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Oasis.

Home and Garden in West Hartford Magazine.

Prime Time Gardening
Tips and Tricks for planting in Prime Season!
This is the time of year that gardeners live for…even those who just purchase a few packs of annuals or a hanging basket or two!  Everywhere you go, the world is a riot of flowers, plants, flowering trees, fruit and berry bushes, herbs, vegetables plants, some with full grown fruit already on them. The bounty is overwhelming!…read more

Nurturing Gardening Relationships
Let’s face it,it’s been a long, hard winter.  And, for those of us who love gardening, it’s probably been even harder!  There are only so many times we can find beauty in snow on tree branches or nicely pruned hedges before we get anxious to be back into the garden. As the weather begins to warm up, let’s remember not to rush out into the garden too soon.  As excited as we are to get back to our gardens and plants, there’s nothing more harmful than working in wet soil.  And many of us in this area have clay or compacted soils already so we need to take extra care not to work in those wet soils or we will have a much worse problem…read more

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Prime Time Gardening

Tips and Tricks for planting in Prime Season!

by Karla Dalley

This is the time of year that gardeners live for…even those who just purchase a few packs of annuals or a hanging basket or two!  Everywhere you go, the world is a riot of flowers, plants, flowering trees, fruit and berry bushes, herbs, vegetables plants, some with full grown fruit already on them. The bounty is overwhelming!

By making some thoughtful choices now at the garden center, your garden upkeep for the rest of the season can be made much easier.

First, decide on the type of gardening you will be doing.  Do you need to replace some plants that have died over the winter?  Are you filling some spots with annuals for color?  Are you planting edibles (herbs, vegetables or perhaps some berry bushes)? Are you renovating an existing garden? Knowing this will help you focus on what you need at the garden center and keep you from getting distracted by all the alluring choices.

Check the sunlight in your garden area. Due to a rough past winter, many trees have come down in yards and what might have been a shade garden in the past, could now be a full sun garden.  Different plants might need to be chosen for that spot, and some of the existing plants may need to be moved.

Plan your bloom time. When thinking about purchasing plants for a new garden, (or any that you might be renovating) make several trips to the garden center at various times of the season.  If you purchase all the plants in April or May, you’ll have a lovely, spring blooming bed that will be nothing but foliage for the rest of the season. Even if all of the plants you’ve chosen do bloom in spring, this type of garden can be lovely for the rest of the season if you choose some plants with ‘colorful’ foliage: variegated leaves, chartreuse leaves, or darker burgundy or purple leaves.  Plan accordingly.

When planting, remember to leave proper spacing between the plants to accommodate their mature size.  During the first season the garden may look sparse. Mulching in between the plants will help unify the bed, or planting smaller annuals in-between for a year or two might allow the plants to fill into their mature size without being over-crowded.

Remember a few things about newly purchased plants. Take those size and spacing requirements liberally.  Sometimes a plant straight from the garden center will behave differently the first year in the garden than it will in succeeding years.  A plant may grow taller, or shorter as in the case of mums and asters, for example, than the tag indicates. With respect to ultimate height, remember how big a 6’ shrub can be. Nursery pot size can sometimes be deceiving with shrubs.  Those shrubs that look cute and dwarf can still grow large, if that is what the cultivar is designed to do!

Edibles are all the rage now and most are colorful and decorative enough to be incorporated into existing landscape beds or planted into pots.  Just be sure that no pesticides are used in these gardens…you don’t want to go through all the trouble of growing your own food and then mistakenly spray it with poisonous herbicide!

Herbs grow beautifully in pots and some even prefer to grow this way. Basil, as well as some of the other Mediterranean herbs like thyme and rosemary seem to love container culture.   Best of all, as long as you have a sunny spot near the kitchen, the herbs are always in reach.

And, as far as decorating with fresh flowers, remember that many perennials have a long bloom time, and of course, annuals bloom through most of or all of the summer.  Fresh flowers are an easy summer decoration both indoors and on the patio or porch.  If this is something that appeals to you, choose flowers at the garden center accordingly.  My home is rarely without cut hydrangeas from my garden, for example.  And while flower arranging isn’t my strong suit, they do look lovely with a large cut hosta leaf or two behind them.

Finally, family owned garden centers are becoming a rare commodity these days. As gardeners, we need to do all that we can to help them thrive.

Nurturing Gardening Relationships…

To Help Nurture Your Garden!

by Karla Dalley

Let’s face it,it’s been a long, hard winter.  And, for those of us who love gardening, it’s probably been even harder!  There are only so many times we can find beauty in snow on tree branches or nicely pruned hedges before we get anxious to be back into the garden. As the weather begins to warm up, let’s remember not to rush out into the garden too soon.  As excited as we are to get back to our gardens and plants, there’s nothing more harmful than working in wet soil.  And many of us in this area have clay or compacted soils already so we need to take extra care not to work in those wet soils or we will have a much worse problem.

