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Leave Them Be: The Why And How Of Leaf Mulching

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 week he gives us a new perspective on all those leaves that need raking.

What do you do with fall leaves once they stop painting the hillsides and start accumulating on your lawn? After you rake them, do you put them out for the trash collector? Burn them?  Throw them in the woods? Let me tell you something; If you are throwing away your leaves, you are basically burning money.  Not only can you use leaves in your compost pile, but those piles of fall leaves can work for you in other ways, too.

Mulching your flowerbeds in the spring is one of the best things you can do for your garden and for yourself.  Not only does it have multiple benefits for the health of your plants, but it also saves your back by reducing the amount of time you spend hunched over pulling weeds. 

But mulch can be tricky.  You want to get it down before weeds start to germinate in the spring. It can also be really expensive; if you have a decent-sized garden, you’ll often need more than what you can buy in bags at the nursery, and having it delivered by the cubic yard will usually involve additional fees.  Spring is a time when I usually have a lot of projects going on and both time and money can be in short supply, leaving my best intentions for a well-mulched garden to fall to the wayside. 

So last year I cut out the middleman and made my own mulch using leaves and pine needles that I raked up from my yard.  It’s one of those things that is so simple, so obvious and so FREE that you wonder, why haven’t I done this before?? Try it and trust me, you’ll agree.  Here’s what you do:

1. Rake your leaves. (Include pine needles too if you have them.)

2. Chop them up.  Flat, uncut leaves will create layers that will retain moisture and prevent air from passing through, which is not what we want.  There are a couple of different ways you can prevent this.  I rake my leaves into a manageable area just thick enough for getting my mower over without causing it to stall out.  Use your push mower or a riding mower – it doesn’t really matter.  If you have a chipper or an electric leaf cutter, that will work just fine, too.  Here’s another fun trick:  Take a big plastic trash can and fill it about half way up with leaves, then use your weed whacker like an immersion blender chopping the leaves directly into the trash can.  This process takes a little longer but works well if you don’t have a lot of material to deal with.

3. Add other debris and turn. This is optional. If you want to add wood chips or grass clippings, now is the time to do it.  Mix it up well to avoid clumping.

4. Store and cover. If you have a mulch bin or other container, put your chopped debris in it and cover it with a tarp.  I just mounded mine on the ground and covered it, which works just as well.  The goal is to keep it dry and protected from the elements to keep it from decomposing too quickly.  Here’s a tip: Instead of making one large pile, I made four smaller ones, each located by where I would eventually be applying the mulch in the spring so I wouldn’t have to wheelbarrow it all over the yard.

5. Spread the mulch. Once spring rolls around, apply a layer of leaf mulch that is two to four inches deep around the base of your plants and throughout your beds, being careful not to cover up your perennials.

Now sit back and use all of that time you would have spent pulling weeds to count all of the money you saved on mulch.

 

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/16/14 at 03:45 PM • Permalink

Garden: Fall Is Not Just A Tree Thing

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 fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.

Fothergilla

You don’t need me to tell you that summer is taking a bow and making room on the stage for fall. Not only is Labor Day in our rear view mirror, but a drive down any of our scenic roadways reveals swamp maples that are already blood red, and other trees that are starting to blush. 

Living in the northeast, it’s hard not to talk about the fall foliage. It’s more than just a part of our landscape — it’s a means of tourism and revenue as we invite “peepers” here year after year to share in the splendor of one of nature’s greatest shows.

But why do trees get all the glory? Can we bring our gaze down from the treetops and into the garden for a second? After all, trees are not the only living things with leaves and there are plenty of other plants that boast fall color as one of their defining characteristics. When it comes to choosing plants and planning your garden, taking this into consideration is an absolute must, especially if you’re someone like me who tries to squeeze every last drop of color out of the landscape before the snows of winter settle in. Below are some of my favorite, easy-to-grow woody shrubs that offer a real bang for your buck in the fall foliage department.

Fothergilla – This is, by far, one of my favorite plants and one that I’ve talked about before. For me, this woody shrub bookends the season by sporting fluffy white flowers in the very early spring and then stunning foliage in the fall. What’s especially nice is that the fiery orange and crimson leaves of Fothergilla stay on the shrub late so that when everything else has lost its leaves, this shrub is still taking your breath away.

