink,  blue, violet and white, which makes them unique to other hydrangeas because the others generally bloom white and turn colors as the season progresses.  Also characteristic to this variety: the blooms grow on the previous year’s growth, so be mindful of when and how you prune. Hydrangea macrophylla can be divided into two groups: mophead and lacecaps. Mopheads are the larger, globular blooms that can range in size from an orange to a cantaloupe. Lacecaps are more subtle with sterile florets circling the tight, smaller fertile flowers in the center that bees go crazy over.

Lacecap hydrangeas

I’ll be honest – I haven’t had a lot of luck with Hydrangea macrophylla, which includes the very popular cultivar “Endless Summer.”  Our cold winters and fluctuating springs often destroy the buds that have formed from the previous year. The plants of this variety that I have tried to grow in my garden get lots of foliage but rarely do they bloom. 

Hydrangea aborescens
This species is often referred to as Anabelle hydrangea due to the popularity of that cultivar, though more have been introduced over the years. This woody shrub can be pruned back in the spring as buds form on new growth. This hydrangea is often referred to as “smooth hydrangea,”  “wild hydrangea” or “seven bark.” The globe-shaped blooms can be anywhere from two inches to 10 inches in diameter. The plant itself will usually stay between two and four feet tall.

Hydrangea paniculata

Hydrangea paniculata
This hydrangea gets its name from the panicle, cone-shape of its blooms and it is the only type of hydrangea that can be pruned into a tree form. Paniculata can tolerate hard pruning and will grow to be quite large, up to 10 feet. The blooms of paniculata often turn from white to pink to red as the season progresses and includes the popular varieties “PeeGee” and “Limelight.”

Hydrangea quercifolia
The Oakleaf hydrangea does well with little attention and can grow in more harsh, dry conditions than other species. It gets its name from the “oak leaf” shape of its foliage which turns beautiful shades of dark red and purple in the fall, making it an excellent choice for late-season color. Exfoliating bark also makes the woody stems of this plant a beautiful sight in the winter months. Like paniculata, the blooms of quercifolia are cone-shaped and white, though often slightly less prolific. Blooms for Hydrangea quercifolia grow on old growth so pruning should be restricted to winter damaged branches.



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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/02/15 at 10:47 AM • Permalink

You Can Be As Sweet As Honey, But The Bees Still Might Swarm

The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by Brian Cruey, who as General Manager of Naumkeag for the Trustees of Reservations, knows about beautiful gardens.

Last week during on of my evening garden walks, I noticed something funny on a limb in one of the trees near my barn – a large dark mass.  As I got closer to inspect, I started to panic as the realization of what was happening started to dawn on me.  My bees had swarmed. 

Now, this is my third year as a beekeeper and so far I am not doing so well.  My first year, my hive didn’t survive the winter.  My second year, I was taunted, stalked and ultimately humiliated by a black bear that destroyed my hive. I’ll admit, I almost didn’t even try again this year, but being one who can’t easily admit defeat I decided to give it another go.

Things had been going great.  I moved my hive from last year’s spot and put it down by the barn where I secured it inside electric fencing.  I knew the bears were back in town because I’d seen them on the road a few times, but so far they had left me alone and I was feeling pretty optimistic. My bees were going gangbusters and I had just put on my first honey super (a box that goes on top of the bigger brood boxes to collect the honey) thinking this was the year I would finally get a harvest. Discovering that my bees had swarmed was a real blow. 

Bees swarm for a number of reasons but usually it’s usually because there’s not enough room for the hive to expand, the hive is overheating because there are too many bees or poor ventilation, the queen is getting old or a combination of those things. Before a hive swarms, the queen will lay a new queen in special queen cells that the hive has created in preparation for the swarm. Once those have been laid and a nice day comes along, tens of thousands of bees (up to 60 percent of the hive) take to the air. Because the queen is not used to flying, she is weak and can’t go far, usually landing in a tree branch very close to the hive. The rest of the hive will gather around her forming a clump while special “scout” bees go out looking for a suitable new home. 

