Green thumbs prepare for 23rd annual Northampton Garden Tour

  • Cher and Mo Willems’ vegetable garden, prepped and ready to grow a cornucopia of edible plants. Geoff Dempsey

  • Buzzee and Bliss’ lounge area in the middle of their back yard, pre-spring flowering. Geoff Dempsey

  • Todd and David's vegetable garden, frames standing strong Geoff Dempsey

  • In top photo, Todd Buzzee and David Bliss’s garden arch, where they got married. Above, lounge area in the middle of their back yard, pre-spring flowering. Geoff Dempsey

For the Gazette
Published: 4/15/2016 5:31:29 PM

 by GEOFF DEMPSEY

NORTHAMPTON – Todd Buzzee and David Bliss have a back yard filled not with grass, but with flower beds, gargoyles and short stone walls. They are hosting one of eight garden tours on June 11. The Friends of Forbes Library puts on the yearly event, intended to educate and showcase the world of gardening to those interested.

Julie Abramson, 74, of Northampton, has been helping to coordinate the tours for 12 years. She had landscapers at work in her back yard recently. “They’re sort of doing what everybody on the tour will be doing,” she said, in preparing their gardens.

Gardeners are raking, weeding, pruning, cutting and “trimming the fat,” said Amie Combs, 38, of Hadley, as she skillfully cleaned up the coral bells in a flower bed in Abramson’s back yard. The before-and-after picture was clear. Abramson’s gardens were blanketed with autumn leaves, but became neat and attractive once the leaves were removed and Combs got to work.

Abramson is a master gardener. However, most of the tour is dedicated to amateurs and hobbyists. David Bliss, 61, of Northampton, works in retail management. He moved to his Westhampton Road home in 1993 with Todd Buzzee, 56, who is a professional florist. Buzzee grew up on a farm.

The rock walls make the gardens stand out. Some of them, literally, but the walls give their back yard a sectioned feeling, as if there were several rooms. “It’s a walking garden,” said Buzzee, who constructed many of the short stone walls.

They’ve had to trim the trees surrounding their back yard to allow the sun and rain to reach the plants. “A rain gauge will read an inch out here, and a quarter inch under the trees,” Buzzee said.

Cher Willems, 47, lives in a giant house on Lyman Road with her husband, Mo, who is an author and illustrator. Intricate flower beds and colorful displays are not the focus here, but the landscape of the back yard and the vegetable garden are.

“Onions, lettuce, Swiss chard, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, potatoes,” and many more are what Willems is planting in her vegetable garden. In one vegetable bed, lines of string tied to the poles prevent birds from eating seeds. “They think it’s lunch!” She noted that while the birds live here, too, “I can’t get rid of ’em, but I can fight ’em!” she laughed.

Bliss and Buzzee focus on vegetables, as well. They used a bit of misfortune to their advantage. The infamous storm of October 2011 threw trees and branches all over their back yard, so they collected them and built a frame for vine vegetables to grow. It’s been holding sturdy for years.

The couple got married in their own garden 10 years ago, under an arch which is like an open door to a pathway between separate flower beds. When asked what parts of their garden they were most looking forward to showing off, Buzzee said, “Well, we’re proud of our garden. It’s nice to have people come and appreciate it.”

According to Abramson, there are several steps which gardeners take in order to get their gardens ready for the tour, or just to fix them up in preparation for the spring. Prune back the shrubs, cut back grasses, clean up debris, rake leaves, replenish mulch paths, and trimming are all a part of the annual process.

“I call it the ‘peering season,’” she said, imitating the motion of visually scouring the gardens for anything that looks off.

The garden tours provide new ideas and inspiration to fellow gardeners, inexperienced or professional. Usually, only one or two professional gardeners are selected for the tour. Abramson has been helping to coordinate the tours for 12 years.

The process of finding home gardens for the tour can be tedious. Abramson uses a network of friends and gardeners to discover new, fresh, exciting gardens for the people of Northampton to enjoy. “But sometimes I just drive around,” she said, and looks for homes with potential. If she sees an interesting front yard, she’s likely to knock on the door.

While the gardens and back yards of Northampton are gray, dry and lacking in life right now, the knowledgeable green thumbs in town look forward to the spring bloom.

The annual Northampton Garden Tour takes place on June 11 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will tour eight gardens. For more information, contact the Friends of Forbes Library.


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