Pocket Forests in Amherst?

What do you think of the idea of creating mini-forests in town? The following was published in The Guardian on June 13, 2020, by Hannah Lewis.

A Miyawaki forest being planted on the outskirts of Paris, France. Photograph: Courtesy of Boomforest

Tiny, dense forests are springing up around Europe as part of a movement aimed at restoring biodiversity and fighting the climate crisis.

Often sited in schoolyards or alongside roads, the forests can be as small as a tennis court. They are based on the work of the Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, who has planted more than 1,000 such forests in Japan, Malaysia and elsewhere.

Advocates for the method say the miniature forests grow 10 times faster and become 30 times denser and 100 times more biodiverse than those planted by conventional methods. This result is achieved by planting saplings close together, three per square metre, using native varieties adapted to local conditions. A wide variety of species – ideally 30 or more – are planted to recreate the layers of a natural forest.

Continue reading “Pocket Forests in Amherst?”

Fort River Sharing Garden Update

Amherst Sustainability Coordinator, Stephanie Ciccarello, convened the monthly meeting of the Grow Food Amherst Steering Committee at the Fort River Farm Conservation Area.

Mark your calendars for the next meeting – Wednesday, June 15 at 12:00noon.

Here are the meeting notes…

Grow Food Amherst Steering Committee Notes

May 18, 2016

Attending:  Stephanie Ciccarello (chairperson), Michelle Nikfarjam, David Lovler, Jen Morrow, Mary Jo Maffei, Phyllis Keenan, Juliet Carvajal, and John Gerber (recorder).

The only item of business was weeding and mulching the perennial plants at the Sharing Garden!  Here are some pictures….

weeding1 weeding2 weeding3 weeding4

Here are some pictures from the planting last fall.  The following plants donated by the Hadley Garden Center survived the winter: hops, raspberries, blackberries, sea berries, honey berries and horseradish.  Much of the garden is still covered in winter rye which will be mown soon. volunteersTo get involved with the Sharing Garden Project, contact Stephanie Ciccarello at CiccarelloS@amherstma.gov.  And for more information, see:

Fort River Farm Conservation Area

Massachusetts Officials Kick-Off “Plant Something for Pollinators” Campaign


bees3NOTE:  Grow Food Amherst recommends that you insist that any bee friendly plants you purchase at local garden centers are free of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides.  Be sure to ask! Here is why!

But then….. we ask you to…

Take the Pledge!

BOSTON – May 13, 2016 – Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) Commissioner John Lebeaux today were joined by members of the agricultural community today to kick off the Plant Something for Pollinators campaign by planting flowers and shrubs in Boston’s Beacon Hill.

Plant Something for Pollinators recognizes the contributions Massachusetts’ flower and nursery growers make to the Commonwealth,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “I urge everyone to get outside and plant a tree, flower or shrub this spring and make the Commonwealth a healthier and more beautiful place.”

“Planting something at your home will not only make it more beautiful, it can also lower your energy costs and clean the air you breathe, while providing necessary environmental benefits,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “By purchasing a plant from your local nursery, you can support your local agricultural economy and make a contribution to the environment.”

The Plant Something for Pollinators campaign, which officially starts on May 15, 2016, is a joint program organized by the Massachusetts Flower Growers Association (MFGA) and the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA). This year’s campaign encourages residents to plant at least one pollinator-friendly plant to improve pollinator populations across the Commonwealth.

Take the Pledge!

“Planting is a great way to spend time in nature, help the environment and support Massachusetts agriculture,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Matthew Beaton. “Vegetation also helps our vital pollinator populations, reduces storm water runoff and removes carbon dioxide and other pollutants from the air.”

There are approximately 1,039 Massachusetts farms in floriculture, nursery, greenhouse and sod, employing more than 4,000 workers. The industry generated $158 million in sales in 2012.

“Many residents are already growing vegetables and planting flowers,” said DAR Commissioner John Lebeaux. “We are pleased to support our flower and nursery professionals to inspire even more people to give it a try. Planting something is good for you, the pollinators, your community and the local economy.”

