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Taking a tour of organic gardens in Newton

Posted by Caitlin Castello  September 16, 2009 09:00 AM

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I have to admit, I do not have a green thumb in the slightest, but when I heard about the Organic Garden and Landscape Tour throughout Newton, I was intrigued. I knew the basic concepts of organic gardening — no pesticides or insecticides — but I wanted to learn more. So I spent my Sunday afternoon with a group of organic gardeners and members of the Green Decade Coalition touring four gardens in Newton, and was I amazed.

Margaret and Sam Fogel’s garden on Halcyon Avenue in Newton Centre was first on the tour. Their garden inhabits both the front and back yard, corn stalks rose tall in the front yard and delicious raspberry and pear tree grew along the garage.

Organic gardening, as I found, is not an easy fit in an urban environment. Margaret explained some of the challenges to growing a large garden: New England soil is very sandy and sunlight is always a concern. Rabbits and squirrels are problematic as well.

To keep the squirrels away from his pears, Sam places a blueberry pint container over large pears — the pint acts as a barrier and the squirrels can’t grab the fruit. Margaret puts her lettuce and other small plants into cold cases, which are used for plants that can thrive in colder temperatures. The cases are effective in warding off rabbits because, as Margaret said, the rabbits won’t try hard enough to get the vegetables.

The tour of the Fogels’ ended with samples of the juiciest fruit I’ve tasted all season, raspberries and plums, pulled right from their garden.

Sandy White’s garden, the second on the tour, lies on a steep slope in Newton Centre. Her lawn is just as lush as the flowers she has in the back. To keep her lawn organic, she uses organic fertilizer. The garden in her back yard was quiet with a wide variety of plants and flowers. Her hydrangeas in the front yard were an eye-catching shade of blue and were popular with the tour.

While at the White garden, I took a minute to speak with a fellow tour member, Dick Simon, who has his own organic garden. Simon has 20 raised beds in his garden. He has had organic gardens before but he really got interested in it this last year, he said.

“It’s not hard [to grow organically], there is a little more work up front,” said Simon. “It’s all fun. You get an incredible sense of discovery from doing this.”

After White’s house, we shuttled over to Newton Corner to Geoff Palmer’s garden on Buswell Park. Palmer installed his own irrigation system called Netafim. This system allows for even watering, he said. He changed to this system after using overhead sprinklers. Palmer started his tour by demonstrating how to start and nurture seedlings. Palmer does not use insecticides and for fertilizer he uses liquid seaweed or fish fertilizer.

The tour ended in the peaceful Japanese garden of artist Michael Milburn's house in Newton Centre on Jefferson Street. Milburn was inspired to build a Japanese garden from a Japanese calligraphy class he took.

He decided to make his garden organic because he and his wife wanted to make use of the existing materials, he said. All the plants in his garden, expect for the bamboo he planted, were already there; hostas, fincas, and junipers. While in his garden he explained the different aspects of a Japanese garden, such as enclosure and borrowing elements of another neighbor’s garden.

Aside from spending the afternoon in beautiful gardens, the next best thing was listening to everyone swap tips and ideas about their own gardens. Sunwoo Kahng, member of Green Decade Coalition and a committee member the Organic Gardening and Landscape Tour, said she does not have an organic garden as of yet, but she is working on trying to improve her soil.

“I am very interested in fruit trees,” she said. “I am curious to try them. I am really encouraged by the Fogels’ garden.”

It was amazing to see these plants, flowers, fruit and vegetables thrive in the back yards of Newton. Each gardener was enthusiastic to share their tips with the group and just as eager to learn from other gardeners. As a novice gardener, this tour was extremely informational and I can’t help but be inspired to start my own garden.

Caitlin Castello can be reached at

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