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Garden: Bluebonnets And Lupines, With Love

Fields of bluebonnets in Texas hill country.

By Madaline Sparks

Bluebonnets were one of my mother’s favorite flowers. Texas bluebonnets are a variety of lupine, but they are much shorter than our taller, graceful varieties in the Northeast. Almost yearly, for many springs, she traveled to the Texas hill country near Austin to visit her sister. She chose that time of year because the bluebonnets are in their full glory growing in colonies along the roadsides and in meadows everywhere. Many other native wildflowers bloom at that time as well: Indian paintbrush, prairie primroses, blanket flowers, wine cups, and more. It is all quite magical, but the bluebonnets are the most prolific and create waves of blue as far as the eye can see, and she was completely charmed by them.

Last year, my mom passed away in November, a few days short of her 92nd birthday. She had moved from Oklahoma City three years ago to live near me in Columbia County. I was charged with returning her ashes to our hometown for a memorial service and to bury her alongside my father. My family chose to make the pilgrimage home in April, so I saved a cup of her ashes to take with me to Texas after the service in hopes of spreading them in a drift of bluebonnets somewhere, a fitting resting place for someone who loved them so much.

Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) near Austin.

My husband and I went to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a spectacular public garden within the Austin city limits that realizes its mission through research, education, plant conservation, ecological design and landscape restoration. My mother was an avid naturalist, conservationist and a teacher for over 30 years, so she would have loved this botanic garden. I ended up scattering my little pouch of her ashes in a pretty patch of bluebonnets among their acres of meadows. The land will be preserved as a nature center (hopefully) forever and it just felt like the right place.

We can’t grow bluebonnets in our region, but with over 200 species of lupines that grow around the world there are a number of natives and hybrids that thrive happily here. They are a classic, as comfortable in a cottage-style garden as they are naturalized in a meadow. With their bushy clump of palm-shaped leaves and tall colorful spires of sweet pea-like flowers, lupines are a valuable addition to the mid- or back border of a perennial garden. 

A vigorous colony of lupines in the kitchen garden at Steepletop in Austerlitz. Photo courtesy of The Millay Society.

Lupines are available as annual and perennial varieties so make sure which you are acquiring so you know what to expect. They can tolerate part-shade, but thrive best in full sun. They need well-drained neutral soil, or slightly on the acid side and don’t handle high heat and humidity or staying wet for prolonged periods. Lupines develop a deep tap root so mature plants don’t transplant well but grow readily from seed. If transplanting seedlings, do so before they are bigger than six inches tall.

Lupines flower in late spring and early summer. After blooming they can tend to get ratty looking. Cut them back to basal foliage and they will re-flush with healthy new leaves and often moderately re-bloom later in the summer. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators love them. The only pest that might befall them are aphids. Keep an eye out and treat quickly and thoroughly by spraying them off with a strong stream from the hose. If the infestation persists, spray with an organic insecticidal soap.

They can be found in many colors but I do Iove the blue shades the best, as did my sweet and wonderful mom.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/23/18 at 04:35 PM • Permalink

Spring Garden Tips (Tip #1: Don’t Rush It)

By Madaline Sparks

Spring is definitely not busting out all over! Two weeks ago, when it hit 73º, and the air held that promise of the season to come, I did spot daffodil and daylily shoots that were up about two inches, so that proves it is coming… eventually. This latest onslaught of extreme weather, with March roaring in a like a lion, downing trees and breaking branches, is an unwelcome setback, but will be just a memory in not too many weeks. At this time of year, my annual garden anxiety, mixed with excited anticipation, is simmering. Anxiety about all the chores I did not get done last season and the plethora of tasks that await, and anticipation to see how the things I transplanted and plants I installed last year will fare this year.

March is a confusing time for garden advice. It’s so dependent on what the weather is doing where you are. In our area, despite the temptation of a day or two of early warm weather, it’s best to tap the brakes before diving in. It’s a waiting game not to work in soggy soil. Tromping around in the garden beds when they are too wet will compact and ruin your soil structure. You need to wait until the daytime temps are consistently in the 50s so the soil has time to firm up.