“Most people realize that plants and trees provide shade, increase property value, and are good for the environment, but they may not realize that plants can also reduce stress and improve your health,” said MFGA Executive Secretary Bob Luczai. “Gardening can burn up to 600 calories an hour!”


DAR’s mission is to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions – Agricultural Conservation & Technical Assistance, Agricultural Markets, Animal Health, and Crop and Pest Services – DAR strives to support, regulate and enhance the rich diversity of the Commonwealth’s agricultural community to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture’s role in energy conservation and production.


NOTE:  The Town of Amherst is developing a pollinator project at the new Fort River Conservation Area Farm.  To get involved, contact Sustainability Coordinator, Stephanie Ciccarello.

For more on Grow Food Amherst’s work to provide pollinator habitat, see:

Pollinator Garden

Or….just LEAVE 10% FOR THE BEES in your own backyard!


The Lost Gardens of Emily Dickinson

Fritillaria meleagris, left, a perennial, in bloom at the Homestead, the property that belonged to the family of Emily Dickinson, right. Credit Michael Medeiros/Emily Dickinson Museum

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome
Emily Dickinson

That orchard was real: a medley of apple, pear, plum and cherry trees tended by the Dickinson family during their lifetimes. Over the decades, subsequent owners of the Dickinson house, known as the Homestead, removed the orchard, replaced extensive flower and vegetable gardens with lawn, and even installed a tennis court; and a devastating hurricane in 1938 damaged the grounds.

This spring, however, the Emily Dickinson Museum has brought the poet’s beloved orchard back to life, planting a small grove of heirloom apples and pears grown by the Dickinsons — Baldwins, Westfield Seek-No-Furthers, Winter Nelis — on a sunny corner of the property near Triangle Street in Amherst, Mass.

The resurrected orchard is the latest development in a longstanding effort to return the Dickinson estate to its 19th-century splendor. Excavations of the grounds surrounding the house have been conducted for several years and will resume this summer.

Last summer, as the purple-tipped spears of irises unsheathed themselves and nasturtiums flaunted trumpets of fire, a team of archaeologists excavated another one of Dickinson’s gardens near the southeastern corner of the house. They used neon pink string to mark out squares and rectangles the size of coffee tables. Then, shovels and trowels in hand, they began to remove layers of grass and dirt within the outlined spaces.

Slide Show

Click on the photo for a slideshow from the Harvard Library

Over the past two years, the team has uncovered and analyzed the foundation of what was once a small conservatory. As the researchers dug, they encountered a narrow trench that had been filled with large flat, fieldstones, said the team leader, Kerry Lynch of Archaeological Services at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Beside the trench were a few patches of rubble and fragments of granite. The granite crumbs matched larger slabs stored in a nearby garage, the purpose of which had long been a mystery: It turns out the stored granite once formed a handsome pedestal that kept the conservatory level with the main house. Granite was also likely to have been used to make a series of steps leading to the lawn and an adjacent patio for airing plants in warm weather.

Records show that Edward Dickinson built the greenhouse in 1855 for his daughters Emily and Lavinia. Emily transformed the long-windowed room into a year-round garden where ferns unfurled their feathers, the perfumes of gardenias and jasmine sweetened the air, and fuchsia, carnations and “inland buttercups” bloomed alongside “heliotropes by the aprons full.”

Later homeowners tore it down in 1916 — 30 years after the poet died. (Sunday will mark the 130th anniversary of her death.) Now, the Emily Dickinson Museum, which consists primarily of the Homestead and the Evergreens, the neighboring home of Emily’s brother and sister-in-law, is preparing to completely restore the conservatory, plants and all. If all goes as planned, the museum will finish rebuilding the greenhouse, using as many of the original materials as possible, by the end of the year.

Dan Zoto, an archaeologist, at an excavation at the former home of Emily Dickinson in Amherst, Mass. Credit F. Timothy Barker/Archeological Services at University of Massachusetts, Amherst

“It’s about trying to understand what her personal, physical world was like, juxtaposed to her immense universe of thought and imagination,” said Jane Wald, executive director of the museum. “All that creativity and keen observation happened right here. Her home and gardens — these places were her poetic laboratory.”

