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Get Growing: Sad goodbye to gardeners’ go-to place

It is very sad to learn that Annie’s Garden & Gift Store in North Amherst is closing.

A huge sale is underway. As customers waited in the line that went out the door last Saturday, one woman was overheard to say, “This was my go-to place.” She summed up the feeling of the hundreds of people who have flocked to the store to say goodbye while enjoying huge bargains on plants, garden supplies and gifts.

The store was founded by Annie Cheatham in 1991 under a tent with a deck on Routes 5 and 10 and moved to its present location the following year. It has been a reliable source of plants and garden-related supplies and gifts.

Cheatham sold the business in 2001 to employee Michelle Elston and her husband, Mike. The Elstons relocated to Pennsylvania and sold Annie’s to Lesley and Russ Phaneuf about five years ago. *Cheatham was director of CISA, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, from 2001-2007.

The Phaneufs took over Annie’s in the midst of the economic downturn and struggled to keep the business afloat.

Annie’s was a small-scale garden center that purchased annuals, perennials, herbs and woody plants from wholesale nurseries. The Phaneufs ran a series of workshops every winter. It was a delightful place to find garden-oriented gifts from floral tablecloths to good patio pots to lovely greeting cards. Nancy Maglione, after retiring as the Amherst town financial officer, worked there in the gift department.

This lovely little store will be missed by the gardening community. It filled a special niche that will be hard to fill.

BULBS: Now is the time to buy bulbs for spring flowers. It’s a bit early to plant those bulbs but you need to purchase them before local stores and mail order nurseries sell out. There are many temptations in the bins. I went to buy a few crocuses and came home with anemones and camassias as well, almost doubling my budget for this fall.

A few tips on using bulbs: the smaller the bulb the more you need to plant.

While a dozen tulips make a splash in the garden, you need twice that number of crocuses, anemones and other little bulbs to make an impact, especially from a distance. A mixture of colors can be charming but concentrating your efforts on a big clump of a single color makes a bigger statement.

Critters love most bulbs, particularly tulips and crocuses. So if you know you have chipmunks and voles and those dread deer, concentrate on daffodils and scillas, which are poisonous and the critters know it. You can try using vole repellent which is either A dried blood or castor oil compound but it is pricey and I’m not convinced it really works. What does work — and is a pain to construct — is a hardware cloth-wire cage in which to bury a group of bulbs.

My sister in California deals with gophers and the only protection against those underground genies is to enclose the bulbs in cages.

Plant the little bulbs soon, early in October. Tulips and daffodils and hyacinths can wait until later in the month. The trick is to judge the weather so the ground hasn’t frozen or become really cold before you start planting.

You could prepare the soil now when it is easy to dig and do the actual planting later. It doesn’t hurt to add bulb booster fertilizer or organic compost to the planting holes, although the bulbs are already a package with their own natural food for the first year. Do, however, plan to give the plants a boost in the spring with compost when the leaves first emerge.

If you already have bulbs planted in your garden it is inevitable that you will dig some up as you plant this fall. If they are damaged by your trowel, you should discard them to avoid disease problems. Otherwise just stick them back in the ground and vow to take pictures next spring or label where the bulbs are planted.

When designing with bulbs remember that their foliage seems to take forever to die down in the spring and can look quite unsightly. So don’t plant them along the edges of your garden. Instead plant among groundcovers, ferns, behind daylilies and other summer-blooming plants that will mask the detritus. Just a reminder that if you cut off the foliage in frustration because it looks so ratty, you will deplete the food for the following spring and perhaps even kill the plant.

WILD EDIBLES: Blanche Derby will offer a program on “Wild Edibles: Weed e_SSRqEm and Reap” Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. at Northfield Mountain Recreation Area in Northfield. Free, but pre-registration is required. Call 800-859-2960.

FALL FOOD ON THE FARM WORKSHOPS: The Trustees of Reservations are sponsoring “Grow, Cook, Eat” workshops in Holyoke at Land of Providence, a 25-acre property along the Connecticut River. Lydia Mills, food and nutrition educator and employee of the non-profit organization, will lead the weekly Saturday workshops through October. This week’s topic is “Plant Science.” Participants will learn the life cycle of a spinach plant, plant spinach in raised beds, harvest arugula and cook arugula and cheese quesadillas. The program, which begins at 9:30 a.m., is free to children age 18 and under and to members of the Trustees of Reservations. A donation of $5 is suggested for others. The Land of Providence area is home to Nuestras Raices, a community garden and farm started in the 1990s. Next week’s topic is “Growing and Cooking Herbs Year-Round.”Pre-registration is suggested but not required. Register and find directions at www.thetrustees.org.

BEGONIAS AND GESNERIADS: Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston will host the annual begonia and gesneriad show this weekend. There will be displays of these popular plants from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. A plant sale starts at 9 a.m. Saturday. There are three special events: Gloria Utzig will discuss “Anyone Can Help Save Plant Species from Extinction” Saturday at 2:30, there is a “Gesneriad Propagation Workshop” on Sunday from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. and a lecture by Nick Alteri, “All About Tuberous Begonias,” Sunday at 2:30. Admission to the show and events is free but there is an admission charge for Tower Hill Botanic Garden. For more information check the website: towerhillbg.org.

EASTHAMPTON PLANT SALE: The Pascommuck Conservation Trust will hold a plant sale on Sept. 28 from 8 a.m. to noon at Big E, Union St., Easthampton. Plant donations accepted at 8 a.m. For details check the website: pctland.org.

* CORRECTION: I credited Annie Cheatham with founding CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) as well as founding Annie’s Garden & Gift Store. However, I am now told that CISA was founded almost a decade before Cheatham became director. It is celebrating its 20th anniversary and Cheatham was director from 2001 to 2007. It’s a great organization – whoever founded it!

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