Between the Rows: Forbes garden tour
The time comes for many of us gardeners when we think we cannot carry on with our gardens, or houses, as they are. We are older, the children have gone and we are not quite so energetic or willing to toil for hours in the summer sun over our weeds and slugs. The time comes to think about a smaller house and a smaller garden.
More than five years ago, Maureen McKenna had huge gardens in Leeds, children that needed to be chauffeured here and everywhere and a big house. She was getting weary. She and her husband sat down and realized they had to do something to make a change.
The change is the departure of older children, a smaller house with a smaller garden on a much smaller lot in Northampton. It is one of the seven gardens on the tour to benefit the Forbes Library on Saturday, June 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Most of the gardens are small urban gardens so this is a perfect opportunity for those of us who are not in our first youth to experience the varied delights of a small garden. In addition, there is one expansive garden in a country hideaway on this tour.
I asked Mckenna if it was hard to leave a house and garden where her children had grown up. Her response? “Not really.”
“The gardens in my old house had been left by the former owner and were huge,” she said. “I had to do a lot of hard work to make it my own — and even then ...” So, they moved to where they could do more walking and less driving.
In her new smaller garden, she has managed to have a little bit of everything: a sunny garden, a large shade garden, vegetables and berries. It is all very pretty and very manageable. Her house divides the property from the street to the back property line and separates the sun and shade.
The front door is on the shady side. McKenna says guests never go to the front door even though she wishes they would. I think the shady woodland garden seems quietly formal so I can understand the appeal of the sunny back door for neighbors and casual company. She said they splurged on this garden. When they were arranging with the landscaper for compost and mulch, he said they could do a plan, as well. The plan involved giving some dimensionality to the long flat space by creating a gentle slope to the front section of the garden and curves in the back section.
The shade is created by an enormous maple tree, a smaller Japanese maple and a large conifer in the back corner. Underplantings include tiarella and ajuga, both in flower in early spring, as well as iris cristata, sedums, a variety of hostas, large and small, and golden hakone grass. The pale leaves of a variegated five leaf aralia light up a dim corner near the rear wall.
Between the back door and the street is a raised sunny garden where a small tree is underplanted with astilbe, hellebores, iris, marguerite daisies, tiarella, bleeding heart, lady’s mantle, creeping phlox, a hydrangea and some sage and thyme. This is a garden that says welcome to all.
On the other side of the back door is a small sheltered patio between the wall of the house and the side wall of the garage, which is softened by a narrow garden of roses and other perennials and a burbling fountain.
The other side of the driveway includes raised vegetable beds and gravel paths. “We had the soil tested at UMass and there was a measure of lead so we thought raised beds would be a wise decision.” The McKennas also have a community garden plot where they have grow more vegetables, and raspberry and blueberry bushes, but these raised beds allow them to pick a fresh salad, or strawberries or raspberries for breakfast. I was surprised to see some raspberry canes growing so happily in a large container.
A final shady section of the garden next to the garage is being redesigned and replanted to eliminate even this tiny bit of lawn.
In this one garden are many examples of the way a small space can be arranged to accommodate our desire for beauty and sociability as well as fresh veggies, fruit and less maintenance.
Visiting other gardens gives me a chance to imagine myself in very different spaces. Garden tour season is beginning, giving all of us the chance to see new and interesting ways of using space, new techniques, new plants and the way passions and unique personalities are expressed in our gardens. I expect to get a lot of new ideas over the next month.
Tickets for this tour are $15 in advance sold at Forbes Library, Bay State Perennials, Cooper’s Corner, Hadley Garden Center and State Street Fruit Store. They are $20 on the day of the tour, sold only at Forbes Library and at garden No. 1. There is also a raffle and a chance to win organic compost, gift certificates, garden supplies or a landscape consultation. Raffle tickets are two for $5 or five for $10 and are available at Forbes Library through the day before the tour as well as at garden No. 2 the day of the tour. For more information, contact Jody Rosenbloom at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-586-0021.
Pat Leuchtman, who is The Recorder’s garden columnist, has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her Web site: www.commonweeder.com.