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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Sharing multiple gardens

Kevin Hollister and his family live across the lawn and through the woods right next door to his sister Sarah Hollister in Colrain. Together, they share multiple gardens. Sarah has lots of vegetables for the two families, many of them growing on utilitarian or whimsical structures. Kevin hosts Tomato World and Blueberry World: dozens of trellised tomatoes of every sort and a large patch of blueberry bushes, bent with the weight of the fruit and covered with old tobacco netting.

Both of them have beautiful flowers and both of them credit their parents, John and Amy Hollister, with instilling a love of gardening in them, and in their parents’ three other daughters, from the time they were tots. Both of them have earned their livings by working with plants and gardens.

Sarah has a garden business that includes design, installation and some maintenance of gardens. Her own garden was begun by her parents over 60 years ago and has beautiful soil that she continues to enrich with an annual digging in of fall leaves and summer mulches. Because the garden is so large, she also adds an occasional truckload of compost. The garden combines vegetables and flowers, with a riotous patch of old Latham raspberries all along one side of the garden that still produces.

Sarah loves to create “twig” structures and has built several to hold and display flowering vines. This past spring, she gave a workshop on making these attractive structures at the Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium.

While she says she is “all about taste,” some of the many vegetables she grows are handsome. There is Falstaff, a purple Brussels sprouts from Territorial Seeds, and a handsome Savoy cabbage that she plants because she likes the texture. She is also about finding unusual work-saving vegetables like the semi-bush Kakai pumpkin that produces hull-less seeds. You can just scoop them out of the ripe pumpkin and roast them and eat them for a delicious and healthy treat.

Flowers in the vegetable garden include sweet peas, self-seeding delphiniums, veronicas and glowing red crocosmia. Sarah shares many of these plants at the regular spring plant sale at St. James church in Greenfield.

After touring Sarah’s garden, we went through a little woodland, which included Chinese chestnuts and shagbark hickory trees, and into Kevin’s garden.

Kevin’s garden has suffered from the wooly adelgid so the hemlocks have had to come down, but there are so many other notable plants, like the weeping cherry that he has carefully and artfully been pruning for 23 years. This tree is his particular joy.

Kevin studied landscaping at the Stockbridge School at the University of Massachusetts and he still remembers the 200 plants, with full Latin names, that they had to learn for plant identification.

But his work in the garden began even before attending UMass. His first job was mowing lawns for Ally Newcomb’s landscaping business when he was 15, and later for Jim Stewart. “Both men taught me how to work hard and to enjoy it,” he said.

Later, he worked for the Greenfield Garden Center, where he found he could make helpful suggestions to gardeners when they came in to buy plants. “Landscaping is a form of art and I have an eye. I could recommend better plants for their needs,” he said. But I know it takes more than “an eye,” it takes deep understanding of plants and what they need, as well as an understanding of gardeners and what they are able to give at that stage of their gardening life.

About 25 years ago, Kevin was injured on a job site and broke his lower back. Having to use a wheelchair has not stopped his horticultural career. “Plants are my life,” he said. He has a horticultural teaching degree and he currently works at the Franklin County Technical School, where he is able to help in other departments besides horticulture.

In his own garden, he sometimes uses his power wheelbarrow, which is strong enough to pull Kevin in his wheelchair through the garden.

One of the big attractions of Kevin’s garden is Tomato World, which has a couple dozen plants of 10 varieties, with many heirlooms, including Amish Paste, Cherokee Purple, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Pink Berkeley Tie Dye and Italian Heirloom.

I was fascinated by the tomato trellising system. The trellis consists of wood supports at either end with a cross bar across the top. From the cross bar, strings are attached every 2 or 3 feet. They hang down and are held in place by a stake in the soil. Tomato plants are placed at the bottom of each string, which has a little give to it. As the tomato grows, Sarah twines the tender pliable stem around the string. This allows her to see the plant so she can remove the suckers. This keeps the plant pruned and provides good air circulation. The tomatoes get plenty of sun and are easy to harvest.

What do they do with all those tomatoes? Lots of canning. Kevin said he and his son Harry do their share. They also like to can dill pic kles.

Next to Tomato World is Blueberry World, a collection of high bush blueberries, protected from the birds with tobacco netting draped over a wooden frame. The bushes were bent low with a bumper crop of blueberries this year.

What is striking about Kevin and Sarah is t heir enthusiasm, the joy they find in the garden and the pleasure they take in sharing what they have learned and enjoyed.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and g ardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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