New year’s resolutions for the garden

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For the Gazette
Published: 1/11/2019 10:43:48 AM

Okay. Here’s my list. I don’t always make one. And when I do, I usually don’t carry through. But here are some thoughts for the upcoming gardening season.

Take more pictures.

As I look around the exterior of my house at the various garden patches I have planted, removed or restored, I realize that I have not had the presence of mind to grab a camera to record what was there before I started messing around. I tend to leave my iPhone in the house when I’m gardening and I’m always too lazy or grubby or preoccupied to get it when I need it. There is one area in particular that I wish I had “before” photographs of. It’s a partly shaded expanse of ground at the northern edge of the yard.

When we bought the house ten years ago, it was an unruly patch of weeds duking it out for territory. Some sort of creeping euonymus, bits of vinca and a thuggish groundcover that spreads fiendishly via sturdy white stolons that remind me of chicken tendons. (I so loathe it that I’ve never bothered to find out what it is.)

I can describe what was there because I remember my feeble efforts to eradicate all of it, but I can no longer picture it in my mind’s eye. Now, after several major interventions, the space is home to several small trees (miniature river birches), shrubs (rhododendrons, viburnums, hydrangeas) and perennials (hostas, heucheras, geraniums). To my eye, it’s nowhere near done and it does not yet make my heart sing. If I could see how it looked when I started I think my heart might at least croak a little tune.

Water more strategically.

Over the past few years I’ve bought several cheap soaker hoses and deployed them around the property. But my system is hardly a system. I have to move hoses around because I don’t have enough hose length to cover everything. This is a pain because the hoses are difficult to maneuver and will kink in the blink of an eye. The metal pins that are supposed to hold them in place pop out of the ground and disappear, only to emerge when I’m tidying things up for the winter.

Plants need water, especially the young ones. If I calculate the amount of money I’ve spent on all the plants that have died of thirst, I could easily have sunk those dollars into an easier, more effective watering system. I suspect that there are more user-friendly soaker hoses available. No doubt they’re more expensive than the nasty ones that are sitting in a muddy tangle in my garage. Those are so brittle I can’t even begin to coil them and store them neatly. They are bound for the gardening corner at the dump, where someone with more patience and a smaller garden might be able to put them to good use.

Visit more public gardens, especially local ones, and take more garden tours.

I spend so much time writing about gardens that I don’t visit nearly enough of them. When I do take the time, I always learn so much. I see what plants actually grow best in our area, how much light they actually need to flourish. I also am inspired by combinations of sizes, shapes, textures and colors that I never would have dreamed up on my own.

Spend more time on interior gardening.

I don’t mean trying to grow houseplants. I know that won’t end well for me. But I’d like to start the gardening year with more patience. Most gardeners I know have a tendency to seek perfection, and to seek it instantly. But like most of life’s endeavors, gardening is a process, not an end in itself. I want to try new things, risk failure, and work harder but smarter (see above!).

Happy new year and happy gardening to all.

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

 Upcoming garden eventsHadley Garden Center winter clinic

One thing we can look forward to this time of year is the beginning of Hadley Garden Center’s weekly clinic series. This year’s lineup opens on Jan. 12 at 1 p.m. with a talk by Dan Ziomek, long time Hadley Garden Center employee, lifelong birding enthusiast and the voice behind Birdsongs, on bird feeding. He will focus on attracting more birds, preventing squirrels and which seeds attract which birds. Stop in and enjoy the discussion and bring questions for Dan to answer. Come early for a seat; these sessions fill up quickly. 285 Russell St. (Rte. 9) Hadley, 584-1423.

Winter and early spring birding

Winter does not bring a seasonal end to the birding calendar. Far from it. My sister-in-law just sent me a photograph of a Northern Grosbeak she spotted last week in suburban Boston! The Hitchcock Center in Amherst is offering a wonderful opportunity to explore winter bird life here in the valley as well as along the north shore of Massachusetts. Registration is now open for the Center’s class on winter and early spring birding with local birding expert Scott Surner. The class will meet on Jan. 16, Feb. 13 and 27, March 20, and April 10 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. There will also be fieldtrips. Members: $275/nonmembers: $325. Space is limited. For more information and to register, go to:

Hitchcock Center’s 2019 nature study club 

The Hitchcock Center is getting ready to launch the sixth year of its Nature Study Club. The group meets Sundays monthly throughout the year, from 9 a.m. to noon, although class times may vary depending on topics. Each month, local naturalists help the group explore a focused, seasonal natural history topic. This year’s topics include mammal tracking, spring bird migration and sea lampreys in the Fort River (Yikes! I had no idea these existed). Members: $265/nonmembers: $315. For more information and to register, go to:

Winter lecture at BBG

Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge always brings in wonderful speakers for its winter lecture series. This year, on Feb. 2, BBG has invited internationally acclaimed garden designer Arne Maynard to discuss how he chooses and creates planting combinations for the gardens he designs. With photographs from gardens in both the UK and the US, Maynard will explain how he uses the natural environment’s plant palette for inspiration to create gardens that resonate with the surrounding landscape. Maynard works with clients all over the world. He has a collaborative approach to design and believes that to succeed, a garden must relate and respond to its surrounding landscape, its history and the buildings within and around its confines, as well as to the needs of its owners. With everything quiet in the garden, this is the perfect time to draw inspiration from a master. The lecture will take place at 2 p.m. at the Duffin Theater at Lenox Memorial Middle/High School 197 East St, Lenox, MA. Cost: Members: $35/nonmembers: $45. Advance registration is highly recommended, but walk-ins are always welcome, space permitting. 





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