Witch hazel

Witch hazel – A cousin of Fothergilla, witch hazel shares many of its best traits, including the foliage. Depending on the variety you get, expect to see reds, oranges or yellows but never expect to be disappointed. If you’re buying this plant strictly for its fall interest then you will want to go for the variety Hamemalis virginiana, which is what I have in my garden. Unlike other witch hazels which are usually the very first things to bloom in the spring, Hamemalis virginiana does the opposite and blooms in the late fall — rare for a woody plant.

Blueberry – Blueberries thrive in my neck of the woods and throughout most of the northeast, making this plant a necessary addition to any garden. You get the bounty of their delicious fruit in late July and early August, but not many people give the blueberry bush its credit when fall rolls around and its leaves turn to a fiery red. Its color is so potent that I always suggest it as a native substitute for the invasive burning bush.

Red Twig Dogwood – This one is a double whammy. Not only do you get the great fall foliage of its orange yellow leaves, but once those fall to the ground and are forgotten you’re left with the woody stems which seem to glow yellow to red, depending on the cultivar you choose. Set against the snow, this plant gets an A+ in the winter interest department, providing color when you need it the most.

Oak leaf hydrangea

Oak Leaf Hydrangea – Oak leaf hydrangea gets its name because of its (surprise!) oak-shaped leaves. Like most hydrangeas, it offers beautiful flowers, but once fall rolls around this one surprises with its large foliage that turns bronze, crimson and purple. The stems of this hydrangea have a papery bark that peels back in the autumn and winter, revealing a deep brown inner bark that makes for a great show in its own right.

Smokebush – Depending on the variety you get, Smokebush has deep red to purple oval-shaped foliage all year long that you think just couldn’t get any better, and then… it does! Its leaves fade to a showy orange-red to yellow in autumn that makes this one of those rare plants that’s grown almost exclusively for its foliage.

When it comes to plants, there are a lot of variables that affect its overall performance and fall foliage is no exception. Depending on conditions, the type of “show” you get out of your plants can vary from year to year and location to location. However, the plants listed above are all native plants that perform well in this area.

Related article: The How and Why of Fall Foliage

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/02/14 at 01:58 PM • Permalink

Garden: Failure Only Leads To Growth

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 fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.

Admittedly, my vegetable garden was low on my priority list this year. A number of construction projects, a new shade garden I’d put in last fall and a couple of problem dogs that learned how to jump out of their fence and into my chicken coop all seemed to keep pushing the veggie garden further and further down my “to-do list.” Honestly, I don’t even know why I put one in. I knew time was going to be tight for me this summer and a vegetable garden definitely requires a certain level of commitment. A lot of it is pressure I put on myself because I worry people will question my validity as a gardener if I’m not presenting them with jars of homemade pickles at the end of the season. “What do you mean you didn’t plant a vegetable garden this year?? And you still have the nerve to call yourself a gardener!”

But what’s worse: not having the garden at all or having a garden you don’t take care of? My vegetable garden, at this point, is a full-blown embarrassment. Nothing but weeds, un-staked tomato plants, lettuces that are starting to flower and overly ripened cucumbers and sugar snap peas growing up supports that are just about ready to topple over. 

Truth be told, I’m kind of glad not to have to put a lot of energy into the vegetable garden because it turned out to be a pretty rotten year for vegetables. Sure, a little of that might have to do with my neglect – weeds in your garden steal resources like water, sun and soil nutrients from your garden crops. However, even the vigilant food growers I’ve talked to are having a tough time. This summer has been cold, with nights regularly dipping into the low 50s and that just hasn’t been good for heat-loving plants like tomatoes and peppers. On top of that, things have been pretty wet, which has been great for the garden, but has also made it tough to control mildew and fungus – something that’s had an impact on my flowerbeds as well.

I’ve always been more excited about landscaping and my yard than I have been about vegetables. However, I am determined. Like anything, I just need to find a method that’s realistic for me and works for my environment. My vegetable garden measures 20 feet by 25 feet, giving me a lot of room to try different things, which is exactly what I’m going to do next year: On one side, I’m going to do a series of raised beds with lettuces, radishes and cold frames where I can start things early on and do multiple plantings throughout the season. On the other, I’m going to try black plastic, something I’ve avoided in the past but, after this year’s cold temperatures, am willing to try with my tomatoes. Black plastic heats up the soil, helps retain water and also keeps out weeds. To make my conscious feel better about using earth-unfriendly plastic, I’m going to try natural mulch with leaves and pine needles that I’ll rake up this fall and overwinter under a tarp. After next year, I’ll see which one works best for me and my garden, and adjust from there.

