HANSON — It started as a Christmas gift for Les and Marian Wyman from their daughter, Joanne Gauley, but the self-published volume of gardening columns the couple wrote for the Brockton Enterprise in the 1970s and ’80s has become available to the public.
“The Grass Roots,” which was also the name of the column, was the topic of a reading and question-and-answer session at the Hanson Public Library on Sunday, June 12. Questions from the audience of gardening enthusiasts ranged from how to grow blue hydrangeas like they do on the Cape and Nantucket — he advised moving to Nantucket, with a chuckle — to when to move or prune trees, how to spread foxgloves, and encourage growth of rhubarb plants.
“Many, many different varieties of hydrangea have come along — blue ones, pink ones — but I like the white,” he said.
He also took the opportunity to dispel some gardening myths such as the one about ants being necessary to spur bloom in peonies, as well as some regarding other insects and spiders.
“I’ve heard a radio talk show host repeat this,” he said of the peony myth. “The ants are only looking for the waxy substance on the peony bud, which they feed on. It has nothing to do with the peony flowers opening. … But it’s been repeated so many times people are beginning to believe it.”
Wyman also said it was an old wive’s tale that the drops of water left on leaves will burn plant foliage, but cautioned against over-watering vegetable gardens, instead advocating a good soaking once a week when watering restrictions are lifted to keep soil well oxygenated.
Where water restrictions pose problems, as is currently the situation in Hanson, mulch or well-water use are the only methods to help soil retain water, according to Wyman.
Imparting her father’s expertise to new generations as well as a walk down a garden path of memories for those who remember her dad’s column, were Gauley’s aims.
“She had fun doing it and I had fun reading it,” Les Wyman said of the volume his daughter compiled and edited from a box of 732 column clippings saved by his friend Sam Hammond. “She showed up last Christmas with two shopping bags full of books. I knew she was thinking of doing it, but I didn’t realize she was going to go through with it and finish the job.”
That comprised the book’s first printing, so they contacted the publisher in southern Maine to order more, which are on sale at Wyman’s Nursery.
He outlined how the column began, his days doing a gardening show on WATD radio and gave some insight into how he came to write many of the columns included in the book.
“I found two-and-a-half pages [hand-written] on a legal pad was just about long enough for a column,” he said, noting his wife would then type up for submission to the paper in those days before computers. Marian often wrote as “Mrs. Garden Writer” at the end of the columns, too.
Gauley also included a note in the book’s introduction that some of the treatments for pests and plant conditions noted in the columns are no longer used or advised, but were accepted horticultural practices at the time they were written.
One column related how former Indian Head School Principal had his students plant a Dawn Redwood tree at Wyman’s suggestion as an Arbor Day project. The tree, which has been found in fossils all over the northern hemisphere, were rediscovered still growing by a Chinese botanist several decades ago.
“The seed was distributed to plant-growers all over the northern hemisphere so that Dawn Redwood is now growing again where it existed millions of years ago,” he said.
As to spreading foxglove from one year to the next, Wyman said the easiest way is to go to a nursery and buy another plant.
“Foxglove, or digitalis … is a biennial,” he said. “They grow seed, the seedlings winter over and flower the next year. The seed is scattered by wind. It’s just a freak of nature, you can’t depend on it.”
One can gather the dust-like seed and scatter it where it is wanted.
Where transplanting trees to another location is concerned, he said to wait until the tree is dormant after leaves fall or early spring before new leaves appear, but one can root-prune — cutting down through roots about 2 ½ feet around the trunk — sizable trees during the season before to encourage a more compact root system.
“There will be less shock when transplanting,” he said.
Wyman also discouraged fertilizing shrubs growing near foundations and to avoid placing plants too close to walnut trees, due to a chemical the tree emits that retards plant growth. If one smokes, always wash your hands before gardening to avoid spreading tobacco mosaic virus and always rotate garden crops to prevent disease.
For one gardner’s under-sized rhubarb conundrum, he had two words of advice: mulch and manure [or other organic fertilizer].