Trust me, it’s a startling sight, but not one that you should necessarily be afraid of.  When bees first swarm they fill up on nectar in preparation for their time spent setting up a new hive, which can take anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days. Usually, if you see a swarm in the first day or so, the bees’ abdomens are so full of honey, they can’t bend them to sting. In addition, bees are generally aggressive only when they are protecting a hive. With no honey to stand guard over, the swarm is often more docile. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t proceed with caution: if a swarm has been out of the hive for a while, they most likely have used up their food stores and are cranky — just like me when I’m hungry.

You can recapture a swarm if you’re lucky and the bees are accessible. Beekeepers are actually eager to find swarms; it’s a cheap and easy way to expand their operations and create new hives for themselves. (If you ever find a swarm and know any beekeepers, call them!) 

It was late and the sun was setting so if I was going to get these guys I had to move fast. I chugged my cocktail (Coor’s Light), did some quick Googling, threw on my bee suit and got to work. 

It wasn’t easy — the swarm was about 20 feet off the ground on a young branch that couldn’t support me (or a ladder). You can literally scoop swarmed bees right into a box and, as long as you get the queen, they will usually be content to start a new hive once you get them into an empty brood box with frames.

I got an eight-foot folding ladder and put it directly under the hive. I had an empty brood box that I sealed at the bottom with a piece of wood and put that on top of the ladder. This was as close as I could get and it was just going to have to do.  Improvising with what I had on hand, I got my roof rake out and, as gently as I could, I scooped the bees off the branch and they fell into the box below. Immediately, I knew that I hadn’t captured the queen because the bees almost instantly started congregating on the branch again — a sure sign that she was still at large. After a few more tries, I was fairly confident that I had gotten her. I set up a new hive inside my electric fencing, got the bees in and called it a night.

In the morning, all of the bees from the swarm were gone. I must have missed the queen and the scouts had come back in the night having found some better real estate — probably something with lake views, plenty of road frontage and high-speed internet access.

I tried. And I do still have the other half of my original hive left. Hopefully that new queen will come along and build up the hive enough to get through the winter, which is the real danger with a swarm at this time of the year. If the hive can’t get big enough to produce enough food and warmth for winter, they don’t stand much of a chance. It was a really big swarm and I am worried about the new queen but, regardless, I’m trying to bee optimistic. 

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/14/15 at 03:08 PM • Permalink

Peonies, The Sequel

The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best: one of the master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.

Last time I checked in, I was going on and on about peonies. If you were bored by that article, I’ve got some bad news: I need to talk more about peonies. Tree peonies, to be exact. Never heard of them? Get ready to have your mind blown.

Unlike herbaceous peonies (whose leaves and stems die down at the end of the growing season to the soil level), tree peonies don’t die back every year. Instead, they grow as a woody shrub. Just like other woody shrubs, the branches of tree peonies don’t get cut back at the end of the season and last through the winter. Most tree peonies will bloom in early to mid May, a bit earlier than their herbaceous cousins, which for the most part, get started in early June. 

Tree peonies get a bad reputation; many people label them “hard to grow.” In reality, they are really just “slow to grow” and quite hardy, growing under similar conditions to that of herbaceous peonies: neutral, organic rich soil that is well drained and located in a sunny to partly sunny area of the yard. Given time and the right conditions, most will grow to a height of four feet or higher, with equal or greater width. Though their stems are made to last the cold winter months, that doesn’t mean that they are safe from what the snow brings — broken limbs or damage caused by voles. It’s a good idea to wrap the trees in burlap before the snow falls to give them an added layer of protection.

What tree peonies lack in their ability to grow quickly, they more than make up for in their annual flower show. Sure, herbaceous peonies are impressive enough and already are one of the most beautiful blooms in the garden. But tree peonies just have a little more oomph to them. They are peonies on steroids, with huge blooms and lots of them. Mature plants can have over a hundred flowers on them with blooms that can reach diameters of 12 inches and have a depth of 4 to 5 inches. If that isn’t enough, their fragrant scent will fill the air when mature plants are in full bloom and their perfume can rival that of any rose.