Dickinson adored the plant kingdom from a young age. She recalled going on “rambles” through the woods in her teenage years and finding many “beautiful children of spring,” her epithet for wildflowers like trailing arbutus, adder’s tongue and yellow violets. In her youth, she began composing a book — not of poems, but of plants. She meticulously dried and flattened a wide range of species — chestnut, dogwood, poppies, lilac, nasturtiums, even a couple of algae — and artfully fixed them to paper, christening many with the appropriate Latin names.

“Have you made an herbarium yet?” she wrote to her friend Abiah Root. “I hope you will if you have not, it would be such a treasure to you.” Eventually, her collection contained more than 400 plants. Around the same time, while at Amherst Academy, Dickinson studied botany.

From her 30s on, Dickinson spent most of her time in and around her family’s sizable property, where she could wander over several acres of meadow, admire pines, oaks and elms, and help tend the orchard. Martha Dickinson Bianchi, the poet’s niece, recalled grape trellises, honeysuckle arbors, a summer house thatched with roses, and long flower beds with “a mass of meandering blooms” — daffodils, hyacinths, chrysanthemums, marigolds, peonies, bleeding heart and lilies, depending on the season. The Dickinsons also grew Greville roses, which open with a shout of purple and fade to a whisper of pink, and cinnamon or love-for-a-day roses, which “flare and fall between sunrise and sunset,” according to Bianchi. When autumn’s final flowers and showers of spicy foliage disappeared beneath a cloak of snow, Dickinson continued gardening in her glass bubble of perpetual summer.

Dickinson’s expertise in botany and gardening profoundly shaped her poetry. As Farr wrote, her gardens “often provided her with the narratives, tropes, and imagery she required.” In her 1,789 poems, Dickinson refers to plants nearly 600 times and names more than 80 varieties, sometimes by genus or species. In her more than 350 references to flowers, the rose is most frequent, but Dickinson was also fond of humble plants like dandelions, clover and daisies. She used the latter two as symbols for herself in letters and poems. “The career of flowers differs from ours only in inaudibleness,” she wrote. “I feel more reverence as I grow for these mute creatures whose suspense or transport may surpass our own.”

Many of Dickinson’s poems refer directly to the idiosyncrasies of her gardens. She wrote of struggling to raise grapes and maize “on the Bleakness of my Lot.” These are not just metaphors; the Dickinsons grew grapes and corn in sometimes unyielding New England soil. In other poems and letters, she refers to “my little damask maid” and “Sweet Sultans,” which were not servants and royalty, but the intoxicatingly pungent Damask rose and a pomponlike relative of the sunflower. Scholars who do not share Dickinson’s intimacy with plants and garden phenomena have occasionally misinterpreted her poems, conflating her lyrical depictions of frost and dew, or mistaking a butterfly for snow.

By age 38, Dickinson stopped attending church, in part because she had already found her personal Eden in her gardens. The resurgence of her garden each spring seemed to have buoyed her belief in the possibility of eternal life. “Those not live yet / Who doubt to live again—” she wrote seven years before her death.

In the following decades, the Homestead’s flower and vegetable gardens were reduced to about a third of their original size. Last year, however, Dr. Lynch and her fellow archaeologists used long, spiked metal rods to locate buried sections of a pathway that once connected the east side of the Homestead to the rose-entwined summer house and larger 19th-century flower and vegetable beds.

“If we can follow out the historic path to its end, then theoretically we would find the location of past gardens,” Dr. Lynch said. She and her colleagues plan to excavate nearby regions of the lawn, searching for indications of old planting beds, like soil that is markedly darker and looser than its surroundings.

“There may even be leftover seeds or other botanical evidence,” Dr. Lynch said. Studies have shown that some seeds are highly resilient; researchers have been able to coax sprouts from seeds buried for tens of thousands of years.

