Get Growing tips from Master Gardener Cheryl Wilson: Laburnum walk

Last modified: Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Among the delights of our recent English garden trip were, of course, the guided garden tours.

At Barnsley House in Gloucestershire, head gardener Richard Gatenby shared his memories of the late Rosemary Verey who designed the extensive gardens. He worked for her the last two years of her life. “I like Mrs. Verey’s style of gardening,” Gatenby said. He described it as “chaotic.” He confessed that Verey was a bit of a martinet as an employer. “You did what you were told.”

In 1985, when Verey was at the height of her design career, I visited Barnsley House and fell in love with the famous potager or vegetable garden as well as the front walkway of helianthemum or rock rose. This spring I was thrilled to see the helianthemum still thriving along with the potager. I tried to grow the rock rose in Amherst but it really requires a warmer climate and a less acid soil.

One of my regrets in 1985 was that the laburnum walk had finished blooming. Verey created a long promenade of laburnum or golden chain tree along with purple wisteria underplanted with purple alliums. Pictures in books made it look breath-taking. This year in May the laburnum walk was in full bloom. It is indeed gorgeous. I am so glad I got to see it in full flower, especially since Gatenby announced that the trees are now 50 years old and beginning to decline. “I’ve got to replace them,” he said. He will replant them, he said, but it will be at least five years before they make a visual impact again. I’m so lucky we didn’t visit next year to see the devastation.

Yes, even iconic plants sometimes have to replaced. Gatenby spends a lot of time moving old roses and other shrubs and refurbishing the garden. His next project is finding a new home for a pagoda dogwood, an enormous specimen.

After Verey died, the house and garden were sold to a chain hotel group which wasn’t very interested in the famous garden. Gatenby stayed on and was rewarded when new owners arrived who appreciated the garden. He has been there 15 years, including the two during which he worked for Verey. “If they offered me another 15 years I’d take it,” he said. The gardens are open periodically under the National Gardens Scheme and to private tours and if you can afford to stay at the hotel, you can wander at will. Gatenby is a delightful raconteur about Verey and about gardening in general.

P.S. I can heartily recommend the food and ambience at the Village Pub just down the street from the gardens.

CHELSEA CHOP: Cutting back your late-blooming perennials to make them bushier is a good practice. In England this is called the “Chelsea Chop” because it is usually done the week after the Chelsea Flower Show in mid-May. In New England, we usually undertake this task sometime in June. You simply clip off the top third of the plant, cutting at a node, a junction with leaves. Chrysanthemums are nipped back regularly until Fourth of July — today — then stop.

Note that this is different from the “chucky chop,” the gnawing down to the ground by woodchucks. Phlox and asters respond well to the Chelsea Chop but often can’t recover from the woodchuck’s chomping. The trapper hired by my neighbor caught four woodchucks on my property and hers within a week. When there were no more depredations in our gardens and no new burrows on her land, he withdrew his remaining traps. Alas, this week around dusk I saw another varmint in my neighbor’s back yard. When I clapped my hands he headed for the hedgerow on the opposite side of her lawn from my house. So far there is no new damage among my flowers but I have been using granulated coyote urine around my newly planted annuals as a deterrent. It seems to be working except for one nibble on the sweet potato vine the night before I bought the deterrent at the Amherst Farmers Supply. At least no one ate any of the other annuals I planted nor was there new munching on black-eyed Susans, asters or the pitiful phlox. The asters and Susans will survive and perhaps even bloom but the phlox are gone.

A friend who is a great animal lover suggested that instead of bemoaning the loss of phlox, asters and annuals I should concentrate on growing plants that woodchucks don’t like. Okay. Here is a short list of favorite plants the woodchucks haven’t eaten: primroses, irises, peonies, daylilies and feverfew. One problem with this approach, however, is that you don’t really know what they will disdain until you plant it. Who would have expected any critter to nibble on ‘Blackie’ sweet potato vine! As for marigolds and chrysanthemums recommended by some as critter-proof, forget it. Marigolds, maybe, but not mums. Two years ago I splurged on half a dozen huge chrysanthemums covered with flower buds. The day I expected gorgeous blooms on a white mum, I came out to get my newspaper at 6 a.m. and found every flower bud eaten! So much for pungent foliage deterring critters. And yes, I’m sure that was a woodchuck, not a bunny.

EDIBLE PLANT WORKSHOP: John Root, naturalist and landscaper, is offering a workshop on edible plants July 12, 9:30 a.m., at Winter Moon Farm, 17 Lawrence Plain Road, in Hadley. Suggested donation is $5. Sponsored by the Kestrel Trust.

BELCHERTOWN GARDEN TOUR: The Stone House Museum in Belchertown once again is sponsoring a garden tour, this year on July 12, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. One of the gardens will be featured in next week’s Valley Gardens column. Tickets, $12 each, are available at Ace Hardware or Bell & Hudson insurance in Belchertown, Class Grass Garden Center in Granby, Randall’s Farm and Greenhouse in Ludlow, Hadley Garden Center in Hadley or Andrew’s Greenhouse in Amherst. They will also be available on the Belchertown Common the day of the tour.

DAYLILY SEASON: The first of the main season daylilies are in bloom brightening the far corners of my garden. Most of mine are shades of yellow in different shapes and sizes. The red ones will begin to flower soon. Daylilies are easily moved and planted in bloom so you can safely splurge on plants in July. Stone Meadow Farm in Goshen opens next weekend for the season, Friday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit www.stonemeadowgardens.com for pictures to tempt you along with an order form you can fill out and email to them to assure the plants will be ready for pickup. They also have a new hosta nook in the shade.