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Bosco Schell and Melissa Gamwell Photo by Leila Hawken

Looking for spring inspiration? Join the Cornwall Garden Club


A relatively new organization, the Garden Club in Cornwall, Conn., held its first meeting of the year at the historic home of Melissa Gamwell and Kevin Greenberg, attracting gardening enthusiasts to hear about indoor plants and what’s best to do for them to keep them green. The event was held on Sunday, Feb. 26.

The Cornwall Garden Club was created in 2020 by resident Charlotte Van Doren, as a way to gather neighbors during the pandemic.

Everyone is welcome, whether beginner or advanced. Because the group chose not to become incorporated, Van Doren said, the garden club gains flexibility in programming.

Spontaneity is the order of the day, Van Doren explained, as part of the fun, light-hearted personality of the effort, kind of like “Let’s put on a show!”

With justified pride in the progress of the garden club, Van Doren said that she is now one of a seven-member team managing a variety of programs and strands of activity, including gardens, labs, and adventures that feature field trips to more distant garden spaces.

In addition to Van Doren who serves as a sort of president, as she self-describes, the seven-member team includes Stephana Bottom, Juliet Hubbard, Dee Salomon, Heidi Cunnick, Susie Lily Ott, and Molly Larrison. Van Doren has even assembled an Advisory Committee with recognized expertise. Jane Garmey and Roxana Robinson are serving in that capacity.

This coming season, Van Doren said, will have a new programming strand called The Heirloom Series, with hands-on workshops. The focus will be on what can be made from materials grown in the garden.

Other events during the coming year will demonstrate pickle-making with Cornwall resident Dave Cowen and herb gardening and tea-making with herb grower Patty Bramley.

“We want people to join with us and come to different things,” said Stephana Bottom, describing plans for a 1,000-bulb planting program scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 14.

Introducing the featured speaker, Van Doren characterized the program as a “conversation about the indoor world of houseplants,” set among the copious arrangement of Gamwell’s collection of all manner of potted plantings, all doing well.

Gamwell termed it her “indoor experiment,” recounting that two years ago, she and her husband had moved to this bright Cornwall country home from a rather dark Brooklyn brownstone.

“I started going crazy for the pelargoniums, part of the geranium family,” she said, introducing guest speaker Bosco Schell of Falls Village, Conn., where he gardens along with his wife, noted horticulturist and author, Page Dickey.

“I’m not a professional gardener,” Schell began. “I’m just a gardener. Let’s have a conversation.”

The first thing to consider is exposure to light. Pelargoniums like lots of sunlight, Schell said, adding that during winter, many indoor plants like to rest a while.

Soil and its composition are important elements in that some plants like begonias favor a lighter soil, so sand might be added to the potting mix. To create heavier soil for the pelargoniums, for example, add some compost.

Water, when and how much, is key, Schell said. “More plants are killed by overwatering than by underwatering.”

Because the area is prone to hard water, it is best to collect rainwater to use for plants. Home water softening systems introduce salt to tap water, and plants do not care for salt, Schell cautioned.

With fertilizer, less is better, Schell said. Cut the recommended doses in half as a matter of course, and then in half again, during winter. He recommended using Jack’s fertilizer brand and also Dyna-gro.

Any plants that store food, like bulbs of any sort, appreciate potassium, Schell advised.

Creating more plants by taking cuttings and promoting root growth was a feature of the second half of the program.

“You have to keep pruning your houseplants,” Schell said, suggesting the use of plastic pots filled with perlite for rooting cuttings of some plant types. Plastic pots will hold moisture better, as will glazed pots. Clay pots can be good, but Schell advised soaking the clay pot in water for an hour to prevent the clay from wicking away water from the soil holding the cutting.

When re-potting, avoid the temptation to re-pot to a much larger pot. Only step up one pot size, Schell said, an inch at a time. A small plant in a large pot will likely not survive.

The next event scheduled by the Cornwall Garden Club will be on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, at the Cornwall Public Library. A panel discussion to be moderated by veteran news correspondent Richard Schlesinger will dig deeply into composting. One of the panelists will be Ted Larson, describing the town’s proposed program for composting at the transfer station. As an additional feature, the event will include a walk around the town center to visit residents’ composting areas, and seeing how they do it at home.

For more on the Cornwall Garden Club  email at cornwallgardenclub1@gmail.com or go to www.cornwallgardenclub.org.

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