Cold Climate Gardening in Franklin, NY

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Franklin, NY, a gathering spot for passionate cold climate gardeners: who knew? Deborah Banks, a frequent commenter on CCG, knew. She is a member of the Franklin Garden Club, and one of the organizers of a series of garden lectures held over the course of this spring. She invited me to see her garden and then attend the last lecture together. Deborah’s garden is outstanding and I want to devote a post to it, so here’s just a sample of what I saw:

Garden path of cold climate garden

Gardening in USDA hardiness zone 4 doesn’t stop Deborah Banks from creating an outstanding garden.

From Deborah’s house we drove to the village of Franklin. I loved the architecture of the old houses and was happy to see so many of them well-kept with attractive gardens. It’s really a charming village in the western Catskills region.

While Deborah was setting up for the lecture, I strolled over to Botanical Treasures, a seasonal shop selling garden related accessories. Everything there was aesthetically pleasing and appeared to be handmade. You could tell many of the items were unique. I was really drawn to a botanical print of narcissus mounted on a board. Then my attention was caught by a plump hen–very heavy, I think it was concrete–but it looked realistic in shape and proportions, not cutesy or “country,” which, if you live in the country, often comes off as condescending. I regret not taking pictures.

While I was browsing I introduced myself to the owner, Diana Hall, and she introduced me to her other customer, who turned out to be the speaker for the lecture, Steve Whitesell. Here’s his bio in the flyer for the lecture:

A landscape architect who works for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Whitesell has BFA and BLA degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design and a Master of Arts in Garden History and Landscape Studies from Bard College. He is active in several professional and amateur horticultural groups and has traveled widely in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, visiting exceptional private and public gardens.

And he reads my blog! “Oh, yes, you publish some of Brian Bixley‘s writing.” I was glad he enjoyed Brian’s writing. I handed him my card as he left to prepare for the lecture. That’s when Diana asked if she could show me her garden. Yes, please do!

Diana’s garden has strong structural elements that complement the classical lines of her beautifully renovated older home. The clipped ‘Green Mountain’ boxwood balls define some beds and provide a textural contrast in other beds.

Village garden with apple trees

A row of clipped ‘Green Mountain’ boxwood outline a bed in Diana Hall’s garden, while two apple trees anchor the corners.

She seamlessly integrates vegetable and fruit growing into her design, so that you scarcely realize there is food growing all around you.
village vegetable garden

From across the street, you don’t realize you are viewing a vegetable garden. The white flowers are cilantro, and asparagus fronds are visible toward the right.

manicured garden in Franklin, NY

Here the boxwood is more of a sculptural accent. In the very back of this garden is a ‘Reliance’ peach tree with a bumper crop of peaches!

I made my way back to the lecture site and took a seat next to Deborah. In front us were Bob and Rae Consigli. Bob is a hem nut (daylily fanatic). Deborah told them I wrote a blog about cold climate gardening and their faces lit up, so of course I gave them my card.

Sixty Unusual Plants

Steve Whitesell’s topic was Unusual Woody and Herbaceous Plants for Zone 5 Gardens. We were handed a list of sixty plants, all of which grow in Steve’s Schoharie garden. Unfortunately, most of the gardeners in the audience garden in Zone 4. I say unfortunately because Steve encouraged questions as he gave his talk, and the one he was continually peppered with was, “Does it grow in Zone 4?” Sometimes he didn’t know, but someone else in the audience did. The second most common question was, “Do deer eat it?”

And he did have a lot of unusual plants. Some of them I had never heard of before, like Peltoboykinia watanabei. Others I had heard of the genus, but didn’t realize there was a hardy species, such as Abelia mosanensis. (Abelia x grandiflora is often promoted as an alternative to forsythia, but it’s only hardy to zone 6). And then there were plants I’ve grown, but was not familiar with the cultivar he recommended, such as Cornus mas ‘Variegata’. (Wow, there’s a variegated Cornelian cherry?) You could tell by the oohs and aaahs and the continual questions that Mr. Whitesell’s talk was feeding the hunger for new plants that is never satiated in the passionate gardener.

More Passionate Cold Climate Gardeners

After the lecture, refreshments were served downstairs. Not knowing anyone, I sat down with a trio of women. Turns out they were all strangers, too, having traveled 45 minutes from Cooperstown to hear the lecture. They, too, struggled with gardening in Zone 4, and felt the talk was well worth the trip. When they heard I wrote about cold climate gardening, they wanted the url, and so I handed out my card again.