Everyone has garden failures, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up. Weather is unpredictable, environments change and life just gets in the way sometimes. However, as our season winds down and the signs of fall slowly start revealing themselves, remember, next year is a brand-new opportunity to try new things. Learning from your mistakes from season to season is the best way to grow as a gardener, and it’s a process that never ends, no matter what your skill level. 

Interested in furthering your education as a gardener? With classes starting in September, The Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Horticulture Certificate is an excellent opportunity for any garden enthusiast who wants to learn more about the science and art of plants.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 08/18/14 at 01:10 PM • Permalink

Time To Think About…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 fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.

Photos courtesy of the Berkshire Botanical Garden.

The past couple weeks of rainy, humid weather have been great for my garden. Know what else it has been great for? My weeds. I feel like I can’t keep up. I start weeding at one end of the flowerbed and by the time I reach the other side it’s like I have to start all over again. Same goes for mowing the grass, clipping the hedges and deadheading. It’s relentless.

Honestly, I think I’m just suffering from a little bit of general, summer fatigue. It’s not just the garden —  it’s the house guests, the grocery shopping, the cleaning, the events. There’s always so much going on that I can’t believe we’re almost into August.

Which is why you’re probably going to want to punch me in the face when I say that it’s time to start thinking about next spring. I know, I can’t wrap my head around it either. Next year’s garden? You’re kidding, right? Can’t this wait until January when I‘ve got nothing better to do than sit in front of the fire dreaming about the garden while eating gingersnaps and drinking (Irish) coffee? 

No. It can’t. Not when it comes to spring bulbs.

True, your daffodils, crocus, tulips and other spring bulbs don’t need to be planted until the fall. However, if you want to get the “good stuff” (hard-to-find cultivars, rare varieties and unusual colors) you’d better bust out the catalogs and start ordering. Yes, you can always make last-minute stops into your local garden center, but chances are you aren’t going to find a whole lot of selection and will have to stick with more run-of-the-mill stock, which, admittedly, includes proven cultivars that are all beautiful.

But it’s not just variety you want to be conscious of. I have a very simple philosophy when it comes to bulbs: MORE. Last year I planted 2,200 daffodils in an area of my yard that I’d dug up for another, unrelated project. While the soil was loose, it was the perfect time to plant that large, drifting field of daffodils that I’d always dreamed of. I was surprised at how limited I was in my selection because I was ordering so many. Granted, 2,200 is a little extreme, but I still wish I’d planned better. I placed my order in late August thinking I had plenty of time, but at the numbers I was looking to purchase, I was disappointed to miss out on a few varieties that I was really looking forward to.

If you’re ordering in really large numbers, talk to a landscape designer or garden center; they might be able to help you get better pricing. Designers will usually have the ability to buy at wholesale and get you a much better bang for your buck. The same goes for garden centers. The more you order and the farther in advance you plan, the better deal you’re likely to get. 

So take a break from weeding in the humidity and turn an eye towards spring. If you’re looking for a great selection of bulbs, the horticultural team at the Berkshire Botanical Garden has chosen some favorites for 2014 and made them available for sale via their website. All orders go to benefit the Berkshire Botanical Garden and will be available for pick-up in late September. Click here for more information.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/22/14 at 11:28 AM • Permalink

What Does A Bear Do In The Woods? Just Ask Brian.

Ordinarily, our garden guide, Brian Cruey from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, offers advice for home gardeners. But a situation came up that prompted Brian to think that maybe RI readers who experience regular visits from wildlife would have some words of wisdom for him.

I am being terrorized by a family of bears. 

Now, I’m not one of those people who moves to the middle of the woods and then is surprised to find themselves surrounded by wildlife.  As a matter of fact, I consider myself very lucky to live in a place where nature — bugs and all — are a part of my daily life. 

My affair with the bears started around Christmas when my dad gave me a game-cam.  I live on 130 acres in Otis and often wonder who else shares my little corner of earth (or heaven, as I like to think of it). A game-cam, by the way, is a motion-sensored, waterproof digital camera.  It is a small box that comes with long, adjustable straps so that you can secure it to tree trunks. Whenever anything passes in front of it, it snaps a photo (or video) with a date and time stamp. It even comes with an infrared flash to capture images at night.  Game-cans are often used by hunters, bird watchers, wild life enthusiasts and people who are suspicious of their house cleaners.