If you can’t wait to get out there (when this latest snowpack melts), clean up debris on the lawn, like fallen branches and islands of packed fall leaves. And, if you’re able to do it without stepping in the beds, carefully remove matted leaves from the soil surface where spring bulbs are emerging. Don’t grab a rake and have at it, though. Gently lift the layers so the tender shoots aren’t damaged. As soon as I remove the leaves, I always spray a generous dose of deer repellent over the exposed shoots to discourage the hungry herd from thinking the salad bar is open for business. I continue to spray regularly so each week’s new growth is treated. Until I started using this method of protection, I never saw what color my tulips were. You may use a rake to remove packed down leaves from the yard. Leaving them on the grass deprives it of light and air, both needed for the greening-up process. It also helps remove thatch, a buildup of dead turfgrass tissue lying between the green vegetation of the grass above and the root system and soil below.

If you didn’t get a chance to cut back last year’s perennials or left them up for winter interest or bird food, remove the dead stalks and seed heads before they break dormancy. Again, don’t jump on this task too soon, but gauge the timing right. Once they start to push too much new growth, it is much fussier and time-consuming work to remove the old and not damage the new. Go ahead and get rid of last year’s foliage on ornamental grasses as soon as you can get to them. You can cut them back to the base to allow the new blades to emerge, which they will do when the soil and air temperatures are right, to avoid the new growth getting tangled up in last year’s thatch. 

If you’re a seed starter, certain varieties can’t wait and you know what to do and when to do it. If you are a rookie, A Way to Garden has a handy planting calculator for when to start what and lots of expert advice just for the RI region, courtesy of garden guru Margaret Roach.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 03/06/18 at 09:24 AM • Permalink

Garden: When Autumn Falls Down

By Brian Cruey

The fall foliage has stopped being beautiful and has started being a real pain in the ass. Long woodland walks have quickly turned into endless afternoons raking leaves. It’s like this cruel Zen game where as soon as I finish, I turn around and—more leaves! Are you kidding! There aren’t even trees over there! Time to start all over again. After failing to convince myself that this is a “fun” chore, I usually just go get the lawn mower and start mowing over them—a great technique to use if you have a mulching mower and you mow frequently enough.

I always try to keep in mind that I am raking up a mini goldmine. Leaves are great for your compost pile—and more importantly, great for your WINTER compost pile. A lot of people don’t think about it, but your compost pile doesn’t stop working once the temperature drops.

It’s true that, like Amtrak, tourism, and my metabolism, the microbes that break down the organic material in your compost are sluggish during the winter months. However, there are steps that you can take to optimize the production and health of your compost. For starters, make sure that your compost is covered. This not only provides insulation, but it also helps to regulate moisture. It’s true that you want to keep your compost pile moist, but too much moisture can cause your compost to slow down and heavy snows can have a negative effect. Covering your compost also keeps the snow off, so that when you want to add new material, you can get easier access. Be sure to weigh down the edges with stones or bricks so the wind doesn’t blow it away. The real goal here is to contain the heat, which helps to facilitate decomposition. In addition to covering the pile, create a windbreak around your compost by using hay bales, logs, cinder blocks or bags of raked leaves—anything that’s going to help contain the heat in your pile.

Next, you will want to chop up your kitchen scraps and green materials to a smaller than usual size. The smaller the better, but try to get things down to under 2 inches. Even in the summer months, this is a good way to speed up compost production, but it’s critical during the winter. Because my compost pile is kind of far from my house, I have a pail that sits outside the back door in which to collect scraps. It’ll be cold, so you won’t have to worry about the waste getting too stinky and you can cut down the number of trips to the compost pile. When you do make the trek to add new green material to the compost, cover newly added waste with a nice layer of all those dead leaves you raked in the fall. Again, this helps create a layer of insulation and, once the spring rolls around, that material should break down pretty quickly. 

Even though the snows are deep and the temperatures are cold, your compost pile is still hard at work—there’s no need to lapse in your efforts during the winter freeze. Your garden will thank you come spring!

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/31/17 at 10:17 AM • Permalink

Fall Garden: Outside In

Tropical plants on the deck waiting to be prepared to come inside.

By Madaline Sparks

It’s October and my panic is setting in. Going from temperatures in the 80s and 90s one week to the 40s at night a few days later has kickstarted my annual anxiety about overwintering more plants than I can bring into my small house. Every year I pledge to migrate less of the treasured plants that have provided us so much enjoyment over the summer, but I can’t bear to let many of them go and so, without fail, I procrastinate and go through this agonizing exercise every fall with one eye on the weather forecast. 

