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Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium

Margaret Roach, keynote speaker at the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium

Margaret Roach, keynote speaker at the Western Mass Master Gardeners Spring Symposium

Every March I celebrate the arrival of the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium held at FrontierHigh School on Saturday, March 18. This gala event includes a broadening and informational key note talk by the noted gardener, writer and speaker Margaret Roach. There will also be a wide range of practical workshops. This year gardeners can choose from among 15 talks that include choosing “no fuss” shrubs for the small garden, underutilized trees and shrubs, basics of making hard cider, mushroom growing and garlic growing. You can go to the Western Mass Master Gardeners website, www.wmmga.org for the full program and registration form. It is wise to register early in order to get your preferred workshop. This year’s keynote speaker, Margaret Roach, has been gardening for 30 years, and has inspired other gardeners for nearly that long. Early on she worked as garden editor for Newsday, and then went on to be the first garden editor for Martha Stewart’s Living magazine. Her first book written in those years is A Way to Garden. Since ‘retiring’ ten years ago she has written two new books titled And I Shall Have Some Peace There, and The Backyard Parables. I’ve been familiar with Roach’s gardens and writing, almost from the start. Years of enjoyment for me, not to mention new ways of looking at my garden. I liked the subtlety of the title A Way to Garden. At first I kept reading it as Away to garden, suggesting a retreat, but really A Way to Garden suggests that this is her way to garden, and that we will all find our own way to garden. The title of Roach’s presentation is Unlocking Seed Secrets: From Politics to the Practical. There is more to understanding what kind of seeds are on the market than you might think. Roach will demystify the issues of regular seed versus organic seed, hybrid seeds, heirloom seeds, and GMO seeds.

Ricky Baruc of Seeds of Solidarity Farm

Ricky Baruc of Seeds of Solidarity Farm

I was happy to see that Ricky Baruc of Seeds of Solidarity Farm was on the workshop schedule. His talk is about planting, tending and storing garlic. I visited Baruc and his wife Deb Habib in 2009 and was amazed and encouraged to see their farming techniques, their energy efficient house, and solar panels. They grow garlic and other vegetables for sale using no-till methods without the use of machinery. Nowadays they sell their produce only at their own farmstand, and to their local coop. I was also impressed by their Plant Food Everywhere SOL program (Seeds of Leadership) for teens which “speaks to the body-mind-soul approach of our food justice program,” and their work helping start school gardens. Indeed, over the years they have helped various community groups throughout our area build raised bed gardens. Baruc is famous for his garlic and is a co-founder of the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival, the Festival that Stinks. It celebrates its 19th anniversary this year. When I visited in 2009 I saw how he used what seemed like acres of cardboard, covered with compost to make new planting beds. I was fascinated by this technique but never had too much opportunity to try it out myself, but all the beds in our new Greenfield gardens began with cardboard (I‘ll never be able to thank Manny’s enough) and beautiful compost from Martin’s Compost Farm. I haven’t grown much in the way of edibles here, but this year I plan to put the Seeds of Solidarity motto back in action – Plant Food Everywhere. Dawn Davis of Tower Hill Botanical Garden, who has been using and creating all kinds of materials to make supports for vegetables and flowers for 17 years, will give an illustrated talk on Vertical Vegetable Gardening – The Art of Growing Up in the Garden.     Davis said she has used regular tomato cages and stakes in the garden, but she has also used PVC pipes to make arches. She also uses rebar to make arches, but sometimes combines the rebar with concrete reinforcement mesh to make supports for sweet peas, nasturtiums, cukes, tomatoes.

Creative plants supports at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Creative plant supports at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

She also mentioned using pocket melons which I had never heard of. She said they are very small, and have a bland taste, but they do have attractive stripes. I was so intrigued I had to look them us and while everyone agreed that the Queen Anne pocket melon doesn’t have strong flavor, it does have a wonderful fragrance. I love wonderful fragrances, but I also think this melon must be a terrible to tease to promise so much and deliver so little.

Plant support at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Plant support at Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Then Davis told me she paints the supports different colors every year “to carry the design theme. The color also makes a big impact, especially early in the season.” It is time to register for this rich and varied program. And, in addition to noted speaker Margaret Roach, and 15 workshops, local vendors will be on hand, as well as books from Timber Press and Storey Publishers, and a good lunch. You can download the brochure and registration form by going to www.wmmga.org. Cost is $35 for the full day. Optional lunch and materials are extra. I also advise carpooling if possible. The parking lot is not large. Between the Rows  March 4, 2017