The game-can introduced me to my bear neighbors. About two months after setting up the camera deep in the woods, I downloaded the photos and was delighted to see a young black bear amongst the lineup of porcupines, squirrels and myself walking the dogs on the trail.  “Oh wow, a bear! How cute!” I thought. Subsequent months of game-camming revealed that the bear LIVED for the limelight and I got a lot of good shots of the bear hamming it up for the camera.

If only the bear had stayed on camera. About four weeks ago, I was out near the flowerbeds, relaxing with a glass of wine and watching the bees in my two backyard beehives, when I noticed the top cover to one of my hives was off, though the bees themselves seemed to be undisturbed. We’d had a pretty nasty bout of storms the night before so I assumed that the top had been blown off in the wind. I recapped the hives and thought nothing of it. 

Then, two weeks later, all hell broke loose. Like any normal day after work, I went to the gazebo with a glass of sparkling rosé over ice (don’t judge me) and noticed immediately that one of my hives was in complete shambles. Hive frames were all over the place, strewn from my garden into the woods. A large fothergilla shrub was trampled and destroyed (sadly, one of my favorite shrubs) and there were bees everywhere. 

After chugging the rosé, I got my bee suit on and started doing triage on the hives which were, surprisingly, not too damaged. There were only about three frames that were unsalvageable so I was feeling pretty good that the hives would be OK.  That same night, the hives were hit again, and this time the damage was much more severe — but still not unsalvageable. I managed to get them back in order and decided to move them to the dog run, which is fenced and has an electric current running over a top wire (a new addition as my dogs have very recently learned how to climb the fence and escape). Surely, the bees would be safe in there.

They weren’t. And from that point on I began finding every day that there were a lot of things that weren’t safe on my property.  After another hit on the hives, the bear (I’d figured it out) ripped a screen out of my gazebo. The following night, a text from my neighbor confirmed it: “Brian it’s Mary from down the street. The bear going through your trash in your front yard is ADORABLE.” (Mind you, the trash is housed in a shed that I thought was bear-proof.) The next day I got home and my chickens were out of their run having the time of their lives free ranging in the yard.  Guess the bear figured out how to open that door too — though thankfully, it spared the chickens and just ate the scraps that were supposed to be for them. 

This past weekend marked the end of my bees. A last-ditch effort to keep the hives together with tension straps didn’t work: they were ripped apart and totally destroyed. By that point, though, there wasn’t much left of them and frankly, the daily routine of salvaging my beehives was wearing me down. 

After talking to my neighbors, I learned that I wasn’t the only one having a problem. Grills overturned, coolers raided, fences breached…we were all being pestered with this bear and it wasn’t going away. It was really disheartening and honestly I was getting a little depressed about it. I felt like I was failing to keep my home and my animals safe and I wasn’t sure what to do. I’m still not.

But then yesterday, I was driving home down our dirt road and just about hit a big black bear as I rounded a corner a little too fast. After slamming on the breaks, I was just starting to think, “Too bad I didn’t hit and kill that son of a…” when two little bear cubs crossed the road following the bigger bear into the woods. Another larger bear crossed after them.

At that point I had two realizations:  1.) Holy $#!% There are four bears, not one.  2.) I can’t be mad at these bears. They are just doing their thing and I’m going to just have to figure out a better way to keep them out of my stuff. A stronger electric fence, a better door to the trash shed, dogs that aren’t completely worthless when it comes to guarding the place.  I’ll figure it out. Because at the end of the day my gut reaction is still “Oh wow, a bear!”

 

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Posted by Lisa Green on 07/09/14 at 04:20 PM • Permalink

It’s Prime Time For Garden Photography 101

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 fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.

Every season/week/day in the garden brings its own discoveries and joys. But let’s face it, in terms of what most of us consider “prime time” in the garden, these few weeks at the beginning of July are really what it’s all about. Things are looking good out there.

Photographing the beauty of your garden is a great way to not only journal your garden’s year-to-year progress but it’s also a joy and art all its own. Of course, in this social media, take-a-picture-of-my-plate, selfie, #nofilter culture we live in, taking good photos has become not just an obsession, but a means of communication.

Disclosure: I am by no means a professional photographer. However, as part of my job here at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, I take a lot of photos and there are a few tricks that I’ve learned that really help me get the right shot.

