Get Growing: Symposiums back to stir gardening anticipation

By MICKEY RATHBUN

For the Gazette

Published: 03-16-2023 7:22 PM

One of the many casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic was the series of annual spring gardening symposiums hosted by the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association (WMMGA). These popular events helped gardeners of all abilities expand their gardening knowledge and skills as they looked ahead to a new season in the garden. The symposiums were sorely missed over the past three years. This year, I’m happy to report that they are back!

The Upper Valley symposium, “Gardening Together Again,” will be held on April 1 at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield. There will be four presentations offered in two sessions. Registration will begin at 8 a.m. with morning coffee and goodies provided.

Topics for first session, 8:45-10 a.m.

■ “Carefree Shrubs for Your Landscape,” presented by Dan Ziomek of Sugarloaf Gardens in Sunderland. As we all know, a high-maintenance landscape is a gardener’s nightmare. Dan will introduce a selection of low-maintenance shrubs, including natives, that will enhance any landscape without breaking any backs.

■“The Pleasures of a Cutting Garden,” presented by Maida Goodwin of Quonquont Farm in Whately. There are few things more rewarding than an armful of flowers cut from your own garden. As Maida will explain, even a small space can produce bucket loads of beautiful flowers. This workshop will cover the basics of soil, site considerations, planting, plant selection and maintenance for the cutting garden.

Topics for second session, 10:30-11:45 a.m.

■“Gardening Well into the Future,” presented by Lilian Jackman of Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway. We gardeners inevitably face the question of how to care for our beloved gardens and landscapes during these busy times and as we grow older. Lilian will discuss ways to keep our surroundings healthy and beautiful while dramatically reducing the amount of labor involved.

Special attention will be given to native, pollinator and habitat-producing plants. Lilian will provide a detailed handout including designs and plant lists to take home.

■“The Diversity and Natural History of New England Bees: Contemplation for the Garden,” presented by Joan Milam from the University of Massachusetts. Joan is an expert in native bee taxonomy, biodiversity and conservation. Her presentation will help us understand the bee diversity and activity that is visible in our gardens.

Joan will discuss some of the 450 species of bees (mostly native) found in New England, including information about bee habitats and natural and human stressors that affect bee health.

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This year’s event will not include plant or book sales. Instead, there will be a seed swap and a “take it or leave it” gardening book table. There will also be free soil pH testing, a valuable service to anyone who tends a garden.

Here’s a quick pH primer: a soil’s acidity is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 being neutral. Less than 7 is considered acidic; more than 7 is alkaline. Rhododendrons, dogwoods and blueberries are some of the plants that prefer acidic soil. Plants that do best in alkaline soil include lilacs, hydrangea and lavender.

To have your soil tested, prepare your sample as follows: Bring up to 1 cup of soil from 8-12 spots, 6-8 inches deep, taken randomly around the garden and mixed together in a clean bucket. Take separate samples for different growing areas. Testing is for pH only and doesn’t include testing for nutrients. Samples are limited to 3 per person.

Parking is limited at the South Deerfield venue, so please carpool if possible.

Other symposiums

As in previous years, there will be two additional Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association symposiums, in the Berkshires and the Lower Valley. The Berkshire area symposium, “Spring Into Gardening,” will take place Saturday, March 25 from 8 a.m. till noon at the Lenox Middle and High School.

The symposium’s offerings include presentations on “Landscaping as a Form of Stewardship,” “Houseplants 101,” “How to Create Natural Ecosystems in Your Yard,” and “Creative Container Gardening.” The event will include information tables for environmental organizations, a garden glove sale, used gardening books sale, houseplant sale, and a raffle.

The Lower Valley symposium, “Let’s Get Growing,” will take place Saturday, May 6 from 8 a.m. to noon. It has changed its venue from Holyoke to the Westfield South Middle School in Westfield. Topics include “Gardening for Four Seasons,” “Growing Herbs in Containers,” ” Growing Bigger and Better Vegetables,” and “Selecting and Planting Trees and Shrubs.” The event will offer a marketplace, soil testing, Ask a Master Gardener and a raffle.

Despite the terrible things the pandemic brought us, it did give rise to a new cohort of gardening enthusiasts. These symposiums are an opportunity for novice gardeners to educate themselves on important gardening topics. The events are also a welcome opportunity for all of us to celebrate having come through another cold and icy winter, to greet old friends and to make new ones.

More information about the presentations, cost and registration forms for each of the three symposiums can be found at www.wmmga.org. Make sure to register early so that you can get into the sessions of your preference, since some limit the number of participants. And don’t forget to bring a notebook if you plan to take notes, which I highly recommend. Happy (almost) spring!

Mickey Rathbun, an Amherst-based lawyer turned journalist, has written the “Get Growing” column since 2016.

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