Maypole

I had never been to Roy Boutard Day before but as a new employee of the Garden and a graduate of the Horticulture Certificate Program this year, I had a lot of reasons to attend and I’m sure glad that I did.  Not only was the weather MorrismenAMAZING but the activities were incredible.  I’m not sure what I thought a May Pole Dance was – in my head I pictured a mix between tetherball and rythmic gymnastics (two other things I really don’t have a clue about) but I was all set to be unimpressed.  I couldn’t have been more wrong-it was amazing.  The 5th graders from the Rudolf Steiner school did these elaborate, choreographed dances that created different patterns of ribbon around the May Pole while the Berkshire Morris Men accompanied them on the accordion.  The Morris Men put on quite the show themselves with their English folk dancing and traditional attire – bells and all.  The whole thing just made me feel good and its always great to see families in the Garden enjoying themselves.

DavidDavid Burdick (owner of Daffodils and More) was on hand as well, giving a historic tour of the garden.  David served at the Garden for many years with the beloved Roy Boutard and shared stories and Garden facts with those who came along on the walk.  It was a great way to look at the Garden – through the eyes of someone who had seed so much of its development and to learn what has changed, and what has stayed the same.

Roy Boutard Day is also when we celebrate the graduation of the particGraduationipants of our Horticulture Certificate Programs.  I might be a little biased here, but it was great to see so many fellow students there celebrating their accomplishments.  If you have ever considered continuing your education through the study of horticulture, I can’t recommend this program enough.  Classes are small and friendly and the teachers are just incredible and come from all over- Cornell, UMASS and local professionals.

The festivities were capped with a reception by the Herb Associates where they presented their popular Mai Bowl and herb cookies.  My satisfaction with this element of RBD (Roy Boutard Day) cannot be over stated.  I had at least one of every cookie that they had out and there were over a dozen.  I think my favorite were the fennel sugar cookies – or maybe the chocolate ginger snaps?  Oh wait – the snickerdoodles…I just can’t decide.  And THEN there was the punch.  The things these ladies do with herbs are unreal.  Then again, I guess 60 years of tradition and practice can do that.

MaiBowle

RIQOTW

Welcome to the first edition of the Rural Intelligence Question of the Week!  Every Monday, the Master Gardeners of Western Massachusetts come to the Garden from 9am – 12pm to answer gardening questions.  We’re picking a question each week and writing about it for the Garden section of Rural Intelligence.  RI is an amazing online resource for the Berkshire/Hudson Valley area that is published each week that features local events, reviews, restaurant listings and articles related to life in our neck of the woods.  We’re thrilled to be a part of their team!

What’s the deal with mulch – do I really have to apply it to my garden?  If so what kind?  When? How much?

Well, you don’t have to apply mulch to your garden. Then again, you don’t have to shower everyday either,  but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good idea. The truth is that just about every kind of garden likes a nice layer of mulch and for good reason. There are a ton of benefits, and though it might seem like a lot of work and expense up front, in the long run it will end up saving you time and money. Here’s how:

Pine chips as mulch

Pine chips as mulch

Mulch protects your soil. When it comes to your garden, it is all about the soil.  Having good soil quality in your garden is critical and good soil is worth protecting.  That’s where mulch comes in.  It protects your soil from erosion and helps prevent compaction that comes with garden equipment and foot traffic from both people and animals.  When soil gets compacted, it limits the amount of large pore space that allows for both oxygen and water to move into and through the soil.  Low oxygen levels are a significant factor in reducing plant growth that most people aren’t even aware of.  Mulch provides a layer of “cushion” that reduces the impact of traffic around your plants.

Mulch reduces moisture loss and protects from high temperatures.  We all know how important water is to a garden.  Keeping moisture in the soil is just as important as getting water there in the first place.  This is where your mulch steps in.  It prevents sunlight from reaching the surface of your soil – that keeps the temperature down, which in turn, reduces the rate at which the water evaporates keeping that moisture where it belongs – near the surface of the soil where plant roots like to grow, not bake in the sun.

Mulch keeps away weeds and adds some “wow” .  This one’s a real crowd pleaser.  Keeping light off the soil surface not only reduces the rate of water evaporation, it also prevents weeds from germinating.  Less weeds not only mean less work for you, it also means that the plants you do want growing in your garden are not competing with weeds for soil nutrients and water.  Plus, mulch just looks nice!

Different kinds of mulch:  You don’t necessarily need to run to the hardware store and spend a lot of moolah on mulch as many organic materials are good mulch options:  straw, shredded/chopped leaves, and pine needles are some examples.

