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In the Gardens Blog

And so we begin again

May 3, 2011
by April Daley

Mother Nature sure did give us a lot to do this winter. Between shoveling snow, driving through snow, scheduling around snowstorms, worrying over ice dams, and watching, almost helplessly, the battering and burying of trees and shrubs, there was hardly time to think about the happenings in Bressingham garden.

This is after all a garden designed to hold interest through all four seasons. I tried my best to visit the garden about every two weeks. I had hopes of taking pictures. The garden holds an abundance of trees that sometimes get overlooked when perennials are all a-bloom. Shrubs and trees that have great winter color and form stand out against the barren landscape, especially with a draping of snow as background. Three varieties of River Birch, Dragon Eye pine, Umbrella pine, and contorted pine can all take solace in winter as their opportunity to shine.

This winter, however, did not offer much opportunity to view any plants. A visit in January was a disappointment. With 4-5 feet of snow on the ground the garden was not even accessible. My photos show a nearly barren landscape with what looks like miniature trees poking up through the snow. Those colorful dogwoods are nowhere to be seen. A skirting of the garden edges was about as close as I could get.

February wasn’t much better. There was still plenty of snow on the ground. I did wade out among the beds, searching for dogwoods. A brief glimpse was all I could manage.

March also didn’t seem too promising. This is the month when Witch Hazel blooms. The ‘Arnolds Promise” in Bressingham is one of the showiest cultivars out there. It was my hope to actually start working in the garden during this month. An acre of perennials, many left standing to feed the birds and offer some late season interest, means a lot of spring cleanup. However, among snow still covering the ground, flower show madness, and cold temperatures not combining well with a bout of bronchitis March did not pan out as hoped. April seemed to fly by as schedules and commitments ran into each other.

And so it is that today is May 3rd and it is my first full day in the Bressingham Garden. Shame on you if you don’t know what a beautiful day it was. It was breezy and slightly cloudy this morning, but clouds soon gave way to a warm sun in clear blue sky. By mid-afternoon it was warm enough to be hot and reminiscent of many day of last summer in the garden. Mockingbirds, woodpeckers and song sparrows sang gloriously of Mother Natures joy.

Paul Miskovsky, the garden trustee, and David Fiske, the gardens curator, each took a turn around the garden and discussed priorities. Plans were made to clean, weed (as if that needed to be planned), prune, move, divide, thin, pull etc. etc. Previous discussions of mulch (oh how I have missed it), irrigation, and mowing resurfaced.

And then the real work began. A crew of five Master Gardeners ranging from students in the current class, to interns and one certified MG joined me. Three full truck beds of dead plant material were removed and re-homed in the ever-expanding MHS Compost Mountains. Though cleaning was our main goal today, it is impossible for gardeners to ignore weeds. Special attention is paid to those weeds attempting to bloom and spread their insidious progeny.

Slowly, bed-by-bed, the new growth of spring perennials emerged from the cloud of plants gone by. Just as slowly gardener followed gardener in the salutary wave as they reached their limit either in time or stamina and passed on to the rest of their day. All in all, there is just one bed left to clear. This was a monumental task achieved in short time, but with great effort.

It was with a high level of satisfaction that I walked through the garden alone at the end of the day. Taking notes, removing tools and setting the stage for tomorrow…and so…. we begin again.


Garden Visitors


It is a public garden and intended to have visitors. Each day I am in the garden, I see more insect visitors than human. But then they outnumber us in any given space so why not? The Monarchs continue on with their floating parade, accompanied by Swallowtails, Fritillaries, Sulphurs and Coppers. The past week these delicate visitors have seemed even more abundant. It could be my imagination or it could be that many flowers have gone by and Bressingham is still a reliable and abundant food source. Either way I am guaranteed to be delighted by multiples a day and often get a great view of one or two. It's hard not to pause to take in their soaring displays and beautiful color.

They are joined by a variety of other insects. Most are more residential than passers by. Not since I was a child have I seen so many true grasshoppers. They come in all colors and sizes and often have their own aerobatic displays. Bees are another large and varied group. I rarely am bothered by yellow jackets despite their common presence. Even more common are the oh-so-gentle honey bees that cannot get enough of the sedum, helenium and agastache. And also the bumbles. These bees are a bit clumsy, especially in the morning, but can develop an attitude as they warm up and get busy. Still it's mostly show and they tend to make more noise than war. With hundreds of these armed insects around you might think that I would be at risk. Honestly though, they all seem to have more important things to do and I have yet to be stung while working in the garden.

While we don't have hundreds of human visitors at a time, activity levels at Elmbank have picked up over the past couple of weeks. The change in weather has made exercising outdoors far more attractive. Weekday mornings bring walkers, dog and otherwise, joggers and moms with children too young for school. Midday is quiet. Afternoons and early evenings tend to fill up with all sorts of visitors from families to school running groups, and individuals on wheels of most kinds. Weekends are flush with all of the above and more.

I love talking to visitors about the garden. Many people stop me to ask questions about the property, MassHort, plants and gardens. I have yet to meet anyone who is unhappy or disappointed with what they've encountered here. I also get to talk to lots of individuals who have been around this property far longer than I. It is wonderful to hear how fabulous they think Bressingham is, memories of how it has progressed over the past 3 years, and what pleasure they take in it's beauty.

Even beyond Bressigham it has been great to hear people say they see a change in Elmbank, how much work has gone into it and that the gardens all look really good this year. Maybe some of that is just maturity of gardens and plants. Some of it is getting into the routine of new garden care and maintenance. A lot of it is a conserted effort from staff and a huge push of volunteers. Pat yourselves on the back guys and keep it up!

