We are the Master Gardeners of Western Massachusetts. We are volunteers with a passion for gardening, who love to share what we know, what we’re doing, and what gardening events are coming up in Western Massachusetts.
Explore our website, submit your gardening questions, share photos of your corner of paradise, and enjoy the adventure of creating beauty and making the world more sustainable.
Quick and Easy Winter Protection for Small Shrubs
Contributed by Eliza Gouverneur (2013 Intern)
After four winters in Amherst I have learned the value of protecting my smaller shrubs from heavy snow. I have more pancake-shaped azaleas than I care to admit, but my young Chamaecyparis have benefited from an easy and effective system that I put together from materials in the garage.
The basis is a cone-shaped tomato tower. First invert the cage over the shrub. This works for shrubs under about two feet in diameter and up to about three feet in height. If it has flexible branches, it can be wider. When the tomato cage is centered over the plant, drape burlap over the cage, sliding it over the upturned prongs down to the first ring. Ease the burlap around the branches and tuck it under the bottom ring. Then pin the cage down with ground staples, or in a pinch, with rocks.
The final touch is to take a large grower’s pot, of thin, bendable plastic, and slide it down the prongs through the drainage holes as far as it will go. This hat will keep heavy snow from bending the top of the shrub.
If your garage is anything like mine, you have all the ingredients for this system gathering spider webs in the corner somewhere. So get out those abandoned tomato towers and give them a new lease on life. Your shrubs will thank you.
Thank You to WMMGA Volunteers at Big E 2013
This year's Big E brought record-breaking crowds to Western Massachusetts. Nearly 1.5 million visitors attended the Fair over the course of 17 days, and WMMGA volunteers were in the Massachusetts building every day, ready to answer questions and share their passion and knowledge about gardening. Thank you to everyone who was able to volunteer! If you have photos or insights from your time at the WMMGA booth, please send them to email@example.com
Chickens and Comfrey: Observations on Permaculture
Joel Martin, WMMGA Intern 2013, helps us understand what this increasingly visible horticultural movement is, where it comes from and what it offers us as gardeners.
"Given permaculture’s ubiquity in Western Massachusetts, you’d think gardeners in the region would have a clear conception of this movement’s salient features. That’s not the case. Many gardeners, like me, struggle to define just what permaculture is and what it isn’t. To help address this, in what follows I will highlight some of the key points about the permaculture approach and reference some useful resources for learning more about it. If nothing else, I hope this beginner’s introduction encourages readers to think more about permaculture, its promise, and its limits."
A Hot Time at Bear Path Farm...More Than the Compost was Cooking!
Contributed by Phyllis Barrett, WMMGA Intern
It was beautiful, if a tad warm, at Bear Path Farm in Whately on Saturday, July 20, where Upper Valley WMMGA members held their summer meeting. Bill Obear, who runs a composting business on his farm, shared the basics of composting, talked about the differences between backyard composting and composting on a larger scale, and touted the positive environmental impact of separating biodegradable waste from the rest of the stuff that goes to the landfill.
Rhode Island Garden Tour Visit Highlights
Bridgit Litchfield, WMMGA Intern
The day after Solstice held perfect weather for a WMMGA bus trip to Rhode Island to view three glorious gardens, all in Zone 6A, warmer than Western Massachusetts.
The first stop was the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. Three large, outdated greenhouses at URI were removed in the 1980's and the resulting acreage became the “Learning Landscape” because many species were being tried. In 2003, it was renamed the Botanical Garden. According to their website, the idea was “to create a landscape where homeowners could come and see sustainable lawn and garden practices in action...to [show] environmentally sound horticulture”.
My Top Ten: What I Have Learned as an MG Intern
By Laurie Denton Conly, WMMGA Intern
"My time in the garden is a meditation on the interconnectedness of all life."
Having moved so often in my life (close to 30 times), I have never been in one place long enough to spend much time gardening. So when I took the Western Mass Master Gardener course this past winter, I think I was the intern with the least actual hands-in-the-dirt experience. I have learned some astonishing and beautiful things.
My top 10 list follows:
Words to Grow by: Right Plant, Right Place
Choosing the right plant for the right place takes a little research before embarking on a shopping trip
Sherry Wilson, MG
Temptations lurk at every garden center, nursery, non-profit plant sale and even the supermarket. Without a plan in mind, gardeners are tempted to purchase plants that will never thrive in their home gardens. Choosing the right plant for the right place takes a little research before embarking on a shopping trip.
For Beginning Botanists
CREATING YOUR OWN HERBARIUM
An herbarium is a collection of plant specimens mounted and preserved for comparison and study. Luca Ghini from Bologna, Italy was one of the first botanists to mount specimens on paper using gum in 1551. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, herbaria became exciting places as botanist/explorers came back to Europe with new plants discovered in the Americas, Asia and Africa.
Even today when so many collections are "virtual," traditional herbaria are an invaluable source of actual genetic material for researchers. You can start an herbarium of your own by collecting and preserving plants!
GARDEN MAINTENANCE TIPS
Contributed by Toi Graham
To cut a neat circle around a tree: While volunteering at Wistariahurst, we have tried all manner of things to create neat tree rings, for example, marking a circle with lime and a string loosely tied to the tree so that it would slip or a string tied loosely to a tree and tied at the other end to the edger just above the blade. Nothing provided a neat circle..
We finally we stumbled on this: use a yardstick. Place the end against the bark of the tree, taking care not to scrape young trees when stepping on the edger at the other end. (The yardstick may bounce up against the bark.) When working in pairs, one remains kneeling and moving the yardstick around the base of the tree while the other does the edging; then they change jobs for the next tree so that no one is down for too long. This method makes a 3 foot radius about the base of the tree. Most mowers can make a 6 foot diameter turn. We have to fudge just a bit with more mature trees which do not have round trunks.
To cut back perennials to achieve a nicely rounded shape: Working in pairs, gather the plant (in our case the 100 or so catmint plants surrounding the rose garden.) Using a bungee cord, tie up the plant above where you plan to cut. Then with one person holding the tips, well away from the the location of the cutting point, cut the plant straight across. Remove the bungeed bundle to a trash barrel and unhook allowing all of the cut ends to fall into the barrel. There is no clean up. The plant, when held upright and cut in this manner, falls out into a small mound rather than looking as though it had just been given a crew cut.