“The garden just grew,” Bruce Aune said with a slight shrug as we sat in his living room and looked out across a still green lawn to a neat curving border. All the perennials had been cut back, but shrubs, evergreen and deciduous, and small trees remained, providing the bones and structure of this garden.
While it is true that the garden had changed over time as Bruce and his wife Anne moved into retirement, it had not changed in ways I expected a retirement garden would evolve. The Aunes admitted that beds were still being added to the garden, but were quick to say that those beds were filled with small trees and shrubs, and hostas, which meant less work during the main part of the growing season. “We are not buying and planting, as we did,” Anne said. “We do prune, and deadhead. And we replace things that die.”
A tour of this Montague garden begins on one side of the house and ends on the other, but requires some doubling back along enticing secondary paths to see the whole. The lawn, is sunny, but beyond the deep shrub beds woodland trees throw some shade. A huge 30 year old holly, azaleas and rhododendrons remain points of interest in this season. Bruce said they have chosen a number of PJM rhododendron varieties even though the color is not their favorite, “but we love the foliage,” which turns a deep, almost bronze shade in fall.
A colorful exclamation point in the border was the winterberry trees, two females in full brilliant red berry, and one leafless and berryless male.
Early on the Aunes worked with landscape designer Gordon Fletcher-Howell of Amherst who assured them that there were no shortcuts to a beautiful garden. A mantra they have come to repeat many times. Repairing the lawn was one of their first improvements to the house that was built in 1990. Two hundred and forty yards of loam were brought in to provide a level lawn surface, a proper base for seeding the lawn, and enrichment for the new beds as they were laid out. Currently there are about 400 running feet of deep beds.
Bruce and Anne are both Master Gardeners and work together in the garden, but they each have their own special interests. Bruce loves hostas. His collection includes over 100 varieties of every size, color and pattern. His biggest problem is the voles who love the roots which provide just the taste and nutrition that voles need. “I’ve touched a wilting hosta and knocked it right over. The roots were totally gone,” he said.
To foil the voles Bruce now plants each hosta inside a hardware cloth cage, actually a cylinder he builds to the appropriate diameter. The cylinder is buried 7 – 8 inches deep with 2 or 3 inches remaining above the ground. The protruding section of hardware cloth is painted with black car primer to be inconspicuous. Voles will only burrow about 6 inches below ground “and their delicate little feet can’t go over the wire cage,” Anne said. Thus are the hostas preserved for another season.
Anne has a love of conifers and alpine plants. One of the newer sections of the garden is the rock garden with its striking stone bench. Bruce brought mossy and lichen covered stones from the woods to the gentle slope where Anne planted a variety of conifers including a dwarf Mugo pine, Japanese white pine, a bird’s nest spruce, and chamaecyprus as well as heathers and succulents. This area with its differing needle forms and textures remains interesting even in winter.
Although, true to their name, evergreens do remain green throughout the year, Anne pointed out that they do not necessarily remain the same shade of green. Some are a brilliant yellow green in the spring and early summer, but shade to a dark bronze in the fall.
Bruce retired as a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts and Anne from teaching French at Amherst High School; both continue to learn by becoming members of the New England Hosta Society and the North American Rock Garden Society. These active societies put out newsletters, have plant sales, organize meetings, letures and tours. They have also been a way to meet those with similar interests and passions.
On tours they have seen different ways that gardeners handle their extensive collection. Bruce remembered one garden with over 2000 hostas, each labeled with full information about the plant including the date planted. He recalled another garden where each hosta was isolated as a specimen and he felt it was more like looking at an insect collection.
The Aunes have chosen instead to integrate their special plants into a graceful whole. Visitors may not be aware of the rarity or unusual nature of some of the hostas and conifers, but all recognize their beauty and feel welcomed into this landscape.
The pleasure and information the Aunes have gotten from their society memberships remind me that during gift giving seasons memberships in a specialty society make an excellent present. The cost is modest, but the return is great. Most horticultural and plant societies now have websites and joining is very easy. For more information about the New England Hosta Society (www.nehosta.org) or the North American Rock Garden Society (www.nargs.org) logon to their respective websites. There are societies for many other plants, easily found on the Internet.
Between the Rows December 5, 2009