Not convinced? Fortunately for us folks living in the RI region, we have two incredible resources when it comes to tree peonies. For the perfect example of how tree peonies can perform in the landscape, be sure to check out Naumkeag in Stockbridge. Naumkeag (a property under the stewardship of the The Trustees of Reservations and open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) is not only an historic home and museum, but a spectacular garden in the process of receiving a multi-million-dollar restoration. Though the gardens surrounding the home are probably best known for their iconic “Blue Steps” set into the hillside, they also boast a sprawling terrace filled with nothing but mature tree peonies, all covered in blooms this time of year. I never miss this garden “performance” and you shouldn’t either.

Cricket Hill Gardens in Thomaston, CT are nothing short of experts on all things peony. Not only do they specialize in growing tree peonies (and herbaceous peonies as well) but they also sell and propagate them. They have a peony festival that goes from now through June 21 that’s worth the visit. If you can’t get there, they have an online shop and catalog and are always happy to help via phone.

If you do decide to purchase a tree peony, be ready for some sticker shock. Most tree peonies start in the $80 range and go up from there.  But trust me, it’s well worth the investment and you’ll probably grow to love this plant more than any other in the garden.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/26/15 at 08:28 PM • Permalink

Garden: Mind Your Peony Ps And Qs

The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best: one of the master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.

There is no denying that peonies (or Paeonia, the only genus in the family Paeoniceae,) are superstars of the early summer garden. Showy, fragrant, and a great cut flower, peonies, an herbaceous perennial, are very hardy and easy to grow in zones 3-8. Although relatively maintenance free, here are some helpful tips to help you grow the best peony on your block.

fernFirst of all, know this:
When peonies are at their peak and looking their very best, a punishing thunderstorm is going to roll through and ruin the show. Just accept it. It happens every single year and there is nothing you can do about it.

Even without a heavy rain, peonies can get top heavy and tend to droop over. You can give them a little help. Peonies enjoy being supported with a hoop-type support. Put out the support as soon as you see growth, and the leaves will cover the supporting structure in no time. If, however, your new plant is already two feet or higher, wait until next year. You don’t want to break your plant.

Thankfully, peonies have relatively few diseases. The most common one is botrytis. An excellent resource on the diseases of peonies can be found on the Penn State website.

Most likely, you are going to see ants on your peonies, maybe lots of them. Don’t worry about this one bit — it’s natural. Some think they even play a role in helping them flower and will disappear after the plant has done so. There’s no need to spray to get rid of them. They’ll disappear when the blooms open and will do nothing to hurt them (or you.)

june borderDon’t be afraid to cut your peonies and bring them inside (especially if you know that thunderstorm is on the horizon!).
When you do cut blooms, leave at least two leaf nodes on the stem. Your plant needs its leaves to continue to produce food for the plant, so cut your vase display with short stems. After your blooms disappear, your peony plant will continue to please as a leafy bush. At the end of the growing season, cut your peony down to the ground, being sure not to cut the buds. Mulch heavily, and gently remove the mulch in the spring.

peonies pottedIf you don’t already have peonies in your garden:
The best way to get this show is to purchase and plant a potted peony right now (spring.) Plant it in a well-drained area in full sun so that the soil level of the potted plant is level with the soil you are planting it in. A soil pH of 6 to 7, but no lower than 5.5 is ideal. Do not fertilize the first year. For that matter, peonies really do not require much fertilizing at all, and over-fertilizing will weaken the leaves and produce small blooms. Too much nitrogen may inhibit bloom growth and encourage more greenery. That said, no fertilizing is better than too much. When you dig your hole, you may add bone meal or compost or superphosphate to the hole, but cover this with soil before you put the plant in, as you may burn the roots otherwise. After the first year, peonies might like a light fertilizing, ¼ to ½ cup of 5-10-10 scratched lightly into the soil at the beginning of spring, and again halfway through the growing season. Do this at the drip line and don’t dig too deeply, as you don’t want to disturb the roots.

