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Ground covers really make a garden 

  • Variety in Carol Pope’s garden comes from unique structural elements and different shaped leaves, rather than a riot of different colors. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Paperbark maple tree in Pope’s garden. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A parrotia tree with interesting bark anchors a bend along the path. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Carol Pope chose groundcovers that go and go, including (from left) Autumn clematis, Maidenhair fern and Lamium. STAFF PHOTOS/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A Japanese stone lantern echoes the shape of the gazebo. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A gazebo is part of the garden at the home of Carol Pope, of Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A stewartia tree at the home of Carol Pope, of Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A limber pine tree at the home of Carol Pope, of Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A limber pine tree at the home of Carol Pope, of Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A house that is decorated with the words of Emily Dickinson, "The brain is wider that the sky", rests beside a stone lantern and a bench at the home of Carol Pope, of Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A kousa dogwood at the home of Carol Pope, of Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A Korean pine, or pinus koreana, at the home of Carol Pope, of Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A bridge over a swale lined with Ashfield stone at the home of Carol Pope, of Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Lespedeza, top, spills over the bridge. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A bridge over a swale lined with Ashfield stone at the home of Carol Pope, of Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A bridge over a swale lined with Ashfield stone at the home of Carol Pope, of Amherst, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Lespedeza, right, spills over the bridge. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Another reliably beautiful element? This sculptural Japanese white pine. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS



For the Gazette
Friday, September 28, 2018

I recently visited one of my favorite gardens in Amherst, which belongs to Carol Pope. I first experienced her garden nearly 30 years ago, when I was pushing my two-year-old Tommy in his stroller past her house on High Street. Back then, she and her husband, David Kinsey, who died in 1998, were in the earliest stages of planning and planting. Tommy was obsessed with trucks and heavy machinery at that age, and happily for him, a crew of workers was busy installing some sort of hardscape construction in a relatively open area that reached from the street back and behind the house.

Pope greeted me warmly and apologized for the chaos. Many years passed before I visited the garden again. It’s now a far cry from what I remember from my earliest visit. The garden is a verdant, shaded sanctuary with winding paths, a bridge over a swale lined with huge pieces of Ashfield stone, a Japanese-inspired gazebo and arbor, and a vast collection of unusual trees, shrubs and other plants. It’s so naturally composed, it looks like it’s been that way forever.

As we walked through the garden the other day, I asked Pope about her fall routine in the garden. Did she cut things back to the ground? What plants did she leave untouched? What did she do to put her garden to bed, so to speak?

She thought for a moment and replied that she doesn’t really do much in the fall besides weeding and pruning. Over the years, she said, she has tried to incorporate plants that have year-round interest. She avoids one-season wonders like daylilies that shine in the summer but look tattered and unsightly after they’ve stopped blooming. Her approach also has the advantage of creating a less demanding garden.

Instead, in her mostly shaded garden, she uses plants that provide visual interest throughout the year. She has planted trees that have unusual bark, including Stewartia and Kousa dogwood. She chooses trees with intriguing shapes, like her Pinus Koreana, a tall, narrow evergreen with unevenly spaced branches. She prunes her trees and shrubs carefully to make the most of their structure. She “limbs up” trees, pruning the lowest branches, so that the bark is more visible and to open up pleasing vistas within the garden.

Pope said that for many years she was always looking for new things to plant. But now that her garden is fully grown in, she concentrates more on working with what’s already there. “I’m totally into groundcovers everywhere,” she said. “I got tired of looking at brown bark mulch.” Epimedium, corydalis, asarum and lamium are among the plants that provide an intriguing mix of colors, shapes and textures that carpet her garden beds. She punctuates a dark green patch of vinca with bloodroot, whose large, lobed paler green leaves rise above the vinca. In the spring, the bloodroot’s cheery white flowers play well with the lavender vinca blossoms. “It’s beautiful all the time,” she said.

Another felicitous blending is a bed of asarum, with its shiny, round leaves, interplanted with bigger, bolder plants such as Rodgersia, hosta and ferns. A patch of Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’ brightens a sunny border. Its white-eyed blue flowers in early summer give way to a lush, dark green carpet of foliage that turns purple in the fall. “Ground covers really make a garden,” she said.