Crushed stone or gravel is good for use around beds, walkways, steps, rock gardens and foundations.  To prevent the stones from migrating down into the soil, use an underlay of synthetic fiber (weed cloth) or  black plastic mulch.  Be aware that limestone chips raise the PH of soil and should not be used around acid-loving plants.   Black plastic mulch is also a good, stand alone mulch option for vegetable gardens and crops.

Straw as mulch

Straw as mulch

As for the choices of mulch you find at your local nursery or hardware store, these are usually shredded bark and wood mulches.  Light or dark choices make no real difference, however we try to avoid mulches that contain dyes and chemicals as a personal preference (think red mulch.)  You may also want to inquire where the mulch you are purchasing came from.  One of the most popular types of wood mulch is Cypress, which has resulted in the clear-cutting and destruction of precious wetlands in Florida and Louisiana.  With all of the mulch options available today, there is no need to sacrifice the beauty of one landscape for another!

How to apply mulch.  Apply mulch in about a 3” layer after the soil has warmed and fertilizer has been applied (around here, plan on mulching near Memorial Day.)  Be sure to not bury any plants; mulch needs to be 3’-4’ away from the plant crown to prevent rot and disease.  (This includes tree trunks!)  Buy good quality mulch to avoid potential problems such as sour mulch or artillery fungus.  “Souring” occurs when hardwood bark mulch is allowed to stand in big piles for long periods and begins to compost without an adequate air supply, resulting in extreme acidity that can burn your plants.

Rockmulch

Rock mulch

You may want to check with your local municipality as they will often have “chip” piles or municipal mulch that you can use for free.  If you have large spaces that need mulching, it may also make sense to research having mulch delivered by the cubic yard by your local garden center or building supply shop.  It is often cheaper and easier than buying it by the bag.

Do you have a gardening question that you need answered?  Call the Master Gardener’s hotline at the Berkshire Botanical Garden:  413.298.5355

Gettingready

It’s Opening Day!! Everyone from our interns to the bees have been busy getting the garden in tip-top shape to welcome the public when we open our “doors” today.  We all feel that 2013 is going to be one of our best seasons yet and we are excited to share our hard work with everyone.  The Garden is open from 9am- 5pm daily.  If you want to see what plants are in bloom during any particular time of year, be sure to check out the Berkshires in Bloom section of this website.  Also, take a look at what classes, events and special programs that we offer year round.

When you come to the garden, make sure to say hello to the staff and volunteers you see on the grounds.  Feel free to ask us questions and give us your comments.  We look forward to seeing you here at the Garden!!

Pottingshedinstall1

Look what showed up at the Garden this morning!  The first of our six potting sheds for our “Down to Earth:  Architects redesign the potting shed” exhibit.  Designed by Peggy and Andy Matlow of Great Barrington Cottage Company, this shed is constructed of all recycled materials.  Their team will continue working on it throughout the week finishing up its slate roof, arbor and clapboard siding.  It’s always exciting for us when the season we have been planning all winter starts to take shape.  We’ll be unveiling the finished product for all of the sheds on May 4th at our opening reception for “Down to Earth” from 5 – 7pm.  We’ll have cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a tour of the garden with the architects who designed the sheds.  Everyone is welcome to attend and tickets can be purchased in advance HERE.

Yesterday day had me fooled – I showed up to work with no jacket, no sleeves and no idea that it wasn’t going to be 70, sunny and rainbows for today and for the rest of the spring.  Judging by the fellow in shorts operating that crane, I wasn’t the only one who fell victim to spring optimism.  Before I ran back into the office to warm up, I noticed that some of Mark Hewitt’s pots had arrived and were peeking out of storage.  On the heels of “Down to Earth” is our next exhibit, “Rare Earth:  Garden pots as sculpture”  which opens on May 25th.   Truth be told, I don’t know squat about pottery.  However, I do know some  local artisans  and when I told them Mark Hewitt was showing here this year they let me know that it was a REALLY big deal.  I can’t wait to see these amazing (BIG) pots displayed throughout the garden – we are honored to have him and his pottery and can’t wait to share it with everyone.

Rareearthstorage1

CHP Story Walk

Yesterday, about 60 kids, parents and grandparents descended on the garden of “StoryWalk” sponsored by Children Health Programs.  Storybook pages were posted throughout the garden for children to discover along the garden trails.  The Walk ended with a storybook reading in front of the newly restored Fitzpatrick Greenhouse in it’s final stages of construction.

storywalk

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