peonies 3The best way to propagate peonies:
This is done by root division, which you do in October when the plant has begun to go dormant. You may cut through the plant while it is still in the ground, and either remove the whole plant and replant parts or just remove some parts. The best time to prepare your new site is in the spring. Dig a hole at least one foot deep or more and add organic matter to the soil. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of 10-10-10 per plant to the soil in the bottom of the bed. Do not add fertilizer to the soil that will touch the roots. Add soil back into hole and mark it so you can find it easily. When you are ready to plant, dig a foot-deep hole in your prepared soil area. Make the hole wide enough so the roots can spread out. Place your new plant with at least five eyes so that the eyes are no lower than two inches below the soil level. Planting them too deeply will inhibit blooms next year. If you don’t mind how it looks, you can place your supports in the ground at the fall planting time. It may take up to three years for your new plant to establish and bloom, but it will be well worth the wait.

An excellent resource on peonies this author found is here.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/12/15 at 01:39 PM • Permalink

At 15 Years, Trade Secrets Is A Mix Of The Old And The New

By Paige Darrah

For Martha Stewart and carloads of other less famous gardeners, May means one thing: Trade Secrets Rare Plant and Garden Antique Show in Sharon, CT.  If you’re one of them — or want to see what all the buzz is about — grab your Barbour jacket and join the straw-hatted crowd at the two-day garden party Flower magazine has dubbed “the Northeast’s garden event of the year.” 

Trade Secrets began 15 years ago with 35 vendors in interior designer Bunny Williams’ backyard. Its mission was to help raise money for Women’s Support Services (WSS), an organization that’s been providing emergency shelter, a 24-hour hotline and counseling to domestic violence victims in greater northwest Connecticut since 1981.

“Trade Secrets provides the necessary funding for our support and community education programs,” says Lori Rivenburgh, executive director of WSS. “We work very closely with the local police and state troopers, which means we’re able to provide immediate support to domestic abuse victims.” Trade Secrets netted $230,000 in 2014, which represents one-third of the WSS operating budget. “I can’t thank all the volunteers and supporters enough for all that they have done for the past 15 years,” she says.

The event — which is run by those invaluable volunteers — has expanded to include 61 carefully curated vendors (eight of whom will be making their TS debut) who are some of the nation’s best-known small nurseries and specialized growers. But it’s more than the greenery you go for:  this is where you source high-end outdoor furniture, statuary, wrought iron fencing and other garden accoutrements you won’t find at those big box stores.

Vertical garden from MyHouseLeeks.

Among the eclectic new vendors peddling their wares this year is sculptor Peter Busby of Cornwall, Ct., whose work has been commissioned everywhere from the Dallas Zoo, to Alaska’s State Council on the Arts, to nearby Hotchkiss. He’ll be selling his antiquity-inspired vase sculptures [above], which are a weave of steel rods. Because you can see through them, they don’t overwhelm the environment they’re in, says the artist.

Low-maintenance gardeners should swing by the booth claimed by MyHouseLeeks, which will be filled with hardy alpine succulent plants. MyHouseLeeks will introduce its specialty birdhouses, the roofs and entrances of which are carpeted with hardy alpine succulents.

Day Two of Trade Secrets is devoted to exploring four of the most alluringly private gardens in the RI region, and this year’s self-guided tour features a mix of the new and the familiar. On the itinerary for the first time is the spring garden at Twin Maples in Salisbury, and the clever, seductively understated garden at Rockwood Farm in Cornwall. Returning this year are the “deliciously odd” garden of renowned designer and antique dealer, Michael Trapp and, of course, the Falls Village garden of Trade Secrets’ founder, Bunny Williams. The designer invites attendees to tour her aviary that’s stocked with unusual chickens and fantail doves, Adirondack-style pool house, vegetable gardens, greenhouse, conservatory and apple orchard.