And that raises an exciting possibility: that, much like the fascicles of poetry Dickinson secreted away in her room, organic fragments of the poet’s gardens have survived this whole time, just waiting for someone to find them and give them new life.

Original Post

The Garden Club of Amherst’s journey from high heels to sneakers

Members of the Amherst Garden Club view an exhibition of photos for the 100th anniversary of the club Thursday at Jones Library in Amherst. For the Daily Hampshire Gazette – Friday, March 18, 2016

The words “garden club” may conjure thoughts of dainty flower arrangements and cucumber sandwiches. But that’s not the Garden Club of Amherst at all.

“We are a dirt garden club, not a white-glove garden club,” said GCA member Denise Gagnon. Fellow club member Susie Lowenstein, agreed: “People always ask me how I get my hands clean, and I tell them, ‘By washing my hair.’ ”

Club member Wendy Larson noted that some of the Boston area garden clubs are primarily interested in flower arrangements. “Our club did some of that back in the 1940s and ’50s,” she said. “At our monthly meeting, when an announcement is made about an invitation to participate in a flower show, our response is to laugh.” Continue reading “The Garden Club of Amherst’s journey from high heels to sneakers”

The Praying Mantis, a Friend and Foe of Gardens?

mantisPerplexed gardeners might suspect that the frothy, walnut-size blobs attached to shrubs, fence posts and grass stems this time of year are insect-related. But not many guess that these are the egg masses of praying mantises.

There are several species of insects in the Northeast that are collectively called praying mantises. The largest in New England, the Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis), is responsible for most of the big egg masses. The Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina), our smallest and only native species, and the European mantis (Mantis religiosa) also deposit eggs in insulated sacs, or “oothecae.”

Brought to North America at the turn of the 20th century as predators of agricultural pests, both the Chinese and European mantises are continuously replenished when home gardeners buy mantis eggs from garden supply stores. The insects are summertime terrors, suitably adapted for capturing and devouring small insects. But the largest of them will target frogs, snakes, hummingbirds and small mammals.

Mantises are masters of camouflage, and despite their size (a Chinese mantis can grow to be four or five inches long), they can go unnoticed through the warmer months. Winter is frequently the best time to discover whether a local park or garden has a population of mantises, because their eggs are fairly conspicuous once the leaves have fallen.

Urban myths about praying mantises abound.

First, there is no fine for killing a praying mantis. Growing up in Canarsie, Brooklyn, my friends and I imagined penalties of $50 to $250 — depending on whether the murder was premeditated. A mantis found in the grill of a station wagon was an accidental death, but turning a magnifying glass on a mantis could get you the maximum sentence.

The claim that praying mantises feed on hordes of garden-destructive insects is true, but mantises are equally happy to rid your garden of beneficial pollinators, such as bees and butterflies. Mantises are also not above cannibalism. The egg case sold in catalogs will generally hatch into happy Chinese or European mantises eager to eat one another, or any native Carolina mantises nearby.

Then here is the mother of all mantis tales: The male mantis cannot copulate without the risk that the female will bite his head off. Though generally untrue, the idea is not completely without merit. The mantis’s brain coordinates motor control, but ganglia within his abdomen control copulation. So having literally lost his head, a mantis may be capable of more aggressive copulation once the tempering influence of the brain is removed. There may be more than just nutrition inspiring the female.

Studies of wild mantises indicate that a fast male won’t be a meal. In fact, most flew off after mating. Earlier studies conducted in laboratory tanks left males with nowhere to run — which may explain how more captive males met their mates and their makers together in one last wild burst of glory.

Volunteers Needed to Help Plant Fruit at the New Farm on Veterans Day!

The site of the Amherst Pollinator Garden. VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

We have received a generous donation of 50 small fruit plants from the Hadley Garden Center for our new Fort River Farm Conservation Area Sharing Garden!

The site has been prepared and is waiting for plants!


We need help planting!

If you can join us at 9:00am on Wednesday, November 11 (Veterans Day) at the Fort River Farm, please sign up with this form….