Later, Deborah introduced me to Dan Hauptfleisch. His extensive (40 flower beds and five ponds) garden was going to be on the tour the next day, and he made me sorry I was going to miss it. His poetic descriptions of the waves of bloom, mostly in blues and purples–German, Siberian, and Japanes iris, columbines, lupines, Dame’s Rocket, rhododendrons and azaleas–were so vivid I could almost see them. He knew the general area where I lived, especially the sawmill which he wished were closer, so he could obtain sawdust to mulch his blueberries with.

Here I’ve been traveling more than an hour in the opposite direction to meet with zealous gardeners in Ithaca, and Franklin is a mere 45 minutes away in the opposite direction, and really, closer to my own climate. They seemed eager to learn all they could despite the deer and the cold winters. And, as I said, Franklin itself is charming. You bet I’m going back.

Local Nurseries

Steve Whitesell mentioned all of these in the course of his talk.
Let It Grow
Story’s Nursery
Guernsey’s Schoharie Nurseries

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About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Evelina Micall July 2, 2013, 11:14 pm

My aunt was a former member of Franklin Garden Club. She told me that it is a branch of the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association, Inc. (WNFGA) which was founded on 1914. The club’s cause is really essential for our collective well-being! 🙂

Julia Agnes July 2, 2013, 9:30 am

WOW! so inspiring and green!

Deborah B July 1, 2013, 2:06 pm

BTW, there is a much better website for Franklin NY, at FranklinLocal.org – this website has an up-to-date calendar showing the upcoming performances for the Franklin theater, pages for Franklin’s fine farmer’s market, past issues of the New Franklin Register (Franklin’s newsletter on peak oil, local sustainability and local events) and much more.

Kathy Purdy July 1, 2013, 5:18 pm

I did link to that site, too, for the garden club lecture. And you’re right, it’s more current than the Chamber of Commerce site.

commonweeder July 1, 2013, 1:31 pm

As you say the whole issue of Zones is getting more complicated. One thing it means is paying more attention to one’s own micro-climate, or small areas of tender or severe micro-climate.

Kathy Purdy July 1, 2013, 5:19 pm

I agree. It confirms the saying, “The best fertilizer is the shadow of the gardener.”

Aaron July 1, 2013, 1:08 pm

Nice to see Kathy that you have had a great day by stumbling upon beautiful surprises. Such events do not happen very often, they should be treasured in our memories.

marjorie kellogg July 1, 2013, 11:14 am

I’m so glad you enjoyed Steve’s lecture and your visit to Franklin. We have all struggled with cold climate gardening, but I believe many will agree that climate change has already made a difference. I now think of myself as gardening in Zone 5, with the potential for a relapse toward the top of Zone 4. But it’s been a while since our winters have been that cold! For example, there’s Randy Walster, growing a horde of Japanese maples at 1800′ near Roxbury.

Kathy Purdy July 1, 2013, 11:18 am

I agree that the winters haven’t been as cold. But I still can get late frosts and freezes, and many plants that can take a warmer winter can’t take that kind of up and down spring. I tell people I have a zone 5 winter with a zone 4 growing season, but many years it’s closer to a zone 6 winter–but with frost after Memorial Day! So the challenges are still there.

Deborah B July 1, 2013, 9:33 am

Thanks for the great post! I’ll use your picture of my front garden for motivation in working on widening that path. 🙂 Sorry we couldn’t connect for more of the lectures, but you are welcome back any time.

Carol - May Dreams Gardens July 1, 2013, 8:03 am

What a great discovery and a great day. Goes to show, you never know who is reading your blog and what awaits just around the next bend in the road.

Donna@Gardens Eye View June 30, 2013, 5:25 pm

Wow what a great find Kathy…sounds like a fabulous spot.

Donalyn@The Creekside Cook June 30, 2013, 12:34 pm

It sounds like a really lovely day, Kathy – and how wonderful to find more gardeners so close by!

Janette Emerson June 30, 2013, 8:20 am

Wow! I wish I could develop a garden like that. I would also like to integrate vegetable and fruit growing in my garden. It’s really fulfilling to have a beautiful garden having nutritious fruits and vegetables. 😉

Robin Ripley June 30, 2013, 7:30 am

Deborah’s garden does look quite inviting–and much more lush than I would have expected from a cold climate garden. She obviously knows what she’s doing!

Jenny Patterson June 29, 2013, 10:19 pm

Have I told you lately how much I enjoy your blog? I live in zone 3b, NW Minnesota, a lot of what you write affects me, there are some things that don’t, but that’s just the way it is.
Thank you so very much!