Succulents, begonias, houseplants, elephant ears, pelargoniums, a huge rabbit’s foot fern and more are now the focus of my attention, with the clock ticking. There are four tasks to complete before the chosen ones are relocated into the house and I count at least 40 pots that I want to bring inside (eek!). Here’s my system.

A variegated ficus, succulents and a fancy leaved pelargonium that will be moved inside soon.

The Choice: My first difficult step is to determine who makes the cut. I won’t bother to bring in any plant that isn’t looking healthy and robust. If the plant looks unattractive or visibly stressed after a summer vacation, it’s doubtful that it will improve during a transition inside. Reduction of light is usually the biggest problem for plants that move inside. Shorter days affect their health as much as climate change. While still outside, move them into as much shade as possible to help them begin adjusting. There will still be some leaf drop as they acclimate to central heat and less light, but this step will help lessen the shock.

Groom: Next, I clean them up by removing dropped leaves and spent flowers from the soil surface and snip yellowing leaves. It’s not necessary to prune plants back drastically. As a matter of fact, they need all the light-gathering leaf surface you can give them to make the transition. I trim for shape, especially if plants have put on extremely vigorous growth over the summer. Check the spot they’ll be returning to and trim new growth for size, if necessary.

Once you’ve moved them inside, stage plants in groups and vary the levels to make them part of your decor.

Flush: Using a hose end sprayer on a gentle setting, I thoroughly spray the soil with at least a gallon of water to flush out minerals and salts that may have accumulated. This also may force out or drown some pests in the soil. While I’m at it, I clean dirt or other debris from the outsides of pots with water and a small brush.

The Last Step: About five days before bringing the plants in, I deal with any critters that have taken up residence in the soil. Aphids, scale, earwigs, ants, sow bugs, spider mites or mealy bugs could be present (or their eggs!). Don’t risk bringing them inside where they can cause havoc. I don’t like to use chemicals, but organic methods of insect control for this situation have not proved effective for me, so I make an exception in this instance. Bonide Systemic Houseplant Insect Control is a granular formulation that will kill bugs and larvae in the soil that you can’t see, and it continues to work after you move the pots in. I’ve found I only need one application to take care of any infestation. Follow the directions carefully.

Inside Scoop: I never use saucers outside, so pots won’t sit in standing water. I need to locate enough of them (clean and in the right sizes) to fit each pot and the places they’ll be located. I also use cork mats under the saucers to protect furniture and floor coverings when watering. You may have needed to water almost every day when the plants were outside because of the drying effects of wind and increased sun. Plants will need much less water inside but misting regularly to increase humidity will be helpful. In most cases, let the soil dry out completely before giving them a thorough application — until water comes out the drainage hole. It’s better to underwater than to overwater. Withhold fertilization from October to March because most plants are resting from active growth.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/02/17 at 02:46 PM • Permalink

August In The Garden: How To Extend The Beauty

By Madaline Sparks

It’s hard to believe we’re in the last weeks of summer already. How can that be? Summer doesn’t officially end until September 22, though we generally think of Labor Day weekend as the end. I always feel a little anxious about now because the all-too-brief display we’ve worked so hard to achieve starts showing signs of waning. I find myself thinking about which plants to save and bring inside for the winter. I look at drifts of plants that are petered out and think, “If that wasn’t there, everything around it would look much better!”

So… we could throw up our hands and give in to the end of season doldrums (and other tempting diversions that beckon). Or, we can take advantage of this window of opportunity, stay the course and tune up our gardens to generate a satisfying show for a few more months.

Here are some tips that I do when August rolls around and I want to extend the beauty of the garden as long as possible.

Keep weeding! The more than adequate rainfall we’ve enjoyed has made almost everything, especially weeds, appear to be on steroids! I know you’re sick of that tedious chore (I know I am), but don’t let those pesky weeds win the war, go to seed and create a nightmare next spring. 

Edge beds. One quick fix to rejuvenate the garden is to put a sharp, clean edge on your beds. Even if everything looks wild and overgrown (especially with the plentiful rain we’ve had) rather than the controlled chaos you so carefully tried to cultivate, edging immediately gives a sense of order and clarity like nothing else.

