Most people walking out of the north side of the Education Building at Elm Bank can be forgiven if they don?t realize they?re in one of MassHort?s gardens. It?s more of a semi-formal picnic area; a shady place to sit with a sandwich and something cold to drink on a warm summer day. It?s only when you stop to read the inscriptions on the granite benches that you realize you?re in the Jim Crockett Memorial Garden. Dedicated in the summer of 2005, it is the kind of place that Crockett, best remembered as the first host of the PBS series, ?The Victory Garden?, would appreciate and comment kindly upon.
Within the Crockett Garden is another tribute to a man who did much to re-acquaint America with its gardening heritage. Boltonia Jim Crockett was developed at the University of Massachusetts and it is planted almost as a hedge along the inner, herringbone path. You can?t miss the profusion of inch-wide lavender blooms with yellow centers. They?ll be in their glory for much of the summer.
Boltonia latisquama, usually called ?false aster?, is a tall perennial. It grows wild in the Eastern U.S., usually in wet meadows and stream beds. Tall, in this case, means six feet. In its native habitat it?s a gawky thing with long, grayish-green leaves and small, white daisy-like flowers. The bloom time is generally late summer. Home gardeners generally avoid un-hybridized version of the plant because of its tendency to ?flop? if it isn?t well watered and its propensity to mildew as the season progresses.
A decade ago, Dr. Thomas Boyle at UMass Amherst went to work on a more well-behaved version of Boltonia. He succeeded handsomely. B. ?Jim Crockett? grows to about two feet, blooms from July until first frost, flowers prolifically if pinched back in mid-spring and is mildew-resistant. The lavender petals are distinctive and an ornament to any garden. The foliage is a handsome dark green and proportional to the size of the cultivar. Deer find it not to their liking. Rhizomes allow the perennial to spread slowly.
Jim Crockett died in July 1979. It is a tribute to his writing skills that his collection of gardening books are not only still in print, but still sell in volume. Few men can boast of having had such an impact on gardening. None would have been less likely to make such a boast.
The next time you?re at Elm Bank, seek out one of those cool benches and get something cold from one of the nearby vending machines. Look out at the amazing stand of Boltonia Jim Crockett and say a silent thanks to Dr. Boyle and his tribute to the man who brought us back to the Victory Garden.