Please bring a shovel and wear old clothes!  The farm is behind the Sunoco Station at 40 Belchertown Rd. (Rt. 9) just south of Fort River School. Take the road between the Sunoco Gas Station and Rens Used Auto’s back to the farm.





Fort River Farm Conservation Area in Amherst will be available to start-up farmers beginning next year

Saul Property -
Preliminary Site Plan to be modified based on ecological assessment

Scott Merzbach – Published in print: Thursday, June 11, 2015 – Daily Hampshire Gazette

AMHERST — By this time next year, start-up farmers could be working some of the land and growing crops at the Fort River Farm Conservation Area on Belchertown Road.

The nearly 20-acre parcel, purchased by annual Town Meeting for $150,950 last year using a combination of town Community Preservation Act money and a state Local Acquisition for Natural Diversity grant, is still nearly a year away from being ready to serve as both incubator space for new farmers, as well as a community garden that will produce food to be shared with local soup kitchens and meal sites

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said this week that between six and eight acres of tillable land will be advertised through requests for proposals to use variously sized parcels, in time for next year.   “We anticipate putting out an RFP for the incubator space for the 2016 growing season,” Ziomek said.

The town already licenses 65 to 75 acres of conservation land elsewhere in Amherst to more experienced farmers, but these spots at the Fort River Farm will be mostly aimed at students who come out of farm programs at the University of Massachusetts and Hampshire College, and Amherst College students interested in pursuing agriculture, Ziomek said.

The purchase of the farm was designed to be a learning space and the Grow Food Amherst organization will be among those recruiting local farmers who might serve as mentors and share equipment, as well as offer workshops and demonstrations to apprentice farmers and the public, in the future.

This year, though, is about what Ziomek calls “due diligence” with the property that has been actively farmed in the past. This includes mapping wetlands and the riverfront and protected resource areas.  “It really all starts with this ecological assessment,” Ziomek said.

This includes marking off areas for the incubator space, locating where a loop trail will go and how the community garden, which will grow fruits and vegetables to be donated to local groups, will be created.

John Gerber, co-chairman of Grow Food Amherst, said about one-third of an acre of the land has already been plowed and a cover crop will be planted. “This will help build organic matter and reduce weeds,” Gerber said.  That also prevents erosion, Ziomek said.

The site of the Amherst Pollinator Garden.
The site of the Amherst Pollinator Garden.

Development of the sharing garden is being undertaken by Stephanie Ciccarello, the town’s sustainability coordinator.  The first project will include planting buckwheat, sometime this month, which will begin attracting bees to that area of the farm.

Ciccarello said she will then create a section for pollinator plants. The pollinator garden,will attract more bees, as well as butterflies and hummingbirds. And she intends to plant wildfowers and native berry plants, likely blueberry and raspberry bushes and some other fruit-bearing plants, in September or October.

The idea is to have plants that require little upkeep and water, in part because it is hard to get water to the site. “Access to water is one of the limitations,” Ciccarello said.

The amount of fruits and vegetables available for donation to places such as the Amherst Survival Center and Not Bread Alone will be limited next year and in the early years of the project.  “We’re starting slowly and carefully,” Ciccarello said.

Among other work that remains to be done in the coming months is installing a crushed stone parking area for visitors and a pedestrian bridge that will provide access so children from the neighboring Fort River Elementary School can visit the farm.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

Original Post


Gardening 101 – Getting Started

By CHERYL B. WILSON; Amherst Bulletin Contributing Writer; Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How do you learn to be a successful gardener? Basically, by trial and error. Getting your hands in the dirt (pardon, me — soil) is the best way to learn, even though you are bound to make mistakes.

However, there are resources readily available to help you avoid the pitfalls and make your landscape beautiful and productive. There are neighbors who already garden and know this climate. There are books and magazines with inspiring articles. There are good Internet sites — and some that are not so good. There are telephone and email hot lines where you can get ready advice about specific problems. There is knowledgeable staff at local garden centers and nurseries. Grab every nugget of information you can get.

