Between the Rows: ‘Healthy Gardens, Healthy Gardeners’ symposium coming to Frontier

  • Stones dug up out of gardening spaces can become handsome edging stones, as demonstrated by Anne and Bruce Aune’s garden. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • A handsome, sculptural stone bench, created by Michael Mazur, stands in front of the rockery planted on a slope at Anne and Bruce Aune’s home. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Anne and Bruce Aune will be giving a talk called “Gardening with Rocks,” during a March 23 symposium at Frontier Regional School. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

  • Stones dug up out of gardening spaces can become handsome edging stones, as demonstrated by Anne and Bruce Aune’s garden. For the Recorder/Pat Leuchtman

For the Recorder
Published: 3/8/2019 12:16:16 PM

There may be snow on the ground, but the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener’s Association knows it’s time to get ready to garden.

The WMMGA Garden Symposium at Frontier Regional School is scheduled for Saturday, March 23, from 8:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. with a lunch available at noon. The symposium title this year is “Healthy Gardens, Healthy Gardeners.”

If you want to learn about healthy soil, trees for the garden, butterfly gardening, ergonomics and injury prevention, and much more, it’s time to send in your registration form.

This year, the keynote speaker is Dr. Stephen Rich from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who will present “What Every Gardener Needs to Know About Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases.” A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns of a surge in tick-borne disease incidence in the United States, and it’s not just limited to Lyme disease anymore. This will be an important talk to help us get through the garden season in good health.

I was particularly intrigued by the simply named talk “Gardening with Rocks,” which will be given by Bruce and Anne Aune of Montague. From the large library windows of their house, they have a view of their ever-changing gardens and the hills and sky beyond. At this time of year, it’s the kind of view that can easily lead to thoughts of “You know what we should do in the vegetable garden this year?” or “I wonder if that Pinus parviflora needs more serious pruning this year?”

This is also the time of year that the Aunes are happy to be able to share their experiences with gardeners at the spring symposium. Their talk covers the ways that rocks can be used in gardens. Anne Aune said she has always loved stones in their diversity and beauty. Meanwhile, Bruce Aune’s interest in rocks developed while he was digging them out of the soil.

“Our property is loaded with rocks dropped by retreating glaciers. Large, extra large, small and smaller. Varied. Rubbed round as beach pebbles,” Anne Aune said. “Whenever we dig, we ‘liberate’ rocks, so we use them to edge beds and as accents here and there. This has led to our interest in Japanese gardens and rockeries.”

I made a visit to the Aunes’ home late one fall and was fascinated by their Japanese rockery. The handsome, sculptural stone bench, created by Michael Mazur, stands in front of the rockery planted on a slope. It was late enough in the season that most of the small spreading plants, like primulas, thymes, ferns, phlox and saxifrages had gone to sleep.

The Aunes also planted conifers and shrubs in the rock garden. In a Japanese-style garden, conifers are an important and handsome element. There are tall conifers like Japanese white pine, and low-growing junipers like Blue Rug and Nana.

Over the years, they have used rocks in different ways. Boulders have been used to edge planting beds, large flat stones have been used to make a “carpet” for benches in the lawn, and gravel has been used to create good planting beds for alpines.

The Aunes have also used troughs for their alpine plants. Troughs used to be carved out of tufa, a porous limestone. Nowadays, troughs are much less expensive and more easily found because they are made of hypertufa, a mixture of Portland cement, peat moss and perlite.

“Gardening with Rocks” is just one of 17 talks. To register, go online to and fill out the form listing the 17 programs, choosing one from the morning list and one from the afternoon. The cost is $35.

You can also order a lunch, which must be pre-ordered, for $9. Before the keynote talk, there is time to get coffee, browse among the vendors with their local offerings and look at the book table.

Alternatively, you can go online to print out the program and registration form. The earlier you register, the more likely you are to get into the talks you want.

In case of impending bad weather, call 413-665-2181 the night before for a recorded message regarding possible rescheduling. Parking is tight next to Frontier Regional School, though parking is also available at the Deerfield Elementary School on Pleasant Street.

Two UMass workshops scheduled

UMass has a series of agricultural workshops that are useful for the home gardener. Two that are coming up are:

March 16: “Grafting Fruit Trees,” from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the UMass Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown. $100.

March 30: “Pruning Blueberries,” from 10 a.m. to noon, at the Tougas Family Farm in Northborough. $45.

Pat Leuchtman has been writing and gardening since 1980. Readers can leave comments at her website:

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