Get Growing, tips from Master Gardener Cheryl B. Wilson: Natural air conditioning

Tuesday, September 23, 2014
When the thermometer tops 90 degrees we are all grateful for some kind of air conditioning. In my 1871 farmhouse, most of the air conditioning is the “natural” kind. My real estate agent was puzzled when I used this term. Of course, what I meant is shade trees.

Maples, oaks, elms, sycamores and old-fashioned catalpas have long provided natural air cooling beneath their branches. Old timers knew how to place their shade trees: on the south side of the house. Evergreens are better on the north side to protect from winter winds. All summer long I thank the Pomeroy family for properly siting trees for maximum cooling effects.

On the southeast side of my house is a sugar maple that reportedly was planted around 1880. When I come home from errands in downtown Amherst or the markets in Hadley, I breathe a sigh of relief when I park under the maple. It is truly 10 degrees cooler.

There is a charming story connected to that tree. Reuben Pomeroy, the last of the Pomeroy children who sold the house to us in 1975, said he remembered his older brother backing the horse and buggy over the maple when it was a sapling. His father simply replanted it. Today it is enormous.

On the opposite side of my house are two oak trees, maybe 100 years old each. They shade my bedroom and my computer room from the heat of the afternoon sun, which is always hotter than the morning sun on the east. I do now have window air conditioners in those rooms but so far have used them only twice this summer. I haven’t needed more electric cooling because of the presence of those trees.

So when you are house-hunting look for venerable shade trees on the south side of your prospective home. They will save you lots of money on “modern” air conditioning. And if they don’t exist, make planting them a priority. Your children and grandchildren will thank you.

RESURRECTION: A few weeks ago I warned about overwatering of houseplants and hanging baskets, noting that my mixed white and yellow calibrachoa basket seemed dead. Well, I took it down from its hook on the porch and put it in the shade. I withheld water for two weeks and much to my surprise new green growth appeared along with flower buds. I gave it a drink and then another watering with diluted fertilizer, trimmed off the dead parts and rehung the plant. Today it is blooming merrily. At least the white plants are blooming. The yellow ones are still recuperating. I guess the lesson is, never give up, or don’t give up too soon.

CONFESSION: In 1997 Tom Christopher and Marty Asher wrote a highly-acclaimed book, “The 20 Minute Gardener.” Even though I was working full-time and might have benefitted from the idea of small projects, I simply couldn’t appreciate their philosophy. When I garden I become a mess with filthy hands and clothes. It isn’t worth it to spend just 20 minutes and then get cleaned up. I have to spend more time in the garden.

But, as I get older, more time really means one to two hours, not a full day. In 20 minutes or less you can repot a geranium, water all your houseplants, fertilize all your annuals, deadhead an entire garden. You can even weed a small area and mulch it. So I apologize to Asher and Christopher for doubted their good advice. Still, I can’t seem to spend less than an hour in the garden and feel I have accomplished anything of great merit. If you have limited time to spare, you might want to check their book out of the library.

TREXLER GARDEN: John Trexler was the first director of Tower Hill Botanic Garden — he retired in 2013. His private garden, Maple Grove, will be open tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Boylston. Reportedly, Trexler is moving to another place and this will be the last time his fascinating garden is open to the public. It is definitely worth visiting. The Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association had a private tour a year ago. One thing I learned is why Tower Hill has so many classical garden statues: Trexler adores them. Frankly, I don’t. But his garden is filled not only with statues but with unusual shrubs and trees, a gazebo, several water features and many well-grown perennials and annuals. If you have a chance to go tomorrow, take it. The admission fee is $10 to support educational programs at Tower Hill. For more information and to register, go to towerhillbg.org.

HERBS: Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston will host the New England chapter of the Herb Society of America this weekend. There will be displays of herbs plus lectures. Today at 1:45 p.m. there is a program on medicinal herbs and tomorrow at 2 p.m. there will be one on aromatherapy. For details, go to towerhillbg.org.

NOFA: The annual summer conference of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association will begin a week from today in Amherst. There are more than 100 workshops plus a keynote speaker scheduled. Go to nofasummerconference.org for details and registration forms.

PLANT SWAP: The Belchertown Plant Swap will be held Tuesday at 6:15 p.m. at 253 Warren Wright Road in Belchertown. Fee is $1. Bring perennial divisions, houseplant cuttings, seeds etc., and a box in which to take plants home. For details email elainerwilliamson@yahoo.com or call 253-5041.