healthy_imaptiens1Each week, we pick a question that we get through our Master Gardeners hotline and write an article for the popular, online magazine Rural Intelligence.  Below is this weeks article.

Impatiens are an annual favorite: easy to grow, shade tolerant, and for the most part, a great bang for your buck. Normally, this time of year you could walk into any garden center and find tables that are filled with what seems like endless flats of their pink, white, red, and purple blooms. So what gives? Why doesn’t anyone seem to be carrying this go-to container plant this year? Nurseries across the area just don’t seem to have them and for good reason. It’s all due to the fungus Plasmopara obducens, better known as Downy Mildew.

Sometime in 2011, Downy Mildew started showing up in the Northeast and by 2012 it was everywhere. It affects the variety walleriana, which, for the most part, is what you have been buying at your local garden center for as far back as you can remember. The disease works something like this: Your leaves start to look yellow or mottled, with some getting a white “downy” growth on the underside of the leaves. The leaves eventually fall off leaving you with leggy stems that result in a total collapse of the plant. It ain’t pretty.downy-mildew

Sound familiar?  Did it happen to you last year?  It’s likely — and if it did, you really should avoid planting them again this year.  Let’s face it — impatiens have been done to death. This is your chance to break free! Use this as an opportunity to plant something new that you haven’t tried before. Begonias, fuchsia, caladiums, coleus, salvia, oxalis — all are great, shade-loving alternatives with nice growth habits and there are so many others out there. Who knows, maybe this time next year you will have forgotten all about impatiens.

If you absolutely have to have them, however, and still want to give it a go, here’s what you should do: If you grew Impatiens last year, plant them in a different location. This disease is not only airborne, but the spores stay in the soil as well. If you planted them in containers, dispose of the dirt (not in your compost pile) and disinfect your container with a bleach/water mixture. If you do notice some of the mildew symptoms, immediately pull up the infected plant (roots and all), put it in a plastic bag, and get rid of it.


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Wow – what a weekend.  I spent the majority of it wrapped in a blanket relying on the warmth of a fire and the memories of last Memorial Day to keep me warm.  Remember last year?  When it was 90 degrees without a cloud in the sky all weekend?  This was the opposite of that.  But I didn’t let it get me down.  I got my bee hives all put together, ready for this Friday’s bee pick-up and like many others, I braved the weather on Saturday evening to attend the opening of Mark Hewitt’s opening reception for “Rare Earth:  Garden Pots as Sculputure” at the Garden.

It was amazing.  The weather was so ridiculous that it put everyone in a really “rare” mood (see what I did there?)  I don’t know if we were all just excited to be out of the house or what, but there was something in the air that made everyone unwind, embrace the moment and have a great time.  And what a turn out!  Not only did our dedicated garden members and staff show up in numbers we didn’t expect, but a lot Mark’s family surprised him with a mini reunion to open the show, including his two beautiful daughters.  It was great to see such support from family and friends of the Garden and Mark’s exhibit did not disappoint.

Do yourself a favor and come see these amazing sculptures at the Garden for yourself.  There is something about them that feels alien, while at the same time completely natural- as if they were always meant to be there.  The way these 9 pots compliment the landscape is shocking in both their beauty and the way they compliment the plants that frame them.  Through a variety of potting techniques and materials, Mr. Hewitt has created larger than life masterpieces that will completely change the way you think about garden art.  Here’s some shots of him taking us through the collection at Saturday’s opening:




WhatisthisEach week, we pick a question that we get through our Master Gardeners hotline and write an article for the popular, online magazine Rural Intelligence.  Below is this weeks article.

This attractive little bugger is the Lily Leaf Beetle. Native to Europe, it was first spotted in Boston in 1992 and has quickly spread to the rest of New England, all the way to southern New York.

Don’t let her good looks fool you. The Lily Leaf Beetle will defoliate and destroy a variety of lily (Lilium) species, (such as Asiatic, Oriental, Easter, Tiger and Turk’s Cap lilies) and right now is when they are coming out to party, mate and lay their eggs. (They are definitely not lady bugs! Lady bugs are actually very GOOD for your garden.) If you see them in your garden you need to take action.healthylily

Here’s what to do:

First of all, if you see these on a plant you are purchasing or if a frenemy is trying to give you one as a gift, politely decline. Same goes for you – don’t share plants that have the beetle or you could unintentionally spread the problem.  The real damage from the Lily Leaf Beetle occurs in the larva stage after the eggs laid by adult beetles throughout the spring (right now) have hatched and come out hungry. Larvae of this beetle are beyond disgusting. They look like slugs with brownish bodies and black heads. If that weren’t repulsive enough, they secrete and carry their excrement on their backs to ward off predators.  After they have fed for 16-24 days, larvae enter the soil to pupate. New adults emerge in 16-22 days and feed until fall when they head back into the soil and wait until spring to mate and start the process all over again.

nothealthylilyIf you do notice them in your home garden and have a concentrated planting (at left is an example of what can happen with them), the best first defense is to try and remove them by hand. First, place a white sheet of paper around your plant – the beetles are easily spooked and tend to fall off plants when touched. They almost always land on their backs, which are black, making them impossible to spot on the ground. Having a piece of paper there for them to land on makes them easy to spot. Monitor your plants every couple of days and remove any new beetles that appear. There’s hope for revival even at the state pictured here.