Sam Spano of Copper Fields Design & Studio.

The $125 ‘Early Buying’ tickets will include breakfast and a two-hour leg up on the gardeners who buy the $40 regular admission. For the tenth year in a row, the event will be held on the Sharon/Salisbury border at Elaine LaRoche’s vast, sunflower-filled Lion Rock Farm.  The event ends at 3 p.m. and all proceeds from ticket sales go to WSS.

Trade Secrets at Lion Rock Farm – Saturday, May 16th
Early Buying: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., $125
Regular Buying: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., $40

Trade Secrets Garden Tours – Sunday, May 17th
Gardens are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., $70 ($60 if purchased in advance)

For more information or to purchase tickets, call (860) 364-1080 or visit the website.

Nearby restaurants for lunch:
Country Bistro, Salisbury
Falls Village Inn, Falls Village
Harney Tea Salon, Millerton
Oakhurst Diner, Millerton
Toymakers Cafe, Falls Village
The Woodland, Lakeville

Related Posts:
Trade Secrets: It’s A Good Thing For Gardeners And WSS, May 18, 2014
Trade Secrets: New Vendors Join The Perennial, May 5, 2014
Trade Secrets: The Ultimate Destination for Plants and Antiques, May 4, 2013
Trade Secrets: A Lollapalooza of Antiques and Gardens, May 15, 2012

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/05/15 at 05:08 PM • Permalink

Spring’s Garden Maintenance Is Part Work, Part Pleasure

The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best: one of the master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.

This past weekend was the first I had at home where I had no snow, no guests and no excuses to avoid the chores that have been waiting for me outside. It was so beautiful out, I didn’t mind one bit getting outdoors and seeing what the retreating glacier known as winter 2015 had left me. Those discoveries included one missing shovel, a lawn crisscrossed with vole tunnels and more fallen tree limbs than I could count. My hands are blistered and random muscles I forgot about are sore from all of the raking, chain sawing, pruning and hauling I got done. By eight o’clock Sunday night both my dogs and I were passed out on the couch exhausted from a day of being outside and spending some time in the sun. It felt great.

This is the time of year for maintenance. It’s easy to want to jump right into planting, but your garden beds are somewhat fragile at the moment and need to be approached with caution. Bulbs and perennials are just starting to poke up through the soil, which is loose, wet and easy to compact. It’s hard to know what’s coming up where, and stepping in the wrong place could lead to unnecessary plant damage. We’re also not out of the woods just yet (this time last year we got eight inches of snow) so don’t be fooled into thinking you can start planting annuals, vegetables and herbs by a random 70-degree, sunny day. It’s best to wait until mid May (at the earliest) to confidently put out plants without fear of frost.

Instead, use this time to sharpen your pruners, change your lawnmower blades, check the oil and filters in all of your equipment and replace tools that are broken or missing. Take an inventory of your fertilizers and seeds, and plan what you are going to grow this year. Use one of the inevitably rainy days of April to take a trip to the hardware store or garden center to stock up on supplies so that you can hit the ground running.

Of course, there’s much to be done in the garden itself. I never cut back things like sedum, grasses, black-eyed Susans or astilbe in the fall because I like the interesting texture it adds to the landscape through the winter, so that tops my to-do list in the spring. I also take this time to prune back plants like hydrangea, nine bark and my fruit trees. Again, if you are working in a garden bed, be careful where you step!

The minute I am able, I start taking my late afternoon, cocktail hour walk around the garden. This time of year there is still plenty to see. Yes, it is subtle, but it’s arguably more exciting because the changes are so gratifying. Hellebores are starting to come up and bloom, as are daffodils, tulips and all of the minor bulbs like chionodoxa and gallanthus. Trees like Cornus mas are just starting to pop and, even if they aren’t blooming just yet, the flower and leaf buds on almost every other tree are starting to swell with promise.

