As the year’s planting season approaches after an abominable winter, Fran Evans has noticed an unusual eagerness among local gardeners in recent weeks.
They come to his gardening classes with more questions than usual. And, even though the ground has been too frozen for planting, the parking lots and garden centers are full of shoppers.
“They’re going nuts,” he said. “We’re having such a short transition between winter and semi-spring, people are all of a sudden rushing as opposed to dribbling along.”
Evans, who is known for his skill with seedlings, is part of the cadre of master gardeners called on by gardening clubs and the Cornell Cooperative Extension to give lectures and help people gear up for growing flowers and vegetables.
Evans got deeply into gardening after retiring from a career as a chemist. Now he grows about 5,000 plants from seed in his basement, planting some on the two acres near his house and selling some on Saturdays at the Hamburg Farmer’s Market, which opens May 1.
“You’re seeing a plant from all life phases,” he said. “There’s this sense of accomplishment about it.”
At the moment he has a couple thousand seedlings underway. Begonias, which he planted last month, are one of his preferred flowers. They do well in the shade and bugs dislike them. “The rabbits don’t seem to care for them either. That’s also a plus,” he said.
Lettuce, cabbage, peppers, iris and cone flowers are sprouting, too.
Last week he planted another favorite, tomatoes. He likes them for their versatility – from serving as the foundation of a good sauce to straight off the vine for snacking. “Little salad tomatoes, you can just wash ’em and pop ’em in your mouth,” he said.
Seedlings often need six to eight weeks to get started. Evans’ know-how comes from his experience gardening as a boy, growing up on a farm in Illinois. “Everybody helped,” he said.
Now, after eight decades of growing things, it’s a pleasure to pass on what he knows. “I help people develop their sense of planting their garden,” he said. “I also help them to not make mistakes. Hopefully.”
To take a class with Evans, consider signing up for one of three he will teach Tuesday evenings at Frontier Middle School in Hamburg as part of the Frontier School System’s community education program. For details check www.frontier.wnyric.org for page 7 of the “Spring brochure” or call 926-1744.
For a single day of workshops with other master gardeners from the Cooperative Extension, consider signing up for the “Communities in Bloom” Saturday seminars.
For $20, pack a lunch and listen to a series of comprehensive and basic 45-minute talks. Topics include seed starting and annuals, disease and pest prevention, perennial care, compost, vegetables and pruning.
Register at cce.cornell.edu/erie or mail a $20 check to CCE Erie County Attn: Communities in Bloom, to 21 South Grove St. East Aurora, NY 14052.
Indicate Option A or B. A: April 12, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Olmsted Parks Conservancy at Delaware Park – Parkside Lodge, 84 Parkside Avenue. B: May 3, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Cornell Cooperative Extension, Demonstration Room, 21 South Grove St., East Aurora.