Oh, yeah...the garden... Still glorious. Boltonia is in full bloom and could not possibly look more fabulous. Then it looks better the next day. Rudbeckias fade away, heliopsis still shining bright, and the sedums, especially Autumn Joy, are fantastic. The weather change has been great for me as well. It's easier to heft and haul in seventy degrees than ninety degrees. Only a short  time to Adrian Blooms' visit and things are looking really great.

Don't think that if you haven't been to the garden this summer that you've missed it.And if you have been, the scenery changes every day. It stil holds color, beauty, and serenity that make it worth the  trip.


End of Summer Bressingham Update

Did you know that Monarch Butterflies migrate 1200-2800 miles in the fall? The Monarchs that migrate are a special generation renewed each year and they have never been on this journey before. The migration has begun and the last two weeks in Bressingham it would be rare to not see a Monarch. Ok the last few days would be the exception.

Did you also know that American Goldfinchs are our last songbirds to nest and they don't begin until August. Their favorite foods are flower and weed seeds and so they produce young at the time of year when both are most abundant. Bressingham has quite a colony of goldfinchs that tend to hang out in the echinacea, the rudbeckia, and the monarda. It is not unusual to see flocks of 10 to 20 birds taking off when disturbed.

So now you guys know what I really do all day in Bressingham...if only it were true.

To update you all, a week ago this past Monday we had quite a crew of volunteers working in the garden. Weeding and pruning, with Paul Miskovsky working some magic with the betula nigra "Little King" and a volunteer Mulberry tree being eliminated after a good two years hiding in plain site. This past Monday the rain pretty much cancelled all activity in the garden and there are no complaints on that score. Today I feel as though I may have overdone the raindance a bit much, but still no complaints.

Deadheading is going along nicely and mulching has become a minor event, just filling in some spots that need touch ups.

The goal at this point is to continue to stay ahead of weeds and deadheading and to re-edge the beds where things have gotten messy.

We are coming down the stretch to Adrian Bloom's visit and there are a few chores to finish up between now and then. Edges are prominent on the list. Also, we need to smooth and fluff the mulch so it appears to have descended gently onto the beds. A bit more general plant grooming and bed maintenance will go a long way.

As you all must know by now, Adrian will be here in September for the Perennial Plant Association Seminar on the 22nd. Some time during that week we will likely have a day in the garden with Adrian and Paul Miskovsky, planting included. We'll keep you updated when schedules are flushed out a bit more.

You may also know that Paul Miskovsky is having a fundraiser on Thursday, September 23rd for MHS. "An Evening with Adrian Bloom" will take place in Paul Miskovsky's garden in Falmouth and promises to be a delight on several levels. Paul's garden is amazing and the opportunity to see it and explore all it's hidden secrets is not to be missed. By the 23rd Adrian will have seen how Bressingham has progressed this past year and it should be fascinating to hear how he feels about it and what he sees in the future for this garden. The Bressingham garden itself is meant to be the beneficiary of the fundraiser. It has become clear that having a dedicated person to do the maintenance is key to the future success of the garden and the funds to help that be a reality may come from this event.

Also, keep in mind that Paul knows how to throw a party and garden people seem to know how to enjoy one. In case you haven't figured it out I can hardly wait! I hope you'll consider joining us for a fun night.

As usual I am in the garden all day Friday and Saturday, most Mondays and sometimes for a few hours on Thursday as well. Please feel free to drop by when I'm there. I love the company. If you can't make it on those days but would like to help other some other day, feel free to drop me an email and I'll share my chores list with you.

Thanks to all for so much help in the garden this summer. It really shows and it is definately not a one person job.

Bressingham Update for 09-03-2010

Threats of Hurricane Earl have diminished. Impact on the garden would probably be minimal if any. The possibility of rain is promising. By the time I left the garden this afternoon there were light showers. Now the rain is heavier and it gives me a deep sense of satisfaction that the plants will receive a good long drink.

This week has been productive. The MHS staff was able to repair the long defunct fence between Weezie’s garden and the Bressingham garden. The effect is a big difference in definition of space. A clean-up of lingering tools and debris adds a fresh look.

Every day has brought a different volunteer to help with weeding and deadheading. The garden has picked up a few “regulars” who have been dedicated enough to come once a week or every other week. I’ve have spent a great many days of this summer working in solitude and listening to chants and cheers from Lynx summer campers as they go about the business of having fun. While it has been pleasant (except for the heat) and fruitful, it is also very pleasing to have the company of volunteers, mostly master gardeners. It is also wonderful for my ego to hear from “those who know” how wonderful the garden looks and what progress has been achieved. I’m always quick to remind, it’s not a one person job and I’ve had plenty of much appreciated help.

TradescantiaIt seems that almost every week, sometimes two, I have to change which is my favorite plant in the garden. This past week the Tradescantia “Sweet Kate” has been in re-bloom. The foliage is a gorgeous lemony-lime and the deep violet flowers offer both a contrast to its’ own foliage and a complement to the flowers of the geranium “Rozanne” in the bed behind it. Fresh blooms pop every morning and I make it a point to pass it first on my morning rounds. This plant will definitely find a home in my own shade garden next spring.

Most of the work this week has been ho-hum weeding and some dead heading. Asters are primed to bloom but haven’t opened yet. Anemones are in bloom and the Russian sage is fading away. There’s still plenty of yellow throughout, with some Rudbeckias holding their color and helianthus still bright. Boltonia “Jim Crockett” is also starting to bloom.

With less than two weeks before Adrian Bloom arrives there will still be plenty to accomplish in each bed.


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