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Boston, MA – April 6, 2015 – The best gardens start with great ideas, shared generously by those with a passion for cultivating and appreciating things that grow. As garden fever rises with the warm temperatures and lengthening days, horticulturalists and landscape designers working at the internationally-renowned and diverse public gardens managed by The Trustees of Reservations are eager to share their own joy and knowledge. With the exchange of tips and ideas being a time honored tradition among horticulture enthusiasts, these Trustees’ garden aficionados encourage you to borrow from their collective experience and inspirational insights and find something special to take home and plant in your own garden this spring. For a list of Trustees’ garden workshops and programs across Massachusetts, visit: bit.ly/TTORGardenPrograms.
Tip 1: Sustainability and Creativity Share Roots
Looking for simple ways to save money and shrink your garden’s carbon footprint? You don’t need to be an alchemist to use material you find on hand in your home and yard or chip natural “waste” into garden gold.
Kristin McCullin, Superintendent of The Trustees’ Allen C. Haskell Public Gardens in New Bedford, looks for creative ways to reuse dead trees and leaves as compost and mulch. Haskell Public Gardens was the former site of Allen C. Haskell and Son Nursery, a six-acre oasis in the heart of the city, known for its collection of exotic trees and flowering bushes that line a labyrinth of cobblestone paths found on the property and frequented by customers such as Martha Stewart and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
“We compost all of our organic material on site – such as fall cutbacks, leaves, wood chips, and kitchen scraps – and use this compost both as a natural fertilizer and as the foundation to our potting mix. And you can easily can do this in your own home garden,” says McCullin.
Nothing in the garden is wasted. McCullin advocates using a wood chipper, which is fairly inexpensive to rent, if you don’t own one, to create mulch from dead trees and fallen or pruned branches. Yet, trees aren’t the only plant that can be recycled into mulch.
“At Haskell we like to take our leaves out of the beds in the fall and let them sit for the winter to compost and break down,” adds McCullin. “We then reapply these leaves as mulch in the spring. If you prefer a finer gardening aesthetic, you can use a lawn mower to shred the leaves before adding the leaf mulch to the plant beds.”
For those looking for a more sustainable and affordable approach to weed control, McCullin uses a home-made, chemical-free remedy to eradicate weeds that sprout up between the cobblestones paths that meander through the garden. “By using a home spraying unit to apply a mix of simple vinegar, Epsom salts, and dish soap, weeds don’t stand a chance,” says McCullin. “Be sure to catch your weeds when they are young and tender and apply the mixture every few weeks. It’s great for brick sidewalks and stone driveways too.” For more information about the Allen C. Haskell Public Gardens, visit: www.thetrustees.org/haskell
Tip 2: Choose Plants that Make Scents
For Dan Bouchard, Trustees Superintendent and Horticulturalist at Long Hill and Sedgwick Gardens in Beverly, gardening is all about enticing all the senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, and of course smell. “Fragrance can lead one through the garden providing a sense of mystery and discovery and can evoke childhood memories. The smell of that first spring rain splashing off the ground, for me, is like heaven on earth.”
With fragrance as Bouchard’s sweet surrender, he encourages gardeners to also let their nose be the muse for garden design. “Trees, shrubs, roses, vines, annuals, herbs, perennials, and bulbs – whether it’s the flowers or the foliage – can provide magical, soothing aromas while looking lovely at the same time.” He recommends planting a garden with a succession of fragrant plants throughout the seasons. “Plant your favorites near a walkway, patio, or doorway – or somewhere where the southern and western summer winds will move the fragrance to you as you relax outside in your garden.” He then adds, “Actually, real gardeners never sit, they just weed and prune!”
With his pruners in a holster on hip, Bouchard notes that “May is the best time for gardeners to dig in – one, because it’s the ideal month to put most plants in the ground, two, because it’s a perfect time of year to find inspiration at local plant sales and nurseries, and three, because it’s been a long winter!”
For gardeners looking for follow their nose, Bouchard shares a selection of his fragrant favorites:
“Remember, gardens are a very sensory experience and if you can work fragrance in, you can make lasting impressions.” For more information about Long Hill & Sedgwick Gardens, visit: www.thetrustees.org/longhill
Tip 3: Simple Can Be Spectacular
Faced with restoring one of the most complex garden collections in Massachusetts, Cindy Brockway, The Trustees of Reservations’ Cultural Resources Program Director, came away with an unexpected insight—gardens don’t need to be intricate to be beautiful.
“Complex plantings may be perennial sources of good-natured envy among gardeners, but the simplest approaches can also yield remarkable results,” say Brockway, who had her epiphany while overseeing the extensive, 3-year, $3 million garden and landscape restoration project now taking place at Naumkeag, a Gilded-Age estate and National Historic Landmark in Stockbridge. Naumkeag features a series of spectacular “garden rooms,” including the iconic Blue Steps designed by noted landscape architect Fletcher Steele, and visited by thousands of garden, landscape, and history enthusiasts from around the world each year.