Look at what you are photographing. I know, this sounds like a crazy step but it’s worth taking a good hard look at what you’re going to photograph before you start clicking. Are there wilted petals on the flower? Ants on that peony that you don’t want in your shot? An orange Home Depot bucket in the background that will distract from your photo? We often see things in a photograph that we don’t see before we take the picture because we look at it through the lens first instead of a critical eye.

Take lots and lots of photos of the same thing. I’m assuming that, for the most part, the majority of people have digital cameras (or phones) these days. I’m not quite sure how many photos could fit on the SD card inside of mine, but I’m guessing it’s around a zillion. With that in mind, I take a ton of photos of whatever it is I’m photographing. I try different angles, different depths of field, different framing options and just click away. Honestly, you should be coming in with a few hundred photographs, not a few dozen. I’ve never once regretted taking too many photos, but I often wish I had taken more.

Shoot in the right light. High noon might be the perfect time for a shoot-out but it isn’t the best time for a shoot. (I know – that was terrible.) Early morning, just as the sun is coming up, is the perfect time to go out and shoot the garden. It’s also a great time to sleep, which is usually what I’m doing. A close second is the light of late afternoon, just before the sun starts to set. If you do need to shoot mid-day, do it when it’s overcast or there are passing clouds. Direct, hard light doesn’t make for great photos.

Get close. I find the closer I get when photographing flowers, the better they look. Photos allow us to study details up close, and in so many plants, that’s where a lot of the beauty truly lies. Don’t be afraid to get intimate with your subject.

Read the manual and practice. How many of us actually know what our camera can really do? Reading the manual will teach you all kinds of tricks and shortcuts that can improve your skills immensely just by knowing how to use the technology. Once you have the basics down, practice, practice, practice. It won’t take you long to know instinctively what makes a good photo and how to best use your device.

If you have any photos that you are particularly proud of, or capture a great moment this summer, bring it to the Berkshire Botanical “Grow Show” on August 9 and enter it in our photography section. What more appropriate place could there be to display not just your horticultural accomplishments, but your artistic ones as well?

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/24/14 at 06:20 PM • Permalink

Windswept: A Garden Exhibit That Changes With Every Breeze

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 fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey.

For as long as people have been gardening, they have incorporated art into their landscapes. Whether that’s a sculpture, a birdbath or even a scarecrow, the objects we place in our gardens serve a purpose — even if that purpose is only to inspire.  Sometimes it’s a piece of art that inspires the garden, the garden that inspires the art, or something different altogether. 

This year at the Berkshire Botanical Garden we’re featuring the exhibit “Windswept: The Garden Celebrates the Beauty of Wind,” consisting of objects and art inspired by the wind. It’s an exhibit that is filled with surprises—from the traditional to the unexpected—and features art by world-renowned, superstar artists as well as some of the Garden’s very own stellar staff. 

What makes an exhibit like this so unique is that it’s always changing. Not only are pieces like Jeff Kahn’s Wind Shear constantly in motion, but the gardens themselves are different from one moment to the next. Positioning a piece like Tim Prentice’s classic Yellow Zinger [shown above] in a setting as familiar as a woodland path makes you look at the trees in a brand new light. These pieces give life to what you can’t see and demonstrate the movement of an invisible force. 

One of the main successes or failures with art in the garden (and I use the terms success and failure very broadly; with gardening and with art, those are both very personal measures) is how those pieces are placed. For example, when we started looking for the perfect spot for a collection of antique weathervanes, we tried several different locations. It wasn’t until we took a step back and looked at the story the pieces were trying to tell us that we knew where they belonged, and it was in a place that we wouldn’t have expected they’d fit. The result is a fun play on the pieces as a collection.

When we finished putting this collection up, I think everyone here felt that “fun” was at the heart of it. Yes, it’s beautiful and yes, it captures the theme, but you can’t walk past Suzanne Heilmann’s Memorialized in White [shown left], or pass a tree filled with a hundred little wind chimes without feeling an essence of playfulness. When you have a subject like wind, there are a lot of different directions an exhibit could go in (literally!). Wind can be destructive, cold, noisy, productive, gentle — and yet somehow we arrived at “playful.” It was completely unintentional but welcomed and effective nonetheless.

The show was curated by Gregg and Natalie Randall, owners of R.T. Facts, an antiques and design center in Kent, CT. If you make a trip to their shop (based out of the old Kent Town Hall) you’ll immediately see how such an eclectic array of art and objects ended up at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. 

