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December 03, 2016
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Tastemaker: Katharine Brown; From hobbyist to flower professional

Katharine’s garden is a riot of color at the height of summer.
Contributed photo

A: (Laughing) No. The truth is I would just look at an area and think, “What should I do there?” [At the beginning], I did some very shoddy rock wall jobs; any person who looks at them, they probably think, “Oh, boy. That’s a very unfortunate wall.” But it does hold the flower beds in place.

Q: In your garden, do you try to follow natural growing practices?

A: Yes. One thing that I’m trying to put in practice at the farm is permaculture, and as much as I can in other people’s gardens. I never force it on anyone. There’s a sense that we need to be thinking beyond just pretty.

Q: Do you dry flowers?

A: I do, but not too much. I dry straw flowers, which are fun, and I dry alliums—not for the color, but for the shape; I think they’re really cool.

Q: One thing that I heard about you is that you forage. What do you forage?

A: Well, I try not to do anything illegal (laughing), but I love to forage for winterberries. And ferns. I just cut them; I don’t dig them up. Wonderful barks that have fallen on the ground. Hemlocks are great, but now they have Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, so you have to watch out. I forage more in the fall and winter. I look around for weird things—not weird, but just different—like the Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick, [a shrub] that has crazy, curlicue branches.

Advice to gardeners

Q: What advice do you have for somebody who’s planning a garden?

A: One thing I say is, “Sit in your house, or on your porch; look out your windows.” Where do you enjoy spending time? Those are the areas to develop. A lot of times, people build their gardens hugging the house, where you can’t see them if you’re sitting inside, and often, the shrubs then eat your house, literally and figuratively. We have six months of growing season here, but we have a long six months of sitting inside looking out. Gardens can be interesting through more than just one or two seasons.

Q: Do you choose a mix of annuals and perennials, do you include shrubs and trees, a little of everything?

A: A little of everything is the key. And try to think of things that wildlife would enjoy, too. Like winterberry, for example; it’s got a gorgeous berry, but the birds enjoy it, too, and you look at it in winter. That’s where I would have changed things; initially, I started out all perennials, and it’s gone from that to shrubs and trees that are more a four-season interest, and a lot less maintenance.