Encourage more flowers. Deadheading and “dead-stemming” will encourage your blooming annuals and perennials to keep producing. You can get repeat bloom from an entire clump of a pooped-out plant like hardy geraniums by shearing them back to the base. In just a couple of weeks, new fresh foliage and possibly new blooms will emerge. They won’t be as full but it’s worth putting up with a bare spot for a short time to get a beautiful flush of new growth instead of living with an eyesore.

Remove distractions. In some cases, a perennial that has insect or fungal damage, more brown foliage than not, or has opened up and is flopping onto a neighboring plant that still looks good, can be cut back all the way or, down to new basal leaves. It will allow the surrounding plants that are at their best this time of year to shine.

Instant color. Many nurseries and garden centers are now filled with lush pots of zinnias, rudbeckia, dahlias and other late summer annuals in full bloom. If you have holes in the garden or color dead zones, pick up a few of these instant problem solvers and transplant them or just pop the pot into those spots and let the surrounding plants knit around them. If you have your own containers that are looking good, save a few bucks and move a few into your beds for a mini makeover.

Take note. You are way ahead of the game if you happen to have a late summer garden that is designed to be its most glorious as we move towards fall. But if your beautiful spring or early summer garden is disappointing you, notice plants that look great in other gardens and think about places to integrate them into your beds and borders. You might even find them on sale at the end of the season. Plant them into the garden in the fall and they’ll be delighting you next year at this time.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/08/17 at 09:32 AM • Permalink

Lenox Garden Club’s 2017 Tour Spotlights Great Barrington

Photo by Lisa Vollmer

By Amy Krzanik

You often hear the phrase “This year’s event will be the best one yet!” and think to yourself, “Well, they have to say that, so people will go.” But this year’s Lenox Garden Club tour of five rarely seen Great Barrington properties is not one of those times. Not only will it be the best the Club has ever had, says co-planner Hilary Deely, it’ll be completely different than the tours of past years in many ways. The houses, the gardens, even the way you’ll get around to each of the sites — you won’t need your car — will be new for this year’s tour on Saturday, July 15.

The main event will be Blue Stone Manor, the home of Dorinda Medley from the TV show The Real Housewives of New York (RHONY). Several downstairs rooms of Blue Stone Manor, which you may have seen on TV and in Berkshire Living Magazine, will be open to the public, as well as the rose garden and pool terrace. This classic “Berkshire Cottage,” built in 1902, takes its name from the stone walls constructed by Dorinda’s grandfather. Word is that Dorinda herself will be there.

Another property combines several large antique barns into a home that visitors can tour, along with native stone walks, vegetable and perennial gardens, and a large patio that takes in views of the Green River. In keeping with its barn roots, the property includes a vegetable garden, horses and chickens.

A third home, which has appeared on the cover of UK Home & Garden, boasts perennial, pond, pool, cutting and wetland gardens along with an outdoor sleeping pavilion.

Photo by Lisa Vollmer

A LEED-certified house that incorporates a number of ecological systems, is also on the tour, along with its perennial and meditation gardens, majestic trees and mountain views. Sited on a foundation from the 1700s, the owners have made use of many of the components of the original farmhouse.

Rounding out the tour is a home, designed by the owners and once featured in Veranda Magazine, filled with classical art and sculpture, with an enclosed garden of clipped hedges, rill, pool and mountain views outside. Deely is a big fan of this garden, calling it “my idea of a fantastic jewel of a place.”

The Lenox Garden Club has been around since 1911. When Deely joined in 1989, she and fellow new member Debbie Douglas put the first tour together in 1991. “It was an instant success,” says Deely. The club’s garden tours have been sited in almost every town in Berkshire County. The tours are held biannually, but, Deely says, nothing is going to top this year. Besides the amazing homes and gardens, this year’s tour will be even easier on visitors. “You drive to Simon’s Rock and hop on a nice little shuttle bus with a hostess who’s going to tell you about each property.”

Sixty dollars will get you the full tour, and $40 more will get you lunch at Wyantenuck Country Club. Just hop on the bus at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, hop off at each home, spend as much time at each garden as you like, and then hop back on. Tickets are selling fast though, and there’s a cap. The one home with unlimited tickets? Dorinda Medley’s – $60 will get you access to her home even if the regular tour sells out.