For Pope, fall is a time to assess the garden and see what needs to be cut back or moved. She pointed out several trees and shrubs that she will prune to open up interior views through the garden. She inspected a Physocarpus (ninebark) ‘Lemon Gumdrop’ that looked somewhat beleaguered in its surroundings. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” she said, “but I’m not liking where it is.” An autumn clematis that in past seasons has climbed a nearby tree has spilled over, providing a lacy blanket for a bed of shrubs and ferns. Pope recalled something she heard a woman say during a garden tour in England: “It just wants to be there.”

And she makes note of what needs to be dug up and moved in the spring. One of her favorite hostas, ‘Bright Lights,’ appears in several places in the garden. “It’s better to wait until spring to divide it.” She has a new, smaller variety of maidenhair fern called Adiantum Venestum that she’s using as a groundcover. Its lush green foliage turns a bluish green in the fall and then goes bronze in the winter. In the spring, she will dig some up and spread it around to increase the size of its footprint in the garden.

I always leave her garden in a state of awe and admiration. Not all of us can have such a magnificent garden. But Pope’s year-round approach to garden design and maintenance is something we can all learn from. Her garden is occasionally open for garden tours. If you get the chance to see it, by all means do so!

Mickey Rathbun, an Amherst-based lawyer turned journalist, has written the Get Growing column since 2016.

Upcoming garden events

Dahlias at Tower Hill

On Sept. 29 and 30, Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston is hosting the 3rd annual New England Dahlia Show, featuring hundreds of colorful blooms in every size imaginable, from silver dollar to dinner plate. If you’d like to exhibit your own blooms, bring your entries between 7:30 and 10:30 a.m. on Sat. and New England Dahlia Society members will be available to help you to stage your blooms for the show. Judging will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

On Sun. at 1 p.m. there will be a presentation, For the Love of Dahlias, by Chau Ho, a visual designer who has won numerous high awards at dahlia shows throughout New England. Chau helped found the NEDS and is its current VP. He will discuss cultivation techniques that work in the northeast, including planting instructions, staking advice, end-of-season care, winter storage and much more. The show will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sat., 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sun. Dahlias will be for sale from 3 to 4 p.m. on Sun.

For more information, go to towerhillbg.org.

Fall festival at Berkshire Botanical Garden

On Oct. 6 and 7, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge will hold its annual Harvest Festival, one of the most popular autumn events of Western MA. The event will offer dozens of activities for families and children, including pony and hay rides, games, live music, puppet theater, and other entertainment. There will be more than 100 regional artisanal vendors, a farmers’ market, tag sale and plant sale. The festival will also include free workshops on cheese-making, growing garlic, cider-making and beekeeping. Proceeds from this event benefit the BBG’s horticulture and education programs. Admission: adults: $7/children under age 12: free. Pre-purchase tickets at BBG’s Visitor Center, open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, including a schedule of events and opportunities for volunteers, go to: berkshirebotanical.org.

The art and science of growing giant pumpkins

Have you ever wondered how the heck people manage to grow gigantic pumpkins? On Oct. 7 from 2 to 3 p.m. at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, Giant pumpkin grower Steve Connolly will discuss how he grew the state record holding 2075 lb. pumpkin in 2016. His talk will focus on how more than 30 years of selective breeding of an isolated species of Giant Pumpkins has led to fruits that are bigger and heavier than ever. The genetic bundle inside the seeds know what to do. If you provide optimum conditions, monster pumpkins will result! Connolly grew the first 1000-pound pumpkin in New England in 2000. In his 24 years of growing giant pumpkins, he has won numerous awards and has been featured on radio, television and in print, including the Today Show, NPR, Martha Stewart, David Letterman, National Geographic, Yankee Magazine, and more. He is an active board member of the Southern New England Giant Pumpkin Growers Club. Price is free with admission. For more information, go to: towerhillbg.