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Elm Bank gardens a worthy field trip

For many years I’ve wanted to visit Elm Bank in Wellesley, home of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. Finally a few weeks ago the Garden Club of Amherst took a field trip there and it was worth the drive.

Located on a former estate, the public gardens are quite impressive. The original Italianate Garden beside the mansion has a fountain surrounded by annuals. There are also some gorgeous ancient trees in that area, including a twisted weeping larch which inspired me to take several photos from different angles. The original garden, which is undergoing renovation, was created in the early 20th century by the Olmsted Brothers.

New gardens since Mass Hort came to Elm Bank in 1996 are the Bressingham Garden, created a few years ago by Alan Bloom, the famous English plantsman, and the Children’s Garden, designed by Julie Moir Messervy.

Judicious use of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and trees in the Bressingham Garden gives structure to the large area of curving beds. A gardener said she spends 20 hours a week just in that garden weeding and transplanting. She said she could spend 60 hours there. She was fighting a losing battle against clover that had become established amid a groundcover.

The plants are well marked with labels placed near the edge for easy reading instead of beside plants deep into the garden. (The beds are sometimes 20 feet deep.) Weezie’s Garden, the children’s special area, features marvelous Adirondack- style climbing structures and benches plus a hidden area with table and chairs beneath a weeping evergreen. Two children were waiting there for their toddler brother to find them. There is a charming water garden, perfect for photographing mesmerized children and a large open sandbox where half a dozen kids were happily digging surrounded by beautiful plants. A “garden” of bird houses on poles added whimsy along with an oversized chair. It seemed like a magical place for children (and adults) of all ages.

A garden in memory of James Underwood Crockett beside the education center was created and is maintained by the agricultural fraternity of his alma mater, Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts. Graceful ornamental grasses, colorful asters and unusual annuals surround a circular brick patio with table and chairs which gave us a respite from walking around the other gardens. Words carved into stone benches detail the many facets of Crockett’s career including “The Victory Garden” television series.

Near the entrance to the gardens are display gardens where new annuals are tested through the All America Trial Gardens program. You would be amazed to see the variety of petunias, zinnias, euphorbias and snapdragons as well as tomatoes and peppers that are being tested here and at other sites around the country.

Admission to the gardens is free but a $5 donation is suggested with prominent donation boxes at the entrance. Members are free. There are cellphone tours available. On Tuesdays at 10 a.m. through October there are drop-in guided tours with a $10 fee.

On a Saturday the buildings were locked up tight and there were few visitors other than our small band. Fortunately the rest rooms were open. The gardener told me that many people avoid fall weekends because of traffic connected with youth soccer games played on adjacent fields. (We didn’t have any problem.) The whole Elm Bank Reservation is owned by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation with Mass Hort having a 99-year lease on the garden area.

Many weekends there are special events and Mass Hort has a series of Thursday evening lectures that are quite intriguing. Upcoming topics are: Oct. 4, honeybees, Oct. 11, terrariums, Oct. 18, lecture by Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. The fee is $15, members $12.

Elm Bank is located at 900 Washington St. in Wellesley. For more information and directions check the website: www.masshort.org or call 617- 933-4900.

FALL TREES: Foliage season is just beginning in western Massachusetts and October is also prime time for planting most trees. Alan Snow, Amherst’s tree warden, says many trees can be successfully planted up until Halloween.

Many nurseries and garden centers have end-of-season sales on trees and shrubs. Trees planted in any season need special care. Plant them in a hole wider than it is deep to allow for maximum root growth. Contrary to common myth, tree roots grow more outward from the stem, not downward. Regular watering is critical to survival. Snow recommends an inch of water a week — either rain or hose — which translates into 20 gallons per tree. How do you know when you have given the tree its full drink? Snow suggests setting a timer to see how long it takes to fill a gallon jug with the hose. I tried this and it takes about one minute. So you need to run the hose at a dribble for at least 20 minutes once a week. Be sure to water just once during the week rather than teasing the plant with a light misting several times. There will be more on trees in a Valley Gardens column scheduled for Oct. 21.

WILD EDIBLES: Blanche Derby, local expert on foraging for wild edible plants, will lead a walk through Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary tomorrow from 1 to 3 p.m. She will identify many wild plants that make healthy foods. In case of rain, the program will be held inside with plant specimens. The fee is $7, Audubon Society members $5. Register by calling 584-3009.

HEALTH AND GMOS: “Healthy Food, Healthy Living: Local Heroes in Action” is the theme of a three-lecture series sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association in Williamsburg. The first lecture is “Health Risks of GMOS (Genetically Modified Organisms)” on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Meekins Library. Ed Stockman of the Hilltown Non-GMO Working Group is the speaker. Stockman is a biologist, organic farmer and former educator for Northeast Organic Farming Association.

The free lecture has been arranged by Elaine Hyde of Williamsburg, Deb Jacobs of Leeds and Barbara Bricker of Chesterfield, who organized last fall’s garden lecture series at the Meekins.

PLANT SALE: Pascommuck Conservation Trust holds a plant sale tomorrow from 8 a.m. to noon at Big E’s market, Union Street, Easthampton. Fall is a great time to plant perennials.

GARLIC AND ARTS FESTIVAL: The fascinating annual North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival is tomorrow and Sunday at Forster’s Farm, 60 Chestnut Hill Road in Orange from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be garlic bulbs, garlic-accented food, artists, garden items, food demos, music and fun. Many vendors from the Northampton-Amherst area. For details and directions check the website:www.garlicandarts.org.

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