If you have a large planting and the problem is more wide-spread, you may want to consider a spray. You can use a pyerthroid insecticide or if you want to go a non-toxic, more earth friendly route, consider using a Neem spray and reapply every 4-5 days to get any eggs that may have hatched.  You’ll want to continue this process through June to catch any late arrivals and prevent them from laying eggs.

When you do catch them, kill them. Put them in a jar or bucket of soapy water and that should do the trick.

black barn cocktailOur first “Cocktails in Great Gardens” event for 2013 took place this past Friday at Black Barn Farm home to Matt Larkin (our very own Chariman of the Board) and Lainie Grant.  It was amazing – (and I’m not just saying that because Matt is our board chair.)  First of all – the weather was just perfect – an amazing early summer evening in the Berkshires that we all hope for here at the office when we have these events.   Second – we had a nice turn out.  Third – there was CHAMPAGNE!

Above all this garden was just so unique that it left visitors enchanted.   The allee of trees that welcomed you to the garden and lead to the pool house and the countless, phenomenal, larger than life topiary gave the garden a refined and polished feel, yet there was something else there – a darker side that you rarely find in a garden.  The large black barn and pool house.  An arch of roots and tree stumps leading into the forest.  A stone altar covered in large animal bones.  The cherub hanging upside down from a trellis and gargoyles carved into the legs of wooden stump-stools under an arbor.  Everywhere there were just hints of something a little sinister that also felt playful.   This was “outside of the box” gardening at its finest and done in a manner that gave everyone who attended a new perspective on what is possible – exactly what these events were designed to do.  A big thank you to Matt Larkin and Lainie Grant for welcoming us into their home and being such wonderful hosts!

If you didn’t get a chance to come to this event, but would still like to see the garden at Black Barn Farm, you are in luck.  It will be open to the public on July 28th from 1-4pm as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program for 2013.  For more info, go to



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There is no denying that peonies (or Paeonia, the only genus in the family Paeoniceae,) are superstars of the early summer garden. Showy, fragrant, and a great cut flower, peonies, an herbaceous perennial, are very hardy and easy to grow in zones 3-8. Although relatively maintenance free, here are some helpful tips to help you grow the best peony on your block.


First of all, know this:
When peonies are at their peak and looking their very best, a punishing thunderstorm is going to roll through and ruin the show. Just accept it. It happens every single year and there is nothing you can do about it.

Even without a heavy rain, peonies can get top heavy and tend to droop over. You can give them a little help. Peonies enjoy being supported with a hoop-type support. Put out the support as soon as you see growth, and the leaves will cover the supporting structure in no time. If, however, your new plant is already two feet or higher, wait until next year. You don’t want to break your plant.

Thankfully, peonies have relatively few diseases. The most common one is botrytis. An excellent resource on the diseases of peonies can be found on the Penn State website.

Most likely, you are going to see ants on your peonies, maybe lots of them. Don’t worry about this one bit — it’s natural. Some think they even play a role in helping them flower and will disappear after the plant has done so. There’s no need to spray to get rid of them. They’ll disappear when the blooms open and will do nothing to hurt them (or you.)

Don’t be afraid to cut your peonies and bring them inside (especially if you know that thunderstorm is on the horizon!).
When you do cut blooms, leave at least two leaf nodes on the stem. Your plant needs its leaves to continue to produce food for the plant, so cut your vase display with short stems. After your blooms disappear, your peony plant will continue to please as a leafy bush. At the end of the growing season, cut your peony down to the ground, being sure not to cut the buds. Mulch heavily, and gently remove the mulch in the spring.

peony3If you don’t already have peonies in your garden:
The best way to get this show is to purchase and plant a potted peony right now (spring.) Plant it in a well-drained area in full sun so that the soil level of the potted plant is level with the soil you are planting it in. A soil pH of 6 to 7, but no lower than 5.5 is ideal. Do not fertilize the first year. For that matter, peonies really do not require much fertilizing at all, and over-fertilizing will weaken the leaves and produce small blooms. Too much nitrogen may inhibit bloom growth and encourage more greenery. That said, no fertilizing is better than too much. When you dig your hole, you may add bone meal or compost or superphosphate to the hole, but cover this with soil before you put the plant in, as you may burn the roots otherwise. After the first year, peonies might like a light fertilizing, ¼ to ½ cup of 5-10-10 scratched lightly into the soil at the beginning of spring, and again halfway through the growing season. Do this at the drip line and don’t dig too deeply, as you don’t want to disturb the roots.