And you can be sure your tour fee is going to a good cause, right here in our region. Since 1991, the club has raised and donated $450,000 which they’ve kept in the Berkshires, sponsoring the Pleasant Valley Bird Sanctuary, supporting the purchase of Bartholomew’s Cobble, restoring Lilac Park and providing it with an endowment, donating toward the renovation of Naumkeag’s Chinese Garden, giving to Berkshire Botanical Garden so they can build a classroom for kids, and more.

Deely credits the Club’s success to its 85 members, dynamic women with strategic minds. “This is something I’m so proud of,” she says, “of what a difference it’s made in Berkshire County.”

Lenox Garden Club House & Garden Tour
Saturday, July 15

Tickets (limited amount left): $60, add $40 for lunch
Dorinda Medley’s Blue Stone Manor tickets (unlimited): $60

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 07/04/17 at 09:15 AM • Permalink

Spencertown Academy Arts Center Celebrates Artful Landscapes

By Madaline Sparks

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column for RI called “ My Top 10 Reasons to Go on a Garden Tour.” Well, here’s your chance to test them out at the 13th Annual Hidden Gardens Tour, benefitting the Spencertown Academy Arts Center. Full disclosure: I’m the co-chair of the committee that produces this annual extravaganza, so I admit to a slight bias. That said, I want you to trust that I would not steer you wrong. On June 16 and 17, a veritable bouquet of garden-themed options awaits you. Whether you’re an avid gardener or just love to experience beauty in all its forms, this event has something for you.

The festivities begin with the Twilight in the Garden Party on Friday at “Falling Waters,” the historic home of John and Denise Dunne, in Spencertown, New York. This pastoral property, with its stacked stone walls meandering through rolling green meadows punctuated by grazing sheep, is reminiscent of the Irish countryside.

On the morning of the 17th at 8:30 a.m., the day starts with a garden lecture and continental breakfast featuring homemade goodies. Ron Kujawski, a garden columnist and author, will give the illustrated talk “Vegetable Gardening: It’s Never Too Late to Start.” Mid-June may seem late for starting a garden but Ron says it’s not! The presentation will include information on preparing the garden for planting, along with tips on how to make up for lost time. He and his daughter, Jennifer, co-authored the book The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook.

Photo: David Lebe.

The centerpiece of the Hidden Gardens weekend is the self-guided tour celebrating the art of the garden. Six private residences and the restored grounds and gardens of 20th century American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay at Steepletop in Austerlitz are included on the tour. The private gardens include an exquisite curated garden in Spencertown, a naturalist’s garden in Harlemville and four locations in North Hillsdale: the grounds of a historic B&B, a landscape designer’s garden, a charming 18th-century home with lush edible and flower gardens, and a country house with a parterre garden, a pond, extensive perennial borders and specimen trees.

Whether you go on the tour or not, the Garden Market on The Green, across from the Academy, is a must. This year’s market will showcase more than a dozen vendors offering plants, home and garden furnishings, birdhouses, antiques, garden books and expert garden advice. Shoppers will find bargains on choice items and accessories at the Academy’s White Elephant Booth. Come, shop and enjoy lunch in the shade; there will be grilled burgers, hot dogs and sausages, an assortment of salads, and ice cream sundaes for dessert.

Photo: David Lebe.

In addition, the Market will host two educational opportunities. At noon, Cornell Cooperative Extension Educator Lisbeth Karlsson will give a free talk about invasive versus native species in the garden. And, back by popular demand, Zema’s Nursery will lead a hands-on workshop on how to make your own hummingbird-friendly planter at 2 p.m.. Advance registration for the workshop is required; tuition is $65 (including all materials).

“Art from Farm to Table,” a multimedia exhibit of work by 15 regional artists will be on display in the Academy Gallery on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The show includes depictions and interpretations of everything found in an agricultural environment, which might (or might not!) end up on a table. Admission is free and artworks are for sale.

Spencertown Academy Arts Center Hidden Garden 2017
Friday, June 16 & Saturday, June 17
790 State Rt. 203, Spencertown, NY
(518) 392-3693

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/05/17 at 11:32 AM • Permalink

My Top Ten Reasons To Go On A Garden Tour

Columbines naturalized on a rock outcropping at Major General Ashley House.

