The Recorder – Conway garden professional shares his take on winter garden projects

One of my favorite local gardening professionals is Lilian R. Jackman, who owns and operates Wilder Hill Gardens in Conway.

I met her several years ago when she was speaking at the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association’s Spring Conference in South Deerfield on Downsizing. She made many useful observations about how our gardening habits change with age and how to decide what to eliminate or reduce. I knew we were on the same page.

Jackman comes to help me in the garden once or twice a year. She still has great advice from years of education, practice, and wisdom. She and I recently had an exchange about her plans for the winter, during which she shared her valuable and reliable insights:

Q: Do you really stop working outside in the garden?

A: I usually work at least a few hours a day until the beginning of December, until the snow covers the ground. I keep some jobs for this strange time, just before the solstice and the annual descent into deep winter. For example, shoveling wood chips on nursery stock to protect them from extreme cold, saving all pots, statues and manhole balls and storing them in the barn, and even some pruning work. Last week I cut a giant forsythia stand in half for a homeowner in Conway, and in my own backyard I cut old flowers from several hydrangeas and cut perennial grasses. Any job that could lighten the workload in April and May is a good idea and allows us to enjoy the sun and the fresh air for an hour or two.

Q: But I thought sizing after Labor Day wasn’t a good idea?

A: Well, stick to that Labor Day rule; it was an exception to prune this large, unruly forsythia dormant, with no chance of tender fall shoots. I would never try this with a more valuable specimen, and would rather wait until spring, preferably before any leaves emerge. Cutting off old hydrangea flowers is always an outdoor activity worthy of the name, before the snow sweeps them to the ground. However, if they add anything to the winter landscape, in the opinion of the gardener, leave them by all means.

Q: After the heavy snowfall arrived, what do you like to read?

A: Reading gardening books and seed catalogs is mandatory for a winter gardener. I read all the catalogs that arrive in my mailbox; Johnny’s and Fedco for vegetable and flower seeds. But I love making my first purchases at one of our local farm and garden stores. Greenfield Farmers Cooperative Exchange has a long history in the farming community and an extensive seed selection. Buy local! Then I go through the catalogs, especially for these new and unusual varieties of cut flower seeds and herbs. I do a lot of flowers for weddings, so I check a bridal magazine once or twice a year to see the trends. The same goes with horticultural and landscaping magazines.

For the books, I revisit Lorraine Johnson’s “100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for American Gardens in Temperate Zones”, as I plant more shade gardens for clients than ever before and expand the plant selection of shade at the nursery. I also recommend any botany book, for example “Botany for Gardeners” by Brian Capon.

A gardener can use the short, cold winter days to plan a large or small landscaping project, for the 2019 growing season. Local author Peter Jeswald has written a well-illustrated book titled “How to Build paths, steps and walkways “.

Q: If not, how do you deal?

A: Cleaning and sharpening tools is virtuous. I spend time on this side of the winter planning the crops and yards for next year and working on landscaping for the clients. This year I am designing a new set of signs to “show” visitors the nursery and fields of Wilder Hill Gardens. After the New Year, the new generation of brides are coming and we are planning the flower arrangements for their 2019 weddings.

Q: What are you doing to keep your body in harmony?

A: Winter is a great time to take care of the most important gardening tool you have – your body. I practice yoga and a series of nifty back exercises year round. But in the winter, I will go to a gym and be careful to keep all of my muscles strong and flexible, not just those from gardening and heavy lifting. Spending time on balance, flexibility and integration pays off.

Q: Are there any fun things planned?

A: I make sure that part of the winter downtime is spent sleeping more and doing art. Lately, I have made mosaics of wild and strange gardens. This winter, I’m going to get some sun in Mexico and take dance lessons for fun. I’m sure in a mysterious way, salsa lessons will make me a better gardener. My mind always comes back to the garden, just like the seasons.

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