Tours of Delight

  • Post published:07/17/2009
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These tours are over, but even these brief garden descriptions may be useful to others.


When I visited Mary Manilla’s garden in Hawley this week it was a ribbon of green along the stream that borders the garden. By the time the Hawley Garden and Artisans Tour takes place on Saturday, July 11, there will be a river of color along the stream as the hundreds and hundreds of daylilies in every hue come into bloom.

It is always fascinating to me to visit other garden’s and see the challenges they have conquered, like the impossibly steep slope that Manilla has invisibly terraced and filled with irises, roses, honeysuckle and I’ve lost track of what else. She explained that she wore special boots that helped her keep her footing on the slope. There are now books about arty vertical gardens, but she was way ahead of the curve.

The slope, and other areas of the garden are edged with stone walls that Manilla built, using stones that are so abundant on her site. I should no longer be surprised at the number of women who build stone walls, especially knowing as I do that wall building demands vision, endurance, enthusiasm and skill, not only strength.

Our gardens also hold our stories, and the stories of those who directly or indirectly made our gardens what they are. Manilla showed off the huge rhododendrons that grow by her balcony deck and explained that their parents came from the famous Kyoto temple gardens.

When she and her husband Jim were just starting to garden 30 years ago they saw an ad in The New Yorker Magazine promising plants for the connoisseur. They were not really connoisseurs at that point, but they found the nursery owner had been an Army officer in Kyoto after WWII. He made friends with the monks, and they gave him plants when he returned to the U.S. Later, when the temple’s rhodendrons died of a blight he was able to return plants to them to reestablish.

Manilla said she has always been fond of the Japanese aesthetic and that is apparent, not only in the planting of rhodies on a bank, as the Japanese recommend, but in the gentle curves of the beds, and the sculptural form of some of the trees.

This extensive garden was not built all at once. Trees were taken down one by one, and burned for firewood. Now there is an expansive lawn. When Jim became ill, the garden took another turn so that he could see what was going on from the deck.

For more information and tickets to the Hawley tour which includes vegetable and perennial gardens, an orchard with wind power as well as a quilt show, photographs, paintings and sculpture, call Cyndie Stetson 339-4231 or Margaret Eggert 339-4441. Tickets are also available the day of the tour at the Stetson’s Mountainside Farm at 108 W. Hawley Road. Proceeds benefit the Sons and Daughters of Hawley.

While the Manilla country garden is expansive, Ted Watt’s garden, featured on the Greenfield Garden Club Tour, also on July 11, packs a wallop of productivity, beauty and education on a mere third of an acre.

When he moved into his house in November five years ago he brought a number of shrubs, and a plan, with him. He immediately put the dormant shrubs into the ground, in an apparently random way. His neighbors have since commented that they had no idea what he could be doing, but now that the missing elements are firmly in place they can see the beautiful design Watt was holding in his mind all along.

Watt’s house is set on a typical flat suburban lot, with a little bit of space in front, two side yards and a back yard that is almost completely filled by a large vegetable garden, berry bushes, ‘enough rhubarb to feed all of Greenfield’, two peach trees and a ‘migrating’ compost pile. “I make deposits at one end, and remove compost from the other, so it sort of moves along. His composting technique is, “throw it in a pile and wait.” A man after my own heart.

His garden is divided seasonally, an idea he took from a Gertrude Jekyll exhibit he saw years ago. Jekyll was one of England’s most famous garden designers in the early 20th century, but many of her ideas continue to inspire.

Watt’s spring garden is in front of the house, with a summer garden to the east. He has a large collection of fragrant peonies that had gone by when I visited, but I can imagine them perfuming the whole neighborhood.

The summer garden has fascinating plants like ‘rattlesnake master’ a tall eryngium that is native to the west, and an unusual rudbekia with large roundly oval leaves. “It’s a native as well, but I don’t really specialize in natives,” he said.

He has a blue and yellow combination that run through the gardens, small delphiniums with a yellow achillea, and Nikki purple-blue phlox blooming with yellow Happy Returns daylilies in the summer garden.

Salvia azurea blooms in the fall garden with a late blooming daylily. Blue is not an easy color to come by in the fall, but he also has a late blue monkshood that blooms until frost.

There are plants not often seen, the multistem shrub Ninebark in both its burgundy and golden forms, a golden cotinus, Carolina allspice, the ornamental cherry Hally Jolivette, and a voodoo lily.

The seasonal garden idea is a way to always have things in bloom together without the level of planning that requires so much experience and expertise needed to have continuous bloom in a single bed.

The Greenfield Garden Club tour features eight gardens in town as well as a Daylily Festival at Glenbrook Gardens. For further information or tickets call Debran Brocklesby 413-648-5227.

Though these two gardens and gardeners are very different, what they have in common is the delight they take in their gardens, delight they are willing to share.

July 4, 2009

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