Planning a stress-free garden


By Ed Karvoski Jr.

Contributing Writer

For Michelle Murphy, vice president and board member of the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association (MMGA), a lifelong passion is also a way for her to reduce stress.

“Worries go away when I’m just focusing on the plants and the beauty of them,” she said.

MMGA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to share knowledge and experience with the public through several outreach programs statewide. Its training and board meetings are conducted at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Gardens at Elm Bank in Wellesley.

Among their outreach programs is a help line. Most callers are now asking when they can start their gardens, Murphy noted.

“At this point they can be planning their garden,” she said. “But nothing should get planted in the ground until the fear of frost is over, which is usually by the third week of May. Planting above the ground is a different story. You can start your gardens on the patio much sooner.”

Another way the MMGA reaches out to garden enthusiasts is with booths at events such as the Boston Flower & Garden Show. There, they’ve displayed plants in elevated planter containers and were surprised by the reaction.

“Many people came by and said they never thought about planting vegetables in anything other than in the ground,” she relayed. “It never occurred to them that this would make it so much easier.”

Murphy believes that elevated planters and troughs offer a number of advantages for some gardeners.

“The troughs come in different dimensions and they’re about 32 inches high,” she explained. “That height allows you to garden comfortably and not have the strain or stress if you’ve got arthritis or any kind of physical impairments. And troughs can be portable. They can be put on a patio or up against the house – wherever there’s sufficient sun. Vegetables need at least six hours of sun a day.”

This method of planting can also be more convenient and cost-effective, Murphy noted.

“Patio or the elevated plant containers require just hand tools, as opposed to long-handled hoes and rakes,” she said. “It’s far more affordable for people on a fixed retirement budget.”

While the MMGA does not endorse businesses, Murphy noted that a variety of elevated planters and troughs are available at the Gardener’s Supply Company. The employee-owned company provides environmentally-friendly products through its website ( and two retail stores in Vermont.

Before the planting begins, Murphy suggests that gardeners acknowledge to themselves how much work they want to put into growing and maintaining their gardens.

“There’s more work involved if you put a garden in the ground,” she said. “You’ve got to till the soil, mark it out, and be careful about animals coming and eating it. Also, we highly recommend that you get a soil test before you put anything in the ground.”

Soil tests can be ordered by giving a sample to the UMass Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Laboratory in Amherst. Orders can be hand delivered, or sent by postal mail or private carrier. For more information, visit or call 413-545-2311.

“The soil is different in the ground versus the elevated planters,” Murphy explained. “If you’re using elevated planters, you can buy soil that is intended for potted plants, which has fertilizer in it. There’s quite a few good brands on the market.”

Whether choosing to plant in or above the ground, Murphy stresses the same advice on behalf of the MMGA.

“We preach no chemicals,” she said. “We preach an organic approach in that gardeners just keep an eye out for any littles pests that come by. When you use chemicals, you’re wiping out the good bugs that eat the bad bugs.”

Murphy is among the MMGA members who answer gardening questions via its help line: 617-933-4929. Now through October, the help line is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information about MMGA, visit