peony2The best way to propagate peonies:
This is done by root division, which you do in October when the plant has begun to go dormant. You may cut through the plant while it is still in the ground, and either remove the whole plant and replant parts or just remove some parts. The best time to prepare your new site is in the spring. Dig a hole at least one foot deep or more and add organic matter to the soil. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of 10-10-10 per plant to the soil in the bottom of the bed. Do not add fertilizer to the soil that will touch the roots. Add soil back into hole and mark it so you can find it easily. When you are ready to plant, dig a foot-deep hole in your prepared soil area. Make the hole wide enough so the roots can spread out. Place your new plant with at least five eyes so that the eyes are no lower than two inches below the soil level. Planting them too deeply will inhibit blooms next year. If you don’t mind how it looks, you can place your supports in the ground at the fall planting time. It may take up to three years for your new plant to establish and bloom, but it will be well worth the wait.

An excellent resource on peonies this author found is here.

Thank YouPlantsalethanksPlant Sale 2Getting our annual Plant Sale off the ground is no small task.  There is a ton of growing, planning, setting up, tearing down, cooking and organizing that our staff and over 150 volunteers work on for months to make sure the Garden has a successful event.  And it was a HUGE success!  Thanks to all of you who came out, on Saturday and Sunday (rain and all) to support the Garden and all of the amazing people who help keep us going.  It’s such a great opportunity to see so many familiar faces and catch up with old friends.  It’s easy to see why Plant Sale is always one of our most favorite events and traditions.  A sincere, giant  THANK YOU to everyone who helped make it happen!


Should I have my soil tested?

soil9Yes, yes and YES! For almost all of the plant health questions that we receive, the first thing that we do is to ask whether or not you have had your soil tested because, more often than not, poor or wrong soil conditions are usually the issue.

Your soil has a lot going on down there. It’s a combination of sand, silt (rock), clay particles, organic matter (poop and dead stuff), air, and water. The decaying organic matter is food for all of the creatures that live in healthy soil: earthworms, insects, beneficial nematodes, bacteria and other microorganisms. If you took just one quarter of a teaspoon of soil, you would find about a BILLION microorganisms. All of those elements and creatures create a balance that is critical to your plant growth.

One of the most important conditions that affects the quality of plant growth is ph; the measure of soil acidity or alkalinity. The soil ph impacts the release of minerals into the soil. When the ph is incorrect for the plant growing there, the minerals needed for plant growth are not released to the plant even if all of the nutrients are present. It’s like having a safety deposit box at the bank filled with gold but no key to open it. We measure ph on a scale of 1-14 where 7 is neutral. Below 7 and your soil is acidic, above 7 and your soil is alkaline.

When should I have my soil tested?

If you can, test your soil BEFORE you put in that new flower bed or fencerow of trees. Most soils will probably need amending and that can take a lot of time if you are relying on those nutrients to move through the soil from the top down. If you can mix in those amendments to the top 6-8 inches of the soil before planting, you can speed up the process.

It’s best to have your soil tested every 2-3 years. Sample more frequently if you are monitoring your fertility levels or growing crops or plants that are known to use a lot of resources.

soil1 How to take a soil sample:

1. First, determine the area where you want to plant. Find a small spot in that area and remove any turf, debris, mulch, residue, etc. that may be covering the soil.
2. Take your trowel and make a cone-shaped hole that is 6-8 inches deep.
3. Now, remove a thin layer from the side of the hole with your trowel, a “slice” of soil if you will, and put it in a container.
4. Repeat this step ten times. That’s right, ten times and no cheating! It is important to get a good sampling of soil throughout your planting site for an accurate reading. For larger areas you may even want to do more.
5. Once you have all of your “slices,” go ahead and mix them up really well, breaking up large clumps.
6. Now spread the mixture out on a paper towel and let that air dry overnight.
7. Once dry, take a ½ cup of the soil and put it in a plastic bag.  Label the bag with your name, contact info, site location, and what you intend on growing at the site.

Congratulations! You have got yourself one good soil sample that is ready for testing.
soil 2Where to get your soil sample tested:

There are lots of different places you can have your soil sampled. Most places charge just a small fee and can do sampling rather quickly.

• The Master Gardeners perform soil testing for ph levels here at the Berkshire Botanical Garden every Monday from 9 a.m. to noon for just $1. Bring a sample with your name, telephone number, and what you wish to grow at the site.
• The Farmer’s Market at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough also has soil testing on the following dates from 9 a.m. to noon: May 11 and 18, June 15, July 13, August 17, and September 7 and 14.
• In Massachusetts, mail your soil sample to UMASS for a complete soil analysis.
• In Connecticut, visit the UCONN website.
• In New York, visit the Cornell website.
• You may also want to contact your local municipality to see if they provide soil testing. Oftentimes, towns or counties will have free testing for residents or will do it locally.


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.



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!!

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