My Garden Path to the Quiet Corner

Old Connecticut Path

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

Everything Is Connected. Native trails first led westward from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the Connecticut River Valley. Old Connecticut Path was first of North American routes west from the seacoast settlement that is Boston, founded 1630. From the Hub, everything was connected, land and sea. 

The word Connecticut has little to do with our verb of connection, however; it is derived from anglicized spellings of Quinnetuket, a Mohegan-Pequot word for the state’s “long tidal river”.

Indians already knew the efficient trails, skirting wet meadows of river bottoms, crossing streams at the easiest fords, and walking the ridges. When Bay colonists were short of grain in the early 1630s, Nipmuc farmers in Connecticut took surplus maize along this familiar route to the mouth of the Charles River, trading food for metal goods and woolen cloth (and unintentional disease for which no immunity). 

1635 Watertown settlers took this route moving to Wethersfield, Connecticut. In 1636, Hartford was founded when Congregational minister Thomas Hooker (advocate of universal Christian suffrage who disagreed with the Puritans) took a hundred of his dissenting congregation on a two-week trek with 160 cattle along the Path to the Connecticut River, a place called Saukiog, meaning “blackness of earth”. Early colonists driving cattle made the Path wider.

By 1643, Sudbury Village in Massachusetts, documents called this trail “Old Connecticut Path”. With a postal system in 1672, “The Great Trail of New England” became the first colonial Post Road. The Path crossed the Blackstone River, crossing known as North Bridge, and the Quinebaug River crossing was South Bridge, thus naming Northbridge and Southbridge. The Path still partly follows Routes 9 and 126.

The ease of growing corn led to small grist mills on waterways throughout the region, as in Gurleyville near Storrs, dating to about 1749 on the Fenton River near Mansfield Hollow and the Nipmuc Trail.

GARDEN PATH  Everything Is connected. Moving to Boston in 2004, I often drove Route 9 from Jamaica Plain to Hopkinton’s Weston Nurseries, my first connection to the Path. JP is also home to Arnold Arboretum, nature’s solace for many, where I was a volunteer docent. In the1970s, architectural studies at the University of Minnesota connected with spatial work at Bachman’s Garden Center in Minneapolis, and Dundee Nursery in Plymouth MN.Unitarian-Universalism taught its 7th Principle: 

Respect for the Interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We Are a Part

Not apart.


Centuries before European settlement, Old Connecticut Path led west from Massachusetts Bay along the north bank of the Charles River … to Cambridge (New Town) and newly settled Watertown, through now-Waltham and Weston… curving south to Wayland where Route 126 still bears the Old Path name. (Wayland, where “Bay Path” diverged from Connecticut Path to head straight west through Worcester to the Connecticut River from Mass Bay.) 

Southwestward, Connecticut Path passed along the north side of Cochituate Pond to cross the Sudbury River in now-Framingham (Route 126 also retains name), then threaded between the Charles and Sudbury Rivers. From Framingham, Old Connecticut Path ran south through Ashland (Megunko, where I later lived on Sudbury headquarters) through Hopkinton (Quansigamog) into now-Westborough. 

Native Indians were coerced to settle in “praying towns”, instructed in European customs and converted to Christianity. Trekking over Fay Mountain to Grafton, known as the praying town of Hassanamesit / Hassanamisco, the Old Path led through Sutton woods to Connecticut. It entered at the praying town of Mannexit, now Thompson, continued into Woodstock and crossed the Quiet Corner through Eastford, Ashford and Willington. 

Today, travelers in the Quiet Corner can walk Old Connecticut Path in Fenton-Ruby Park (Willington) and along the Nipmuc (aka Nipmuck)  Trail north from Mansfield Hollow (Windham) to Bigelow Hollow (Union) at the Massachusetts border. 

NIPMUC TRAIL A west branch starts on Puddin’ Lane in suburban Mansfield, and the east branch extends north from Mansfield Hollow State Park (Windham), through the Natchaug / Nipmuck State Forests and Yale Forest, into Bigelow Hollow State Park (Union). The 45-mile trail hikes woods, open fields and ridges, to which many other trails connect town and conservation lands, notably Joshua’s Trust. 

Westward, the Old Path crosses Tolland, Vernon and Manchester to arrive at the Connecticut River. 

GARDEN PATH  Working in Hopkinton, Weston Nurseries’ vast inventory of plants instructed me. Better than a graduate degree. Working at Bachman’s and Dundee Nursery in Minnesota, had converted me to Horticulturalism, but WN enhanced my sense of landscape design and my earlier experience with plants suitable to Minnesota’s bitter winters.

My mantra:                                                      Suit the Site, Fit the Space, Then Seek Beauty

Master gardening was most instructive. This interconnection of all things horticultural was studied at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at Elm Bank, Wellesley, as I began KB garden design in Jamaica Plain. 

2018  My path arrived in the Quiet Corner at a 1750 farmhouse in Chaplin near the Natchaug River with a scary basement and two wooded acres. Over sixty more trees, many flowering, and many more shrubs and herbaceous perennials have been planted, coexisting with glorious weeds. Love the wild landscape.


