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Get Growing: Garden tour report

Saturday I started the Amherst Garden Tour at the Amherst Woman’s Club where Beverly Swihart and her crew of club members and interns with the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association have transformed the landscape in recent years.

The grounds were a mass of bittersweet and other invasives a few years ago when Swihart, a transplant from the Midwest, proposed revamping them. After hiring professionals to get rid of the overgrown problems, she composted the beds, put down landscape cloth and mulch and started planting.

She brought with her dozens of chrysanthemums from her old home and donated them to the club. They are enormous and should be spectacular in the fall. Many of the other plants are just starting to mature, but she has filled in with well-grown annuals and many shrubs. One hydrangea in particular was quite beautiful. There was a good handout on the garden beds and circumnavigating the landscape one could appreciate many individual plants.

Many of the gardens on the Amherst tour were designed and maintained by professionals and Carol Pope, a local landscape designer, almost had a monopoly. Her own stunning garden was on the tour once again and always worth a visit. In addition she was the landscape designer for architect Sigrid Miller Pollin’s modern farmstead home. I was especially impressed with weeping redbud trees and the use of purple foliage in variety in one garden bed. Pope’s beautifully created memorial garden to her husband, David Kinsey, behind the Jones Library was also on view. This is a wonderfully peaceful place to read a book on a stone bench and admire the trees, shrubs, shade perennials and groundcovers. It connects to the 18th century garden behind the Strong House Museum of the Amherst Historical Society, a garden maintained by the Garden Club of Amherst.

Driving the dirt roads of Shutesbury the next day, we enjoyed a very different style of gardening. Cottage gardens with old-fashioned roses, foxgloves, verbascums and geraniums along with fenced vegetable gardens and vines growing on rustic hand-made trellises were charming. One couple designed a Tuscan terrace under a second-story deck and trained edible kiwis, grapes and climbing hydrangea up the posts. It was a shady oasis on a hot day. Nearby, entered through a gateway with a gong with a clear tone, was a Zen garden. Mixed among the perennials, annuals and shrubs were edibles such as lettuce (where were the rabbits?), blueberries and an unusual goumi berry bush. Another garden surrounded an inviting swimming pool in the back yard while the front yard boasted a lovely cottage garden. Here, too, was a thriving vegetable plot. Deep in the woods at a third garden was a tree house. Trained against the main house were trellises made of huge mountain laurel branches covered with clematis. The highway department berm garden is a design gem with extremely well-grown plants. The catmint and salvia were enormous. Thank heavens the rain held off for the tours and up in Shutesbury it was even cool with a breeze. We came home inspired to do better in our own gardens.

NEONICOTINOID PESTICIDES: Alarming reports from across the United States are underlining the need to follow Europe’s lead and ban pesticides known as neonicotinoids. These chemicals, developed in the laboratory in the early 1990s have been greatly touted by fruit specialists and turf experts. Recently in Oregon the neonicotinoid dinotefuran, sold as Safari, was used on 55 linden trees in a public landscape. A few days later, an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 native bumblebees were found dead in the area.

UMass Extension reported this catastrophe with the caveat that one should always read the label on pesticides. Labels for neonicotinoids always say to avoid spraying during bloom time. The lindens were in full bloom, thus attracting thousands of bees who adore the sweet-smelling flowers.

Imidacloprid is another neonicotinoid recommended by experts throughout the United States to control various apple pests as well as turf pests. However, some tests have shown that these pesticides when sprayed on soil kill beneficial organisms including earthworms and important microbes.

In Europe, especially England, neonicotinoids will be banned from sale by next January. It seems the United States should investigate thoroughly whether such a ban should be instated here. Rachel Carson would be appalled by the destruction of these chemicals. She sent out the clarion cry against chemical pesticides more than 50 years ago and DDT was banned, along with many other pesticides over the years. Reading the label isn’t always sufficient to avoid disaster.

DAYLILY TIME: July is peak season for daylilies and fortunately they don’t mind being dug up and transplanted in full bloom. Therefore you can visit your favorite daylily specialty nursery and select a plant according to its true color. Pine Nook in South Deerfield is open by appointment. Call 665-7137. Check out their offerings online at www.pinenookdaylilies.com. All plants this year are $5. Stone Meadow Gardens in Ashfield is open for the season on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in July from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. They have a large selection, ranging in price from $10 to $20. Descriptions are available at www.stonemeadowgardens.com. 628-3959.

WATER GARDEN TOUR: The annual pond tour of The Pioneer Valley Water Garden & Koi Club is July 13 and 14 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Believe it or not after all this rain and flooding, water can be soothing and restful in the garden and koi fish are stunning residents of many ornamental ponds. Among the gardens on the tour are ones in Belchertown, Florence and Southampton. Chapley Gardens in Deerfield has tickets for $15 per family or car. Tickets are also available at Class Grass Garden in Granby, Exotic Fish & Pet World in Southampton and several garden centers in Hampden County. For more information go to www.pioneervalleypondclub.com.

AN ACRE IN THE WOODS: Jim McSweeney, owner of Hilltown Tree and Garden, is becoming well-known in our area for his garden designs using low-maintenance and native plants. Visit his Chesterfield garden on July 13 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and learn how he carved a new landscape out of the forest surrounding his solar-powered home. The program is sponsored by the New England Wild Flower Society. Participation is limited to 20 people and the fee is $42, members $36. To register, call 508-877-7630, ext. 3303, or go online to newenglandwild.org.

INSECTS IN THE GARDEN: John Stoffolano of the University of Massachusetts Amherst will speak on July 18, 7-8:30 p.m., at Elm Bank in Wellesley on “The Truth About Insects in Your Garden.” The fee is $15, members of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, $10. For details and to register, go to newenglandwild.org.

SUMMER CONFERENCE: The Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association holds its summer conference on July 25 at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston. Workshops on soil testing, pollinators, annual plants, hemlock woolly adelgid and some topics geared to professional nursery people. Targeted tours of the gardens and a keynote address by Bethany Bradley of UMass on climate change and its implications for horticulture in Massachusetts. Advance registration is $75. Registration information at www.mnla.com or call 369-4731.

EMAIL HOTLINE: The Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association has a new website, www.wmmga.org, where you can “Ask a Gardener” a question about your gardening problems. There are also reports on master gardener projects such as the new demonstration garden at the Northampton Community Gardens, and information on current challenges such as Japanese beetles as well as a travelogue on the recent trip members took to Rhode Island gardens. The phone hotline is also open at the Berkshire Botanical Garden with walk-in advice available Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon; call 298-5355.

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