What can we do on those lovely warm early spring days?  If we have garden paths, we can take those to tour our yards and see what needs to be done once that warm sun dries the soil a bit more.  Surely after all the snow and ice this winter, we will need to prune broken branches at a minimum.

While it may not be apparent immediately, some of our plants may have died this past winter.  While this can be heartbreaking, it can also be an opportunity.  If the gardens are too wet to work in, head out to your favorite garden center.  Spend some time now, in the early spring, before the mad rush in May when it may be difficult to get as much individual attention as you’d like.

There are always new plants coming onto the market but sometimes the “tried and true” plants are better for your location.  I know from a lot of experience that variegated plants don’t do well for me–they can be genetically weaker and I have a very tough site to begin with.  So I either avoid them altogether (a tough decision because there are some great ones out there) or I put them in a sheltered location to give them a real chance to thrive.

What I just said is “I’ve killed an awful lot of variegated plants to come to that conclusion.”  But in early spring, the great folks with lots of experience at your local garden centers can help you avoid the same adventure–unless you like that sort of experimentation.  Spend some time talking to them about what your conditions are like: sunny, hot and dry; shady and dry; shady and wet–you get the idea.

If it’s possible–and often it is because many of these places stay open late at least one evening–try to go during a slower time so they have some time to spend with you.  You’ll find it a rewarding experience and you’ll understand the value of shopping locally as well as coming away with a better understanding of some plants.

While you’re at the garden center, pick up some early spring flowering plants for a patio container.  They don’t have to be pansies, although they could be.  There are lots of great choices like nemesia, alyssum and diascia.  Or, try some early perennials like hellebores.

In fact, you don’t even need to have flowers.  You can put together a great container of edibles that will take some frost and still give you a great looking planter.  Plant some decorative leaf lettuces–a 6 cell pack of mixed leaf lettuces will do so long as you have a nice mix of textures or leaf colors.  Pick up a 3 cell pack of parsley (flat leaf or curly leaf, which ever you prefer) while you’re at it.  And if you can find an alpine strawberry to tuck in there, that’s good too.  And I would add in some small-flowered violas–organic, if I could find them (or calendulas) so that I’d have some color and some edible flowers for my salad.

All those things go into a shallow 8” container so you’ll have lovely color and some fresh greens to augment your salads right into June or so!

Meanwhile, you will have learned about some plants, trees, shrubs,  perennials, or maybe roses for your garden (or whatever you were asking about when you were talking to the garden center staff).  And once your soil dries out, go back and purchase some of those plants you learned about.  Maybe you’ll see some new ones to ask about.  June and July are great times to wander around garden centers too.  This is how gardening relationships are born.

 
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Everything’s Coming Up Roses

Elizabeth Park continues to sparkle as a “jewel of West Hartford”!

by Krystian von Speidel
photography by John Mattia & Earle Stone

ometimes it takes a disaster to remind people how special memories are. Parents in Sunday’s best, posing their children for a snapshot; a bride and groom enjoying wedded bliss; that epic game of ball with friends long moved. These are the memories evoked by Elizabeth Park. Home to the oldest municipal rose garden in the U.S., Elizabeth Park sparkles as a  jewel of West Hartford. “There’s something about the park. People are kinder and gentler when they’re here. Cars don’t rush through. People say hello. It brings out the best,” says Friends of Elizabeth Park president Kathy Kraczkowsky.

Mother Nature reminded the community last autumn just how much this park means. The freak October blizzard damaged eight of the 72 rose arches. Those original arches dated from 1904 and succumbed to the weight of the heavy, wet snow. Photos of the collapsed arches—the still-leafy vines supporting the fallen center spans—ran in local papers. The Friends of Elizabeth Park, stewards of the park and its beloved Rose Garden since 1977, sent out an appeal to 5,000 citizens.

The response was great; letters poured into the office of Executive Director, Karen Tomasko. Newly appointed, Tomasko had just settled in when the storm struck. The testimonials that accompanied the checks reiterated why Tomasko had taken her role. “The Rose Garden provides much enjoyment to us. We hope this helps restore its beauty,” wrote one donor. “Enclosed please find a small donation to help fund repair of the arches”, wrote another donor. “Perhaps if enough people respond to the appeal, there will be sufficient funds” added another. The appeal tugged at heartstrings. “Elizabeth Park represents a living, breathing place of solitude for everyone, no matter who they are or where they’re from,” says Tomasko.

That was the intention of Charles Murray Pond, who bequeathed his 90-acre Prospect Hill Farm to the City of Hartford in 1894. Born into a prominent family—father Charles Floyer Pond directed the Hartford & New Haven Railroad—Pond expanded the 66-acre farm he inherited in 1869. Pond served as treasurer of the Railroad, founded the Hartford Trust Company, was elected to the State Senate in 1872, and became State Treasurer in 1876. He married Sarah Elizabeth Aldrich in 1870 and the couple lived in a sprawling 20-room, Second Empire home facing Prospect Avenue.