The basic advice is to start small. Dig up a small area in your yard, improve the soil and plant a few things as an experiment. Before you start digging, ask yourself a few questions: Do I want to grow edibles or ornamentals? How much sun reaches this spot? Is the soil sandy or like a bog?


It all starts with the soil. Roots need oxygen as well as nutrients to support the top growth. Getting the soil tested is an excellent first step. You can do a simple test for acidity level or pH or a full-scale soil test at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Acidity level is important because blueberries require a very acid soil while tomatoes need a “sweeter” soil, often with lime added. Directions on taking a soil sample are available online at ag.umass.edu/services/soil-and-tissue-testing-laboratory.

JERREY ROBERTS Michele Pietras, left, of Granby, and Christine Bergquist, of Amherst, test a soil sample at the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association tent Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market. Bergquist is a master gardener; Pietras is an intern.
Michele Pietras, left, of Granby, and Christine Bergquist, of Amherst, test a soil sample at the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association tent Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market. Bergquist is a master gardener; Pietras is an intern.

 If your soil needs help, don’t expect big changes overnight. Soil took years to develop and it will take time to improve.

Adding organic matter is always helpful, whether your soil is sandy or claylike. Start a compost pile for future use. Meanwhile, buy a few bags of “black gold” (compost) to get you started. Most people don’t use peat moss anymore to amend soil since the peat bogs are in trouble. Lobster compost is very popular as is cowpost, which is essentially rotted cow manure.

Right plant, right place

Once you have determined the condition of the soil and made appropriate amendments you can start planting. After soil, the most important factor is sun. Tomatoes need at least six hours of sun every day (unless it rains). Lettuce and root crops can succeed on less sun. Most daisy-like flowers are like tomatoes. They need sun. Ferns like shade as do choice trilliums and certain other wildflowers. Hostas also thrive in shade, although a few, usually those with yellow-tinted leaves, do enjoy sun. The old adage is “right plant, right place.” Don’t expect tomatoes to produce fruit in shade and don’t expect shade-lovers to endure too much sun.

And don’t be afraid to move a plant that seems unhappy. Sometimes even a few feet more or less into a sunny area is all that’s needed for a plant to thrive. Most perennials actually require dividing every few years. Peonies are an exception. They don’t like to be moved and will happily stay for decades in the same spot.

Early spring is the best time to divide most perennials. Some can be easily dug up and their roots and crowns pulled apart to make several small plants from one big one. Others like daylilies require a lot of effort and ornamental grasses often are best divided with a chain saw! One reason there are so many non-profit plant sales in May is that good gardeners know their perennials thrive on regular division. (See the weekly Get Growing column in the Gazette for upcoming sales.)


So how do you learn which plants are the right plants for your spot? Look around your neighborhood and ask your neighbors what they grow and why. When I first started gardening in Washington, D.C., in 1970 I was a total novice. I relied on elderly neighbors to teach me how to garden. I fell in love with primroses and sundrops in Washington. Neighbors in Amherst introduced me to gardening in the north. I love daffodils because they remind me of Jean Manfredi who lived on the South Amherst Common and grew more than 400 varieties. Her neighbor Carol Cornish was also a garden mentor.

DAN LITTLE Karen Chrisman, left, and Meredith Michaels dig up plants to divide and sell at the Amherst Garden Club's annual plant sale at Chrisman's home Wednesday in Belchertown.
Karen Chrisman, left, and Meredith Michaels dig up plants to divide and sell at the Amherst Garden Club’s annual plant sale at Chrisman’s home Wednesday in Belchertown.

Books and magazines

My next source of gardening teachers was the library. My first memorable garden book was Vita Sackville-West’s compilation of her garden columns in The Observer newspaper in England, “V. Sackville-West’s Garden Book,” Her garden, Sissinghurst Castle, has been a Mecca for me for decades. Yes, she gardened in a different climate and with a larger budget, but I learned from her to seek out the best variety of whatever plant I wanted rather than settle for mediocre.

The books I usually recommend to new gardeners are: Ron and Jennifer Kujawski’s “Week –by- Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook” and “The Garden Primer” by Barbara Damrosch. They will get you started on the right foot.