What I most want to take root, however, is the notion of horticultural interconnection.  Spiritual respect for the environment assists book and field learning. Key for me was master gardening training with MassHort.

Locally, the UCONN Master Gardening Program is in Storrs. Volunteer to learn more. Arnold Arboretum taught me more about mature growth and landscape design; in New London, learn from ornamental and natural habitats at Connecticut College. 

Master Gardener is an amateur designation; Horticulturist is a professional one. Skill and passion overlap, and becoming a Master Gardener doesn’t replace a professional degree or working as a project manager at a “design-build” nursery, but master gardening connects many variables. Gardening benefits all landscape designers. Nothing beats experience, except imagination.

Dedicated to the memory of Ryan Lefsky who died unexpectedly in October, a hard worker with overwhelming family responsibilities who loved walking the woods of Sutton, Mass.

Brian Karlsson-Barnes, Master gardener/designer, Chaplin CT

In Summer’s Lull, Think Autumn Planting

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

Our temperate climate’s change in seasons decided my career path decades ago. I liked the rhythm of seasonal work. Busy, not busy, busy again… then dormant. 

Explosive growth in spring has many garden needs, surging again in fall. Physical and spiritual restoral comes in summer’s reprieve and winter’s rejuvenation. Winter is time to read, research, write and plan for next year’s garden.

This winter was different.

A Boston client wanted a “microforest” designed for spring planting, and a Northborough, grower (Brian Lewis of The Natural Landscape) wanted a list of the showiest trees and shrubs for New England. 

Such as Cary Award-winning plants named by the Worcester County Horticultural Society. All are proven reliably hardy to USDA Zone 4 with exceptional pest and disease resistance and are adaptable to the range of cultural conditions across New England.

Michael Dirr, Ph.D / University of Georgia horticultural professor, is my go-to authority. His Manual of Woody Landscape Plants is an old-school botanical bible. With two decades of hort experience in the northeast, seven with Weston Nurseries, I have my favorites. 

TREES  Three species of native deciduous trees for temperate New England (that I have planted in the Quiet Corner) were used in Boston: redbud, serviceberry and whitebarked birch. 

·    Redbud (Cercis)   Dark red buds open to purple-pink flowers in early spring before leafout at every node along ascending wide-spreading branches — best at edges of tree plantings to reduce crossing branches. Likes part shade to full sun. Mature height of 20 feet.

One is planted in Chaplin to screen a view.

·    Serviceberry (Amelanchier)   AKA Juneberry and Shadblow because it blooms when the shad (herring) run. Pure white flowers cover the tree in April with tasty berries in June — but birds beat you to ‘em. Orange-to-red fall color; ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is a brilliant red. Often available in multi-stem clump form. Height 25 feet.

Allegheny Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) is a native tree that naturally hybridizes with twenty species of small trees and smaller shrubs like Shadbush (A. canadensis).

Masses of showy, slightly fragrant white flowers last a week or two in early spring before leaves appear. Shadbush blooms a few weeks later. Then fruit for excellent blueberry-like pie, but birds beat you to ‘em. Yellow-orange-to-brick-red fall color. 

Orange fungal galls can mar fruit if near host junipers for Cedar Apple RustSpores can form on eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) a mile away, but the cosmetic damage doesn’t harm the apple-family tree.

Found naturally in woodland borders, full sun to part shade. Vulnerable to caterpillars that I remove by hand or with a jet spray of water or least-toxic pesticide; systemics are not used to protect birds. Grows fast to 25-feet.

Three native A. laevis are planted in Chaplin with one A. canadensis

·    Whitebarked Birch (Betula spp)   Striking white bark in all seasons, more so in multi-stem form. Native cultivar (nativar) ‘Whitespire’ (Betula populifolia) resists native bugs. Height 35-40 feet in full sun. 

Smaller nonnative Himalayan Birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii) is the purest white, but suffers caterpillars and borers more than native trees, especially in the country.

TIP  Improving horticultural conditions helps all plants survive pests. I use copious compost and kelp, and pay very close attention. 

Three ‘Whitespire’ and one Himalayan Birch are planted at my Chaplin “Chapel of the Birch” Others are Paper / Canoe Birch, Sweet and Yellow Birch.

Japanese plants are also suited to our temperate coastal climate, such as colorful Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) and evergreen Umbrella Pine (Sciadopitys). Also planted in the Quiet Corner.

SHRUBS  Deciduous Azalea (Rhododendron) shrubs completed the woody planting in Boston. Flower, fragrance and fall color! Other native shrubs planted in Connecticut are Redtwig Dogwood(formerly Cornus, now Benthamidia), and evergreen Mountain Laurel (Kalmia) and Rosebay (Rhodendron)

SUMMER is a welcome lull to consider fall planting. Less plant material is available in autumn but prices are discounted by October. September is a great time to plant and establish roots before the stress of next summer’s heat, perhaps drought.

Large sizes have visual impact, but small plants cost less and adapt better. Both can be planted in naturalistic groups to mimic nature. Dry-tolerant plants are better in global warming. