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Get growing: Weekend events revel in autumn’s splendor

It’s Columbus Day weekend, usually the peak of fall foliage color – except that the celebration is a week early this year and trees are just beginning to turn color here. Still, there is plenty of beauty out there. Hostas are turning yellow, peony leaves are red and asters, chrysanthemums and anemones are in full flower. Until frost really hits the Valley, marigolds, petunias and zinnias continue to bloom merrily.

Foliage color comes earlier in the Berkshires and this might be a great time for a trip to the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge for its Harvest Festival. There will be dozens of vendors of garden-related products, demonstrations and workshops and entertainment.

Among the workshop offerings tomorrow is one by Jennifer Kujawski on growing tomatoes and another by Ron Kujawski on growing garlic. Elizabeth Cary will demonstrate putting the garden to bed. Admission is $5, and children under 12 are free. For a list of vendors and workshops go to www.berkshirebotanical.org.

In the other direction, Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston has its annual Shades of Autumn Festival tomorrow, Sunday and Monday. There will be a live animal exhibit with alpacas, an African violet repotting clinic, hay rides and tasting tours of the heirloom apple orchard along with plenty of entertainment and a crafts fair. Admission is $12. For details, the website is www.towerhillbg.org.

As for local foliage, some red maples are in full color, my tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) has turned various shades of burgundy and yellow and by the end of next week my sugar maple will be a blaze of yellow. Last year the sugar maple leaves turned brown and fell off the tree in late September due to anthracnose. This year the disease is gone and the foliage looks healthy.

It’s not too late to plant chrysanthemums and local nurseries have a fine selection. All around the area I see new plantings of yellow, deep red, rust, pink, lavender and white mums. I bought six three weeks ago from Smiarowski Farm in Sunderland, huge plants I could hardly lift. It took me a week to plant them because I had to dig large holes. They are all thriving right now.

Will they survive the winter? It depends on the winter. If you mulch carefully after Thanksgiving some may come back. Only one of my half dozen mums planted last fall returned.

Planting mums in April is much less risky. Alas, few local growers offer mums for sale in the spring. A reliable mail order company with a good selection is Bluestone Perennials. A friend who moved here from Indiana told me recently that she had 25 or 30 Bluestone plants that came back every year.

Take a tour of the Smith College campus in Northampton where there are hundreds of beautiful specimens, all labeled for your convenience. Note the names of trees with colors you especially like and plan to plant them now (trees and shrubs are on sale) or in the spring.

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