There are fewer garden magazines than there used to be but still they are helpful. My big indulgence is membership in the Royal Horticultural Society in England because it has a gorgeous monthly magazine, The Garden. Its website is very informative (rhs.org.uk). Fine Gardening is my other standby because it is filled with practical advice.

DAN LITTLE Gardening Books
Gardening Books

Catalogs/seed packets/hang tags

While it is usually best to shop locally for plants, including bulbs and seeds, there are two mail-order catalogs that are worth requesting just for the information they include. Johnny’s Seeds in Maine is a reliable source, especially for vegetable seeds, and it has wonderful information and advice on growing everything from beans to tomatoes to zucchini. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Virginia not only indicates the best growing situations for various bulbs, it also suggests bulb and herbaceous perennial partners for your landscape.

Most seed packets have a lot of useful information such as how deep to plant the seeds, how soon in the spring is safe, and when to harvest vegetables. Save the hang tags from trees and shrubs and the labels from perennials, herbs, house plants and annuals so you know how to care for your purchases.

The Internet

The Internet has a wealth of information. There are several university and botanical garden sites that are especially helpful. The Missouri Botanical Garden’s, www.missouribotanicalgarden.org, is wonderful as is the Cornell University website, www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening. UMass Extension’s ag.umass.edu/interest-areas/home-lawn-garden not only has loads of local information but also a weekly landscape message (ag.umass.edu/landscape/landscape-message) during the growing season, which can alert you to problems like hemlock woolly adelgid, salt injury on evergreens and late blight on tomatoes.

Dave’s Garden (www.davesgarden.com) is filled with anecdotal information and a good rating system on mail-order nurseries. Just realize that the people who post on this website are amateur gardeners, like you, with varied experience and knowledge.

A number of good gardeners have websites or blogs. Bookmarked on my computer are Pat Leuchtman’s “Commonweeder” (www.commonweeder.com) and Matt Mattus’ “Growing With Plants” (www.growingwithplants.com.) Leuchtman gardens in Heath and writes the weekly column for the Greenfield Recorder. Mattus is the newly elected president of the North American Rock Garden Society and lives in Worcester. He has a gorgeous greenhouse and wonderful primroses. I met him through the American Primrose Society.

Speaking of plant societies — there is one for almost every kind of ornamental plant. If you develop an obsession with daylilies or roses, dahlias or primroses, there is a national society, usually with a quarterly journal and regional meetings that is just for you. Google your favorite plant and find out.


The Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association has been a fixture in my life since I took the training course in 1986. Trained volunteers do pH soil testing at farmers markets, maintain demonstration gardens at the Northampton and South Hadley Community Gardens, help with the landscaping for such nonprofit groups as Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst and Grandmother’s Garden in Westfield. We all learn together how to be better gardeners. A new “crop” of 48 trainees just finished classes and will be out in the four western counties helping other gardeners learn to do better.

The volunteers maintain two hot lines where home gardeners can get answers to their particular questions. First, there is the email hot line on the website wmmga.org. Click on Ask a Gardener and type in your problem and your contact information and expect to get an email answer within a couple of days. A volunteer will research the problem and respond by email. The master gardeners also staff a telephone hot line at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge on Mondays. Call 298-5355 between 9 a.m. and noon and talk directly to a master gardener. If they can’t solve your problem immediately, they will do research and call you back.


Botanical gardens offer frequent workshops on everything from pruning shrubs to saving seeds from native plants. Check out Nasami Farm in Whately, the nursery of the New England Wild Flower Society, the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge and the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston. Workshops cost $25 or more and are taught be experienced professionals. In the winter, Hadley Garden Center offers weekly free workshops that draw more than 50 people each week.

There are so many ways to learn to garden successfully. Just don’t get discouraged when plants fail. Tony Avent, the loquacious owner of Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina, says that you haven’t learned how to grow a plant until you have killed it several times!

Cheryl Wilson can be reached at valleygardens@comcast.net.

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