Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Touring Cricket Hill Garden - What a sight! by Jenna Messier

Dan Furman, Manager of Cricket Hill Garden
     Yesterday was a lovely afternoon to stroll through Cricket Hill Garden and view a fantastic display of blooming peonies which blanket the cleared hillsides. Located in Thomaston, Connecticut, the nursery is situated on a forty acre parcel reminiscent of a zen sanctuary - complete with pond, ducks, woodlands and terraced gardens.  Dan Furman led the tour and provided guests with a history of peony culture, basic growing procedures and he identified the many varieties in bloom before our eyes.  Some of the Chinese varieties have been cultivated for over a thousand years!
     According to Dan's fact sheet, there are many good reasons to grow peonies beyond their gorgeous flowers such as they are drought-resistant, deer resistant, and extremely long-lived.
There are three types of peonies; tree peonies, herbaceous peonies and intersectional peonies which are a cross of the first two types.  Peonies prefer sun, but the tree peonies can live in partial shade, too.  Dan prefers to use Neptune's Harvest Organic Fertilizer, azomite rock powder and an annual application of compost to maximize peony growth and vigor.
Deep red peonies are cherished
This pink is so vibrant
 I saw evidence of many organic land care best practices at Cricket Hill Garden, which I wanted to highlight. Dan uses ground covers, some of which could be considered weeds, rather than having sterile beds of endless mulch.  White clover, sedums, mustard greens, and many other plants surround the bases of the peonies.  To some this looks weedy, but Dan says he likes to let other plants live among the peonies and hold back the pressure from more invasive weeds.
Jack in the pulpit are everywhere!
Milkweed and clover for pollinators
New at Cricket Hill Garden, Dan has been propagating fruit trees and selling the young stock.  He offers Asian Pears, Nanking Cherries, Paw Paws, and smaller fruits like raspberries and elderberries as well.  Dan has been trialing different cultivars, specifically when they are marketed as Zone 3 plants, although Dan reminds us not to believe everything you read! He has some small Medlar Trees and apricots as well.
A Small Medlar - a European fruit from the rose family
Paw paw with grafted varieties


I suggest you make a trip to Cricket Hill Garden to experience the magical place for yourself. But if you cannot, they can ship you peonies when the plants are dormant to ensure a successful transplant.
Go to and check out what they have to offer.  The hard part is selecting which peonies are right for your garden, with so many cultivars to choose from!
Umbrellas shade the peonies to prolong bloom time
Glass sculpture from Mundy Hepburn add to the beauty

Dan uses Root Pouches, made of recycled materials
Rows of young fruit trees

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Growing Plants and Gratitude Inside Prison Walls: Out and About with AOLCP Kate Lacouture

 by Kathy Litchfield

PROVIDENCE, RI – Kate Lacouture didn’t set out to spend several days a week locked inside towering stone walls, planting basil, rosemary and zucchini alongside maximum security inmates without parole.
     Yet she has found that throughout her 20-year career as a landscape architect in San Francisco and her native Rhode Island, working with groups and teaching them to grow food has proved one of the most rewarding things she’s ever done.
“I feel like these are important life skills that seem to have been lost to this generation of kids and young adults.  A lot of my inmates remember gardening with their grandmothers. And the women that leave prison are all excited about starting their own gardens and that makes me so happy,” said the Yale graduate who earned her master’s in landscape architecture from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in 1994.