Sunday, April 8, 2012

Rutgers Master Gardeners in Kinnelon

Rutgers Master Gardeners in Kinnelon
Daylilies by stone wall in my front yard 

Rutgers Master Gardeners by Mary Beth Grybowski

Many years ago, after buying my first home, I invited Brenda, my former college roommate,  for lunch and to see the place. In addition to catching up on things, I also looked forward to her visit for gardening purposes. Brenda and I graduated from Cook College (Rutgers University). While I loved to garden, technically, I was an amateur. Brenda, on the other hand, was a professional in the field. She graduated with a degree in Landscape Architecture, one of Cook College’s most competitive majors.

I did quite a bit of gardening in the various apartments that I rented, but being a homeowner left me feeling a bit over my head. Though it has been thirteen years since this event transpired, I still remember the day well. It was June of 1999 and I had just planted 10 flats of impatiens atop the stone wall in the backyard. The lawn was freshly cut and the house cleaned to the point of being nearly sterile. Brenda not only was a magician in the garden, she was also a neat freak. Needless to say, I was trying to make a good impression. Brenda arrived with her husband Pete, carrying a hanging basket of purple petunias, their housewarming gift.

Showing them around the yard, I had expected something . . . anything . . . in the way of gardening advice to automatically tumble out of Brenda’s mouth. Instead she took in the setting, saying nothing. We headed inside to continue the tour and soon we all sat down to lunch. I waited a respectable amount of time . . . approximately two hours . . . before I asked the question. “Can you give me a little gardening advice . . . like what to plant and where?

Brenda snapped back as if annoyed, “Plant perennials!

That’s ALL the advice she’s going to give me?” I silently asked myself.

“And why are you wasting your money on impatiens?” Brenda scolded. “They’re only going to last a few months and without adequate water for just a day, that’s it, they’ll wither and die!”

If you’re thinking, “Wow, Brenda didn’t help at all.” Actually, her advice pointed me in the right direction. Had she told me exactly what to plant and where, it wouldn’t really have been MY garden. Her NOT being helpful pushed me to go out and find my style, my colors, and my favorite flowers. By giving me just a little piece of advice, I sought out the best garden centers and consulted with their master gardeners and they got to know me by sight. I loved gardening in my yard in Bloomingdale for eight years; it was a gardener’s paradise. But in summer of 2006 we sold and moved to Kinnelon and I left all of my wonderful perennials behind.

Fast forward to spring of 2012, and I am so grateful for the early warm weather. In the almost 6 years that I have been in this house, the yard is still a work in progress. The front yard is almost the way I’d like it, but the backyard will require a team of strong young men and some heavy earth moving machinery. In the meantime, I’m trying to envision how I would like my backyard in a completed state. So when I saw that Morris County Master Gardeners were going to be at the Kinnelon Library, I signed up.

I was actually surprised that the attendance wasn’t higher; perhaps everyone was enjoying a walk in the mild air instead. I am glad to report that Morris County Master Gardeners Connie Barry and Gail DiDomenico were quite helpful and were more than willing to share EVERYTHING they knew. Both women spoke to the audience and their love of gardening showed through. And, like me, gardening was their passion. There was a slide show which included pictures of both women’s houses. We all also learned about the Rutgers Master Gardening program and what services the Morris County Master Gardener office of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension provides. Hand outs were provided for us to take home. Books on gardening available at the Kinnelon Library were displayed on a table for all to view.

Clematis by my mailbox
I did learn a few things that evening.
  • I had been pronouncing one of my favorite flowers, Clematis, incorrectly. 
  • Postal carriers don’t like flowers on the mailbox because it attracts bees. 
  • I learned the names of many new flowers and plants that I had never heard of before like : Lobelia, Viburnum, and Cinquefoil-Potentilla. 
  • The 3 ingredients for a great container garden are : a ‘thriller’, a ‘filler’ and a ‘spiller’. 
  • I was also reminded that if I don’t want my pink hydrangeas to turn purple like they did last year, I’ll need to make the soil more alkaline by using either lime or calcium. 
  • If I ever have a gardening question I can call the Morris County Master Gardener Helpline at 973-285-8300.
My favorite part of the evening was seeing the pictures of various private gardens in Morris County. I especially liked the one Gail’s husband designed himself to take care of a drainage issue. It was beautiful with river stone rocks and a small covered bridge.

At the end of the evening, our Master Gardeners Connie and Betty asked, “Are there any questions?

I wanted to ask Gail, “Can I borrow your husband?” Of course, I meant for gardening purposes. Instead I asked Connie, “Can you name a few local public gardens for inspiration.

Here are the places she recommended :
Don’t forget to catch the “Spring Gardening” talk scheduled for Thursday April 19th at the Kinnelon Library.

~ Mary Beth Grybowski
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