Windswept: The Garden Celebrates the Beauty of Wind will be on display through October 1. Free with Garden admission.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/09/14 at 06:51 PM • Permalink

2014 Garden Conservancy Open Days

Wildflower authority Carol Gracie (top) joins Margaret Roach (bottom) in Copake Falls on June 7. Collage courtesy of Margaret Roach.

By Amy Krzanik

“Open days” are here again and The Garden Conservancy’s 2014 tour lineup is as robust as ever, with blogger Margaret Roach’s Copake Falls home topping the list of this month’s must-see gardens.

Columbia County’s next open day is set for Saturday, June 7, when three private gardens, including the aforementioned Roach’s, will be open to the public. The author and former Martha Stewart Living gardening editor will offer tours of her 365-day, foliage-filled garden (above), as well as host a rare-plant sale by Broken Arrow Nursery and sponsor a wildflower lecture by acclaimed botanist Carol Gracie just down the road at the Church of St. John in the Wilderness.

On the same day, in Claverack, Peter Bevacqua and Stephen King invite guests to view their ever-evolving, two-acre plot that features a sun garden, a fern garden, an evening garden and many unusual trees and shrubs. Stop by to see, in real life, the garden that’s been featured in the New York Times, Berkshire Living magazine, and Jane Garmey’s recently published Private Gardens of the Hudson Valley.

The lush gardens of Broccoli Hall in Amenia will be open for viewing on June 14.

Closer to town, Hudson Hood – an urban shotgun-style garden in the middle of the city – will welcome visitors to walk through its wide range of topiaries of holly, boxwood, spruce, privet and heather, along with its “exotic jungle” of summer grasses, “Modernist-inspired” sunken garden with koi pond and collection of contemporary sculptures.

Dutchess and Litchfield Counties will have their next open days on June 14. In Dutchess County, Maxine Pietro opens up Broccoli Hall, where guests can walk through an apple tunnel into a garden of irises, peonies, and shrub roses, then on to a treehouse and a secret, woodland garden complete with a teddy bears’ picnic.

In addition, Smithfield Cottage in Millerton will feature an art sale with proceeds benefiting The Garden Conservancy, and Wethersfield’s public garden in Amenia will offer a discounted admission price for the day.

June 14th’s open day in Litchfield County includes tours of Mount Kenrick in New Preston and Washington Hill in Barkhamsted, whose signature feature in June is the native mountain laurel that completely covers the perimeter of the property and the adjacent woodland.

June 7: Columbia County Open Day
June 14: Dutchess & Litchfield Counties Open Day
June 21: Litchfield County Open Day
June 28: Columbia County Open Day
Most gardens are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on their appointed days, but be sure to check The Garden Conservancy website for exceptions, as well as driving instructions, and future open days throughout the summer.
Admission: $5 at each location; all proceeds go to The Garden Conservancy.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 06/02/14 at 04:54 PM • Permalink

Garden: A Cutting-Edge Technique For A Comely Garden

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 week he offers an easy way to keep your garden in manicured form.

I’m always surprised here, at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, how often I hear visitors say thing like, “why doesn’t my garden look like this” or “I could never do that in my yard.” Any time you visit a botanic garden, historic home or any other venue where the grounds are a feature, it’s important to remember that behind those weed-less flower beds, perfectly pruned tress and manicured lawns, there is usually a team of gardeners, horticulturalists, maintenance staff and interns whose full-time job it is to maintain the grounds. Having a garden that looks like “this” involves countless man-hours, planning, money and attention that a lot of us just don’t have.

However, there are little things that you can do here and there to make your garden look polished and professional. There’s weeding, mulching, planting in groups and—my chore over this past weekend—edging. 

Edging gives your garden borders a very defined line, making them look contained and separate from other parts of the yard (your lawn, for example). Aside from giving your garden a really polished look, edging also serves a purpose. It keeps grass from encroaching into your flowerbeds and prevents materials like mulch and gravel (as in a walkway) from spilling into your lawn.

There are several ways that you can accomplish this look. The first is by using a physical barrier made out of a material such as metal, wood, stone or plastic. If I lived in a world where money were no option, I would probably choose to use steel landscape edging [shown, right]. It’s incredibly durable, looks great and is somewhat simple to install if you have some help. However, as I just mentioned, it’s pricey and if you have a large border this is going to cost you. Alternatives such as plastic and wood will deteriorate over time, are prone to heaving, are easily damaged by lawn mowers and need to be replaced every so often. I stay away from them.

