Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
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Get Growing: Self-taught gardening great, Rosemary Verey

A British garden designer took America by storm in the 1980s: Rosemary Verey, who lacked any formal training in horticulture, developed such wonderful gardens at her country home, Barnsley House, in the Cotswolds, that she made a name for herself both in Britain and in the United States.

Verey wrote many books on gardening, which were especially popular in America. On book tours she captivated audiences with her informal presentations delivered with an upper-crust British accent but with such warmth and infectious enthusiasm that she wasn’t regarded as a snob. I heard her speak once and was entranced. In 1985 I visited Barnsley House and loved it, especially her signature potager, a formal vegetable garden, a style she made famous.

Verey died in 2001, but a New York lawyer and gardener who took a leave of absence from her high-powered job and went to work for Verey for a month has now written a biography of the designer who became her friend. Barbara Paul Robinson writes beautifully with great affection for Verey. Still, “Rosemary Verey: The Life and Lessons of a Legendary Gardener,” isn’t all laudatory prose. Robinson reveals Verey’s arrogant and demanding attitude towards staff and her problem, after her husband died, with alcoholism. But it is delightful to learn how her own gardens developed and how she created gardens for Prince Charles and Elton John.

Robinson is speaking at Elm Bank in Wellesley, the home of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, on Jan. 31 at 3 p.m. More information is available at www.masshort.org . In addition she will speak at Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston on March 2 at 1 p.m. Check the website www.towerhillbg.org for information.

Robinson’s own gardens are frequently on “Garden Open Days” sponsored by the Garden Conservancy. You can see them online at www.brushhillgardens.com .

FLOWER PAINTINGS: “Secrets of the Garden,” oil paintings by Susan Valentine, are on display at Cushman Market and Café, 491 Pine, St., Amherst, through Feb. 28. Valentine lives in Leverett. One of her photographs of a daylily recently won second place in a competition in a national art magazine.

THEME GARDENS: The first of the winter garden lectures at Annie’s Garden & Gift Store in North Amherst is tomorrow at 10 a.m. Sarah-Mary Gerchman will describe moon gardens, English cottage gardens and meditation gardens as well as explain how to create these and other theme gardens. Free, but space is limited. Preregistration is suggested. Next week is terrariums. 549-6359.

BIRDS: Learn all about bird-feeding tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Hadley Garden Center. Dan Ziomek, a staff member and local birder, will present the free program, the first in the Winter Garden Clinic series at the garden center. Next week is orchids with Bill Hutchinson. 584-1423.

BEEKEEPING: Dan Conlon of Warm Colors Aviary in South Deerfield gives a workshop, “Beginning with Bees: Getting Started in Backyard Gardening” on Jan. 19 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. Fee is $50. Register by calling 298-3926 or online at www.berkshirebotanical.org .

PAPERWHITES: For Christmas I received a very special gift: three paper white bulbs planted in an attractive container already filled with marble chips. I added water on Dec. 18. They started to bloom this week and are gorgeous. Alas, I forgot about using alcohol to stunt the growth of the stems. So, the other morning I came down to find they had flopped over. If you are about to start paperwhites, remember the alcohol trick. Plant the bulbs in the normal manner with tap water reaching just to the base of the bulb. Once growth is a few inches tall, pour out the water and replace it with a water-alcohol mix, 1 part gin or vodka to 7 parts water. You can also use rubbing alcohol, but beer, wine or whisky doesn’t work. Check the water level often and replace with plain water. Your flower stalks should be greatly reduced in height making a less floppy display. Still, my tall flowers — tied to green supports — are gorgeous.

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