According to park historian Martha Lyon, Pond raised livestock on the property. The farm’s Ayrshire cattle were exhibited at the Connecticut State Fair. By 1873, Pond divested his other interests and dedicated himself to the farm. His passions now included tobacco, poultry, and thoroughbreds. Pond built a horse track and advertised racing stallions in 1889. The term Gentleman Farmer was never more apt.

Pond spoke to Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture, in 1870 about the conversion of Prospect Hill Farm into a public park. Hartford native Olmstead designed with Calvert Vaux, the country’s first public park, Central Park in New York in 1857. Consumed with Central Park, Olmstead had earlier declined the commission to design Bushnell Park. According to historian John Alexopoulos, Bushnell Park set in motion a long-term effort to build seven public parks, sited throughout Hartford to serve all citizens.

Charles Murray Pond died without children in 1894, three years after his wife. Pond left 90 acres, the house, livestock and a trust valued at $100,000 for the care and maintenance of a public park. His only stipulation was consideration of his beloved wife Elizabeth in the naming of the park. Following a protracted dispute over the bequest by younger brother Anson, the city opened Elizabeth Park to the public on July 8, 1897.

The design of Elizabeth Park and its Rose Garden engrossed Theodore Wirth, Hartford’s first superintendent of parks. Swiss-born Wirth immediately began to improve the layout. He relocated farm buildings to a central area, constructed two greenhouses, and built a road that meandered throughout. Wirth ornamented the grounds with flowers and shrubs. He remodeled the mansion, converting the downstairs into a community center and the upstairs into his private residence. Two bridges were built over brooks from the spring-fed lake. The greenhouses soon supplied plants and flowers for the city’s remaining parks, firehouses, schools and even City Hall. In 1903 Wirth broke ground for Elizabeth Park’s Rose Garden.

The Rose Garden now occupies two-and-a-half acres in West Hartford and displays over 650 varieties of a total of 15,000 roses. Wirth designed the gazebo from which the grand arches radiate. According to Elizabeth Park’s rosarian, Marci Martin, of the original 100 beds planted in 1904, 10 still survive. Martin became rosarian in 2008, following the death of long-time rosarian, Donna Fuss. Martin loves roses and everything about their growth and care. “We are a world-class rose garden, and we are known throughout the world,” says Martin.

100_8073Elizabeth Park had 100 dedicated gardeners overseeing the Rose Garden, the lily pond, and other gardens dedicated to herbs, dahlias, irises, perennials, annuals, heritage roses, and orchids, as well as three greenhouses, playing fields and lawns, tennis courts, a baseball diamond, ice pond, and playground. For 100,000 visitors every year, the City of Hartford now employs four full-time gardeners at Elizabeth Park. In 1977, the renowned Rose Garden—third largest in the US—was threatened with destruction. Facing financial constraints, the City of Hartford planned to plow it under.

Enter the Friends of Elizabeth Park. Established June 22, 1977, the Friends stepped in to save the Rose Garden and oversee all park efforts. “By the time the Friends became involved,” notes Kraczkowsky, “the roses looked like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.” Working in conjunction with the City of Hartford and with a grant provided by the West Hartford Town Council, the Friends stabilized the park from the brink of collapse. In 1983 Elizabeth Park was named to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1989, Ethel Donaghue—who resided for 60 years in an abutting Prospect Avenue estate—left one million dollars in trust to support the park. The addition of the popular Pond House Cafe has helped the park’s sustenance. Without the work of the Friends of Elizabeth Park, the park would simply not exist as it does today.

Yet as last October’ blizzard proved, Elizabeth Park’s financial situation remains precarious. The Friends rely upon a dedicated group of volunteers to supplement city staff. Days of Caring brings corporate volunteers to the park for hands-on work. According to Martin, these volunteers ensure the park’s success and beauty.

The Friends of Elizabeth Park offer a popular lecture series in the winter, a concert series in the summer that draws thousands to the park, and walking tours. “I think the concert series is just marvelous,” says Kraczkowsky. “It’s wonderful to see people from all over Greater Hartford. Some bring chicken in a bucket, others bring tables with candelabra. Elizabeth Park welcomes everyone.” Kraczkowsky continues, “our first goal is the maintenance of the park, our second is horticultural education, and our third is making the park an urban gathering place.”

The season culminates in Rose Weekend: June 22-24. The celebration begins with a casual garden party on Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, the Friends of Elizabeth Park welcome many thousands of visitors with family activities, lectures, demonstrations, and a gala concert. Thanks to the spirited efforts of volunteers and numerous donations that followed the October storm, the Rose Garden will look as glorious as at its debut 108 years ago!

Krystian von Speidel is a member of the board of the Friends of Elizabeth Park.