Instead, I prefer to use no physical material at all, opting for “cut” edges [top photo]. This is a fairly easy method of garden edging that I do every spring. You can use either a half moon edging tool, or if you don’t have that, a simple shovel (flat edge if you have it). Here’s what to do:

1. With your shovel or edging tool, make a cut straight down into the soil, about four inches, on the sod side of the edge you wish to create. Continue to do this for the length of your border.
2. Make a similar cut on the bed side of your border. However, make this cut at a 45-degree angle so that it meets your previous cut.
3. The two cuts will create a wedge of sod that you will now remove, shaking off any loose topsoil. Rake that topsoil back into the bed as opposed to letting it fill your newly created trench. 
4. Toss the sod you removed, grass-side-down, on your compost pile so the grass dies and won’t take root.

If you are using mulch, now would be a good time to apply it, being careful not to fill the trench you just created. That straight cut you made is what will stop the grass from growing into your garden and you don’t want to lose that, even with mulch.

This is a very simple, very effective way to really give your garden a “wow” factor. It doesn’t cost anything except your time, and it will make your mowing and weeding chores a lot easier for the rest of the summer.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/28/14 at 11:25 AM • Permalink

Garden: Throwing Shade

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 fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Brian Cruey, who is as delighted as every gardener that spring appears to have arrived.

Hostas.

If you are anything like me, your charming rural home is most likely nestled somewhere between a forest and a swamp, giving you access to dappled light, lots of wildlife and mosquitoes.  While this ambiance can make for some great (#nofilter) selfies, it can be a bit of a problem if you’re trying to establish a garden. It’s true that shade can provide a challenge, and you’re probably never going to get sun-loving perennials like coneflowers, bee balm and daylilies to thrive there. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a successful flowerbed. If you’re looking to develop a shady spot in your yard, here is a list of reliable plants to consider in your design.

Let’s start with one of my favorite plants and the superstar of the shade garden: hostas. Hostas are a reliable standard in any garden, offering a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors. The foliage of this plant is what makes it so lovely, offering broad coverage that will shade out weeds all season long and produce an attractive (usually purple) flower on long stalks that grow from the plant’s center. Hostas are the gift that keeps on giving, as they are easy to divide once established. Another bonus: they are practically foolproof, the definition of hardy.

Pulmonaria.

Next on my list is pulmonaria, or lungswort. This is an aggressive grower that will spread and, again, is a great plant to divide once it’s established. This plant truly packs a double punch; it’s one of the first plants to flower in spring with pink and light purple (almost blue) compact flowers, but also has a very whimsical spotted leaf that is pleasing all year round. Occasionally, you can get a second pulmonaria bloom in the fall.

Moving into early summer, you would be amiss to have a shade garden without including the feathery plumes of astilbe. To say that it’s showy is an understatement and astilbe provides some of the brightest color to the shade garden when it blooms in pinks, red or white.Astilbe loves moisture and does well in areas that may not have the best drainage. Foliage starts out compact and bronze before leafing out to a larger, dark green canopy.

Painted fern.

Take any woodland walk in the Berkshires and you’re sure to notice an abundance of ferns, most likely the common hay-scented fern or Dennstaedtia punctilobula. While this makes for a great ground cover in areas where you want to cover an area quickly, you don’t want to put this anywhere near your flowerbeds, as it will take over. Ferns, however, are a great addition to the shade garden and there are other varieties that are less aggressive and, frankly, more showy.  My favorite is the Japanese painted fern with its spectrum of colors that run from gray to green to a deep red — a perfect shade plant that loves moisture.

Of course, this is a short list but, for me, these plants represent the backbone of the shade garden. Primrose (Primula), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum), bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos) and Japanese reed grass are other shade-tolerant varieties you might want to consider.

Bleeding heart.

Be aware that shade gardens do come with their own unique set of problems. Slugs, for example, can wreak havoc on your hostas, but can easily be controlled with a variety of measures that you can read about here.

With the right plants and amount of care, those shady areas where you once thought nothing could grow can become one of the most desirable parts of your garden. If you have questions, just ask the folks at your local garden center to make suggestions or call the Master Gardener’s hotline at the Berkshire Botanical Garden at (413) 298-5355.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/14/14 at 10:49 AM • Permalink