By Madaline Sparks

As a professional gardener, I love to go on garden tours! The experience is always educating and inspiring. I recently attended the Trade Secrets Garden Tour. Four spectacular locations were open for viewing in Cornwall and Falls Village, CT and one in Sheffield, MA.

I won’t describe the gardens in detail here, but I would like to share my thoughts on the take-away from going on a garden tour. You can read full descriptions on their website.

1. Garden voyeurism. The opportunity to be invited to wander the grounds of a beautiful garden (and snap away with our phones for reference later) is unbeatable. Let’s be honest, don’t we all have a little of the voyeur in us?
2. Being a good citizen. The Trade Secrets Garden Tour is the major fundraiser for Women’s Support Services (WSS), whose mission is to create a community free of domestic violence and abuse. Most often, garden tours are organized as fundraisers for worthy causes so the whole effort is a win/win.

3. Plants, plants, and more plants! It never fails that I discover plants and cultivars that I’ve not seen before. My phone is now filled with pictures of plants that I want to research.

4. Outside the box. On the other hand, the gardens were also filled with plants I know very well. The exciting aspect of that is to see how another designer has employed them in a different way. It jolts me into re-imagining my own designs and how to use old favorites in ways that are unexpected and surprising.

Parterre outside the conservatory at the garden of Bunny Williams.

5. Design ideas. The garden of Bunny Williams and John Rosselli, which appears on this tour every year, is a master class in the use of “garden rooms.” Walls are created by hedges, fences (from rustic to classic), stonewalls, allees, and pathways. Various structures, including a greenhouse, an outrageously clever pool house, a barn with an octagonal chicken coop and a conservatory, create spaces that must be reached by garden transitions. I call it the “Disneyland of Gardens” (and mean that in the most complimentary way).

6. Enlightenment. More and more of my clients are interested in sustainable, low-maintenance landscapes that incorporate native plants and indigenous species. Of particular interest to me were the woodland gardens that I saw at the Williams/ Rosselli home and also at Pom’s Cabin Farm. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to see a wide range of native plants in situ, which are not typically found in abundance at most of our local nurseries and garden centers.

A view of the cottage garden at Coltsfoot Garden in Cornwall.

7. Classic design. Three of the gardens on the tour exhibited the popular design style of English and French cottage gardens. The chance to see this classic type of garden interpreted in multiple forms was fascinating. Parterres were especially prominent. Cottage gardens are generally expected to be abundant and lush with vines, flowers, herbs, vegetables, small trees and shrubs. At maturity they evoke a feeling of wildness and abandon. These types of gardens must start with a somewhat formal and organized layout to contain the chaos of plants that mingle and spill in an informal way. Seeing the bones of these areas in spring, before the plants have taken over in their mid-summer exuberance, allowed me to view the layout and proportion without obstruction.

8. Sources for detail. Tours are an excellent way to source ideas for solving landscaping design problems and finding inspiration for all the details that complete a garden that works on all levels. My iPhone is full of pictures of containers, bed edgings, paving stones, garden ornaments, fences, plant supports and other non-vegetative materials. Showing a mason a picture of a stone retaining wall pattern you admired means getting closer to the landscape of your dreams.

A collection of pots and garden ornaments at Williams/Roselli garden.

9. Container gardening. I create a lot of container gardens for clients (and myself!) each year. Coming up with new ideas is a challenge and for those who like to change it up, one can get stuck. There were dozens and dozens of imaginative plant combinations and varieties that had my head spinning. And the pots, planters, boxes and tubs of all different shapes, sizes and materials were a revelation on their own!

10. Being in the moment. Experiencing beauty is good for the mind and the soul. Even if you are not a gardener, the physical locations of the all properties were stunning and offered varying gorgeous views of the Housatonic River and the Litchfield Hills. And the route, an excuse to traverse roads that took me past hamlets, lakes, farms, and scenery that I’ve never explored, was a reward in itself.

For information about garden tours for the rest of season in the Rural Intelligence region, check local county tourism listings and also the website of The Garden Conservancy, which lists the best private gardens to visit through their Open Days Program.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/15/17 at 10:48 PM • Permalink

Trade Secrets: A Conversation With Bunny Williams

By Madaline Sparks

I managed to snag a moment with the incredibly busy interior designer Bunny Williams for a quick phone conversation between her road trips. She was just back from Highpoint, NC and leaving to give a lecture in Dallas.  I wanted to chat about the upcoming 17th Annual Trade Secrets, the garden extravaganza celebration, which is a fundraiser for Women’s Support Services of Sharon, Conn. Bunny is a co-founder of Trade Secrets and hosted it the first few years at her home in Falls Village, Conn. Eventually it got so big, they needed a more generously spaced venue and it is now held at Elaine La Roche’s stunning LionRock Farm in Sharon. This year’s event is scheduled for May 13 and 14.