“As we ‘dug deep’ into the details of Naumkeag’s landscape design and plant materials during the restoration refined strokes of genius – beyond the fussiness and trimmings where we gardeners often devote so much of our energy – gradually revealed themselves.” For home gardeners, one inspiring aspect of Steele’s designs is the strong, simple use of the aesthetics of plants and common materials.
“Take the famous Blue Steps,” Brockway explains. “They’re composed of a simple Japanese Yew hedge, common Pachysandra as a groundcover, and indigenous white New England birches as the vertical design element. The plantings are coupled with the simple yet stunning hardscape components of steps, fountains, and railings. It all works together, with the contrast between the birches and the dark green of the yew providing counterpoints, and the sheer mass of both the hedging and the birch plantings within the overall design providing the impressive impact.” She adds that “Within this simple palette combining plants, shrubs and trees lays the delicacy of the iron railing and the stark gray faces of the concrete block steps – both very common materials that alone would be quite unremarkable. Home gardeners interested in enhancing or designing their own gardens shouldn’t overlook the power of simple components like these which can overachieve with the right inspiration and a creative eye.” For more information about Naumkeag, visit: www.thetrustees.org/naumkeag
Tip 4: Think Beyond Your Garden but Go Local
“Gardens are so much more than individual plants – or even individual gardens,” explains Jeremy Dick, Superintendent of The Trustees’ Boston Management Unit. “Although a garden in a city or the suburbs may feel like an isolated oasis, their plants still help knit together the ecology of the world around us.”
As part of his position, Jeremy helps to maintain City Natives in Mattapan as a horticultural learning center and native plant nursery, raising plants for sale, donation, and for use on Trustees’ properties. Over the years, the plants have also been used in ecological plantings at Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester, the Southeastern Massachusetts Bioreserve in Fall River, and Weir Hill in North Andover.
When asked about garden design and incorporating native plants in an urban setting, Jeremy encourages those gardeners to take a broader view. “Think beyond the characteristics of individual plants and consider how plants relate to one another to form a landscape that connects with the greater natural community in your area. When used together, they can provide habitat to support wildlife and natural processes that enrich the gardening experience, improve results, and engage family and neighbors in fun ways.”
On the ground, Dick adds “that this approach can be as simple as planting a tree with an understory of mixed shrubs and perennials. That combination provides a variety of spatial and ecological platforms in which wildlife can interact with your garden. For example, a dogwood tree offers nesting and food for birds, azaleas supply nectar and foliage for insects, and white wood aster provides cover for rabbits.” Dick also suggests using plants that are locally native to the area to ensure they are more readily recognized and utilized by local wildlife species, and adding in some structural hardscape elements, such as a stonewall for the chipmunks and snakes, to round out plantings.
“Experienced gardeners often try to emulate local natural communities and incorporate a greater diversity of plant species and elements, but beginners can do this too.” As Jeremy surveys his own surroundings, the possibilities begin to take shape. “There’s no reason that a home gardener can’t maintain their own little piece of upland forest, bog, or sand plain heathland full of scrub oak, bayberry, butterfly weed, and little bluestem. Just imagine!” For more handy tips, join fellow gardeners at one of the many programs – most of which are free and MBTA accessible – hosted by City Natives this growing season: www.thetrustees.org/seedsow
Public Gardens at The Trustees of Reservations
Among the 113 properties owned by The Trustees, several include significant public gardens that create a stunning, living documentary of the State's horticultural and design traditions. Ranging in size from .25 to 165 acres, each combines scenic beauty, critical ecological habitat, and nationally renowned buildings and gardens, with rare native plants and unusual cultivars. They include three National Landmarks – the Mission House and Naumkeag in Stockbridge and Castle Hill in Ipswich –and an internationally recognized private horticultural collection at Sedgewick Gardens at Long Hill in Beverly. Six properties and their owners have also been recognized with medals by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. The Trustees public garden portfolio also includes community gardens formerly belonging to Boston's South End Land Trust and the Boston Natural Areas Network, now officially a part of The Trustees’ Greater Boston region.
The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees) “hold in trust” and care for properties, or “reservations,” of irreplaceable scenic, historic, and natural significance for the general public to enjoy. Founded by open space visionary Charles Eliot in 1891, The Trustees is the world’s oldest land trust and one of Massachusetts’ largest conservation and preservation nonprofits. Supported by more than 100,000 members and donors and thousands of volunteers, The Trustees own and manage 114 spectacular reservations – from working farms and historic homesteads and landscaped gardens, to community parks, barrier beaches, mountain vistas and woodland trials -- located on more than 26,000 acres throughout the Commonwealth. With hundreds of outreach programs, workshops, camps, concerts and events annually designed to engage all ages in its mission, The Trustees invite you to Find Your Place and get out and experience the natural beauty and culture our state has to offer. For more information, visit: www.thetrustees.org.