While you’re walking the garden looking for signs of life, also keep an eye out for signs of damage. As I mentioned, I had a crazy amount of downed branches this year that not only affected the trees that they fell from, but the plants that they landed on. The quicker you can alleviate the stress on any plant the better, so be mindful to look for things that are amiss. While you’re at it, check your house and outbuildings for any structural damage that may have occurred throughout the winter, like missing shingles, wood rot or gutter damage. This time of year I always notice something I missed the first, second and third time around, so better make that cocktail a double.

Whatever you do – don’t get stressed out! Spring can be overwhelming at times when you think about all of the work that needs to get done, but don’t worry – like all things in the garden, it’s about patience. This comes from someone who notoriously bites off more than he can chew and always has projects that he didn’t finish or even start. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if you don’t get it done this year, next year will be here before you know it.

Visit the Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Annual Plant Sale, where thousands of plants have been selected for their quality and arranged according to their growth habitat. The Garden’s horticultural staff is on hand to ask answer any questions you may have.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/20/15 at 09:20 PM • Permalink

Planting The Seeds Of Spring

The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best; one of the master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.

We’re so close to spring, can you feel it? No? Me neither. But it’s coming, rest assured. Even if it’s only just a day on the calendar for us folks here in the RI region, March 20 is the official first day of spring and it will be here before you know it. It’s time to warm up those green thumbs and get your head back into the growing game.

Around this time of year, the best thing that you can do is plan your gardens, take some classes or, if you really want to get your hands dirty, start some seeds indoors.

I’ll be totally honest with you — I’m not much of a seed starter. I’ve tried in the past, but it hasn’t always gone too well for me. My problem? I try to do too much. Starting seeds, especially indoors during the winter months, takes patience and a decent grasp of the science of germination and starting seeds. Temperatures need to be right, the timing needs to be calculated, and you need not only space, but space with sun — valuable and scarce real estate at my house. Unless you have a setup with grow lights and stand you are more than likely going to run into certain limitations.

For example, here’s what my typical failure looks like: I get really excited about starting seeds and go overboard. I buy six or seven seed starter trays and lots of seeds, and then I plant them all at once. In a couple of weeks I have beautiful sprouts that are ready to start their journey… but I have nowhere to put them. I start sticking them in windows that aren’t really adequate, rigging up grow lights that I forget to turn on or off and soon I have a lot of unhappy seedlings that really don’t stand much of a chance. I’m terrible with houseplants as it is, so this is a real test for me to begin with. I am a firm believer that part of being a successful gardener is realizing your limitations and your strengths (and that goes for both indoor and outdoor gardening). 

So here is my advice: Start small with just one tray of seeds. This can be anything from a particular annual that you like, garden vegetables or herbs — it’s up to you. Pay careful attention to germination times. If something germinates quickly, you don’t want to seed it in early February. Remember, you want to time your seedlings so that they can be put outside after the last threat of frost. The earliest I ever allow for that here is mid May, and even that is risky. You don’t want your seedlings spending too much time in their seed trays. Plants need room to grow and if you can’t put your plants outside, you’ll need to transplant them into a larger container in the interim.

Plugs ready for transplant.

Your best bet to get started is to get a seed starting kit from your local nursery or hardware store. These are simple units with a tray and a domed plastic cover, though some also include a potting mix as well. Different seeds have different sowing requirements, so make sure to read the seed packages closely and follow instructions.  When you have tiny seeds (like lettuces for example), it can be hard to get just one in an individual unit. That’s okay. When the seeds sprout, carefully remove one of the seedlings to give the others room to grow. Also, be careful not to overwater your seedlings. You want the soil to be damp to the touch but not soaking wet.

Lastly, put your seed tray somewhere you’re forced to see it everyday. This will help you to keep an eye on things even if you’re busy and, like most things, the earlier you catch a problem the easier it is to fix.

Note: We will be going into more depth on this topic in an upcoming workshop at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Maureen Sullivan and Mitch Deldmesser, owners of Left Field Farm in Middlefield, MA, will focus on indoor sowing and growing practices. Click here for more information.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/23/15 at 07:53 PM • Permalink