Many species of Trillium fare well in the region and captured the interest of BBG’s new horticulture director.

The Self-Taught Gardener: Solace in the garden

Yes, the Berkshire Botanical Garden may offer much needed outdoor solace, but its new Director of Horticulture is livening things up.

During the past few months, connecting to nature has been a critical part of maintaining our mental wellbeing and many Berkshire residents have been grateful that so many outdoor sites have been, such as Bartholomew’s Cobble and the grounds at The Mount. The recent reopening of a few more of the Trustees sites and the Berkshire Botanical Garden now provides residents more places to find solace. In the case of the Berkshire Botanical Garden, this comes with a few changes, including a new horticulture director at the helm and the opportunity, thanks to a grant from the Dorothee L. Leonhardt Foundation, to see the garden for free or at a reduced admission rate.

The Berkshire Botanical Garden has opened for the season.

BBG was originally started 86 years ago as the Berkshire Garden Center, dedicated to teaching locals about gardening and horticulture. Over the years, it has grown and evolved under the direction of a variety of leaders and horticulturists. This past month brought the retirement of its esteemed Director of Horticulture Dorthe Hviid. After a national search, the garden has announced her replacement, Matthew Turnbull. A Philadelphia native, he has worked and interned at a variety of institutions, such as Bartram’s Garden, Wave Hill, Quaker Hill and Clemson University. While Hviid was known for her focus on display and used many annuals and tropicals to add interest to the garden, Turnbull brings with him an interest in collecting hardy perennials and woodies either native to the region or likely to do well in the Berkshires. He came to the garden bringing with him a selection of plants from the South and has installed them in beds at the garden to monitor their reaction to his — and their — new home.

Matthew Turnbull, the new Director of Horticulture at the Berkshire Botanical Garden.

Because Turnbull has spent time at the historic garden of John Bartram, a peer of Jefferson’s and a noted plant explorer, as well as at Quaker Hill, a garden in Pawling, N.Y., that focuses on native plants, he had developed a plant palette that includes patches of two species of Jeffersonia that already exist at BBG as well as some species not currently at the garden that he hopes to forward during his tenure. Speaking lovingly of Franklinia and Pinckneya, trees found in the southern wilds of the Appalachian Trail, he wants to see how they fare a little further north. While the plants have not yet been installed in the permanent garden, they are now in a few beds that Turnbulll is carefully monitoring. In addition to the aforementioned Jeffersonia that is already in situ at the garden, Turnbull is delighted to see how well other natives, such as Fothergilla and many species of Trillum, do in the area. It will be interesting to see how the garden evolves in the years ahead.

Native Blue Star in bloom at the Berkshire Botanical Garden.

The garden, free to children under twelve, can be visited for free on Sundays and Mondays this season, and at a half-price adult admission of $7.50 on Tuesday through Saturday, thanks to a grant intended to promote visitation in the aftermath of the pandemic. Entrance is free to members of the garden. Tickets need to be arranged in advance due to COVID-19 at berkshirebotanical.org.

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A gardener grows through observation, experimentation, and learning from the failures, triumphs, and hard work of oneself and others. In this sense, all gardeners are self-taught, while at the same time intrinsically connected to a tradition and a community that finds satisfaction through working the soil and sharing their experiences with one another. This column explores those relationships and how we learn about the world around us from plants and our fellow gardeners.