Editor’s Note: Periodically during the Tanglewood season, we will offer these reminiscences of Tanglewood taken from Peggy Daniel’s book, “Tanglewood: A Group Memoir,” published by Amadeus Press and available in local bookstores. Our musical coverage of Tanglewood includes writer Eli Newberger at the keyboard (the computer sort) and Sol Schwartz at the pad (the pen and paper sort). Additional coverage of music from the Shed at Tanglewood and at other venues will be offered by Gabriel Kalcheim.
From “Tanglewood: A Group Memoir”
Next to the artists, nothing at Tanglewood takes more “care and feeding” than the lawn, that greensward that many consider to be the crown jewel of Tanglewood. What would you do if your lawn had over fifty thousand visitors stomping on it weekly?
This was James Kiley’s problem in 1958 when he became superintendent of grounds and buildings. His first official act was to call in an expert from the University of Massachusetts Plant and Soil Department, who pronounced the lawn “cement.”
Mr. Kiley explained his solution in a Tanglewood Talks and Walks, fortunately recorded by Robert Wallace, for many years a radio producer and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio in Albany.
Many years ago we had a very serious problem with our lawns here at Tanglewood. By that I mean that we had a build up of lots of thatch [a dense, impermeable matting of roots, leaves and stems — essentially dead turf — on the surface of the lawn], no root system. It was my job to set about correcting that to bring about the situation we have today. It didn’t happen over night…
We had to get rid of the thatch that we had out there, we had to build up our fertility and develop a healthy root system. We have a program that we have established here at Tanglewood which begins in September as soon as the festival season is over. We go out there with an air fire, which is a gadget on the back of a tractor that has a bunch of spoons. We poke an awful lot of holes in that lawn out there. The reason for this is to break up the compaction that has been created during the summer.
A number of years ago some visitors came by and they saw us out there working on the lawns and they said that we were ruining a beautiful lawn by poking it full of holes. It looks bad when we poke it full of holes and the plugs are laying on the surface. The plugs lay on the surface for a day or two and then we drive over them with out big seven-gauge lawn mower and break up these plugs. Then we water it thoroughly, which is steadily practiced here during the course of the summer. Then we’ll fertilize it very, very heavily. The fall is the best time of the year to establish a healthy root system.
Then we will drop our lawn units, which are raised during the course of the summer and cut the grass short going into the winter season. We pick up every leaf and every pine needle that falls out there in the course of the fall season. Then, in the fall of the year we will put down in the neighborhood of twenty-five to thirty yards of top dressing which we will make up during the course of the summer.
Then we will go into the winter with our turf cut short. I believe that to maintain a healthy lawn and to come out of the winter in good condition, that the turf should be short. If you leave it long, you are susceptible to all kinds of winter kill, snow mold and other diseases which are not helpful to a good lawn.
In the spring of the year, as soon as the temperature reaches about 45 degrees, we will apply an application of 2,4-D, which is a broad-leaf weed killer and with that we will throw in some Select All, which is an insecticide that will kill any ants, flies or such insects that live in turf out there.
Many years ago we had a lawn in front of the Shed that was completely filled with dandelions. Over the period or three or four years we have eliminated the dandelions to the extent that we also do the same in our parking lot, which is outside the Main Gate. The reason we do that is that the seed from the dandelions blow from these parking lots into the main grounds proper and germinate and we are getting more and more dandelions through that process. So for the extra that it costs us to use the weed killer on our parking lot, we put it out there to prevent that.
After we’ve mowed our lawns during the month of May, probably the first part of June we will apply a light application of fertilizer to supplement the growth that has started to fall off a little bit from last fall. We do fertilize the main lawn very lightly during the course of the summer about every three weeks to maintain our color.
All this would not be possible if we did not have an irrigation system which we put in ten or twelve years ago. We have a pond down in the back of the Red House from which we pump water onto the grounds and then we have rain trains which we use to irrigate our lawns. When we get into our summer seasons here, we raise our lawnmowers and keep our grass height a little bit higher than we do the rest of the year. This helps us to maintain the traffic which we have during the course of the summer.
We have to seed in front of the Main Shed because it gets beaten down during the course of the summer. We will tackle that immediately after the season. The reason why it will not stand up during the course of the summer is that the grass does not have sufficient time to establish a root system. It gets hit again the first of July, not enough time to establish a root system and they tramp it out there again, so we have to reseed it.
Now you know what to do with your lawn!