I asked Williams what it takes to pull off this weekend every year.

“The extraordinary outpouring of community spirit from the volunteers is what makes it so successful,” she said. “From the advance preparation to the many jobs over the weekend, it involves hundreds of generous people. Who would have thought this little idea we came up with 17 years ago would turn into an event that last year attracted more than 1400 people to the sale and sold 900 tickets sold for the garden tour! ”

One of things I appreciate so much about the sale is how well organized it is. I have never been to a plant and garden sale where the customer service is so exemplary. You don’t have to curtail your shopping because you can’t imagine how you’ll get that eight-foot tuteur to your car: there are legions of helpers to collect all your purchases for you and hold them securely until you finish shopping and can pick them up in your vehicle.

I asked the designer about the process of finding the more than 60 vendors of rare and unusual plants, birdhouses, containers, antiques and garden-related ornaments, furnishings and more. She told me the committee seeks out resources near and far and vets them carefully to ensure the selection they bring will be special and not run–of the-mill items you can find just anywhere. In addition to the regulars, this year there will be four new plant sellers and several new artisans, including a metalwork fabricator of garden ornaments and accessories.

Williams confessed that she cannot wait for the sale every year. “I get very excited about the thought of all the plants I’m going to find and the chance of finding a new garden ornament at Trade Secrets. I go with a list that’s soon forgotten about once I get on the field and see all the wonderful things the dealers have brought.” She joked that she‘s often thought of starting a 12-step program for addicts like herself (and me!) who can’t resist the temptation of the incredible array of garden goodies gathered all in one place. But we both know we don’t really want to go “cold turkey” when it comes to botanical treasures. And that’s the fun (and convenience) of Trade Secrets. It’s like a one-day Garden Super Store.

Whether you are looking for a fabulous groundcover for dry shade, a new inspiration for planting your containers or that special garden-themed vintage objet for your entry hall, there are thousands of items to covet, intrigue, and learn about at Trade Secrets.  And the fact that your investment goes to support an important and worthy cause is icing on the cake.

Note: Tickets to view the four gardens on the tour for Sunday have been limited this year and are sold out.

Women’s Support Services (WSS) seeks to create a community free of domestic violence and abuse through intervention, prevention and education. They offer free, confidential, client-centered services focused on safety, support advocacy and community outreach. (860)364-1080 or 24/7 Hotline (860) 364-1900.

Trade Secrets Rare Plant and Garden Antiques Sale
Saturday, May 13
Tickets for Saturday’s sale at LionRock Farm in Sharon, CT, are available in advance or day-of.
Tickets: Early Bird $125 from 8 – 10 a.m. (includes Continental breakfast); Regular admission $50 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Late
Bloomer $25 from 1 – 3 p.m. For more information visit the website or call (860) 364-1080.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/01/17 at 11:40 PM • Permalink

Garden Center and Nursery Round Up: Berkshires And NWCT

By Madaline Sparks

Last week, we highlighted some of the must-go places in Columbia and Dutchess Counties to find plants, supplies and services to get your garden growing this season. This week we cover a sample of the best locations in Berkshire and Litchfield Counties. The weather is finally warming up (woo hoo!) and our gardens await our undivided attention.

Berkshire County

Taft Farms

Taft Farms growing fields.

This family-owned 55-year-old farm specializes in growing hard-to-find tropical, succulent, and specimen plants and offers a huge selection of hanging baskets. Every spring Taft Farms grows thousands of pesticide-free varieties of vegetables, herbs, fruits and berries to sell, including the very varieties they grow in their own fields for their farm store. Heirloom, ethnic, and GEO-free varieties are a specialty. A bakery, deli, fresh produce, and many locally produced products make regular stops throughout the season a no-brainer.

119 Park Street N.,
Great Barrington, MA
(413) 528-1515

Ward’s Nursery and Garden Center

If you live within driving distance of Great Barrington, you most likely know about Ward’s. Since 1957, this family business has continued to expand and grow into the full-service operation it is today. Open year round, Ward’s offers 1400 perennials, 700 different woody plants and thousands of annuals, seeds, fall bulbs, houseplants and tropicals. A well-stocked complement of lawn care supplies, an impressive selection of tools, and all the lotions, potions and amendments you could possibly need are available here. Containers, birding accoutrements, and a variety of outdoor accessories — among them hammocks, porch rockers and trellises — fill out the ample inventory in the garden center. There is also a member rewards program in place.
600 S. Main Street
Great Barrington, MA
(413) 528-0166

Windy Hill Farm

I could wander for hours among the paths at Windy Hill, discovering their amazing selection of shade, specimen and flowering trees; ornamental shrubs; interesting conifers and broadleaf evergreens; tree and small fruits, espaliered apples and pears; hardy shrub roses; vines, choice perennials and ornamental grasses.  One can always find traditional favorites and Northeast natives but also more unusual and atypical specimens at WHF. The retail garden center has a curated stock of garden accessories, tools, pots, and ornaments. Known for the knowledgeable staff, Windy Hill Farm also features a pick-your-own apple orchard and blueberry field and a full-service landscape department.

686 Stockbridge Road
Great Barrington, MA
(413) 298-3217

Whitney’s Farm Market and Country Gardens

A huge greenhouse full of annuals, patio tropicals, hanging baskets, a selection of aquatic plants (including hardy and tropical water lilies), and a nursery yard lined with natives and ornamentals await you at this nursery near Lanesboro. There’s a full inventory of fruit trees, perennials, shade trees, and flowering and evergreen shrubs. Bulk landscape materials such as soils, mulch, stone, and compost are available here along with full landscaping and design services as well.

1775 S. State Rd. - Rt.8
Cheshire, MA
(413) 442-4749

Another garden stop worth the trip in Berkshire County:

Campo de’ Fiori: Classic European-style aged terra cotta pots, inspired garden ornaments and accessories, and a gorgeous display garden to enjoy. 
1815 N. Main Street
Sheffield, MA
(413) 528-1857

Litchfield County

Kent Greenhouse & Gardens

Over three acres of nursery stock can be found at this garden center set in the pastoral, picturesque environment of western Connecticut. Departments include annuals, perennials and vegetables. KG & G specializes in specimen landscape-sized plant material sourced from local farms and national nurseries. Sophisticated selections with a “country formal style” are the norm. They are a full-service design-build firm whose offerings include garden design, landscape services, water features, masonry, architectural woodwork, site work and site planning.

30 S. Main Street
Kent, CT
(860) 927-4436

White Flower Farm Store

For devotees of the famous plant catalog (aka “garden porn”), the opportunity to visit WFF in person is a remote possibility. For those of us in the RI region, it’s right here in our own backyard. The store offers many of the plants listed in the catalog, plus many more that space doesn’t allow them to show in print. Also find tools, garden accessories, trellises and shade plants in the Lath House. And the pièce de résistance: the display gardens! See the plants you love in situ and utilize the lessons learned about plant combinations and correct siting in your home garden.

167 Litchfield Road
Morris, CT
(860) 567-8789

Old Farm Nursery

Old Farm Nursery is a great source for fine plant materials and therefore a destination for the discerning gardener. The nursery features landscape-sized specimen trees, shrubs and perennials among the five acres of inspiring display gardens. The Barn Shop features vintage and unusual garden-related items including one-of-a-kind ornaments and plant supports, which are crafted in house. A complete landscape design and installation service is also available.

158 Lime Rock Road
Lakeville, CT
(860) 435-2272

A couple more destinations worth a visit in Litchfield County:

Beardsley Gardens: A charming full-service garden center carrying an eclectic selection of perennials, annuals, trees, and shrubs from the “new and different to the tried and true.”
157 Gay Street
Sharon, CT
(860) 364-0727

Salisbury Garden Center: A hallmark of this business is their expertise to help customers select plants and use products the right way. It carries a full array of all plant and product categories. A design/build/maintenance landscaping company handles large and small projects adeptly.
167 Canaan Road
Salisbury, CT
(860) 435-2439

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Posted by Lisa Green on 04/10/17 at 10:02 PM • Permalink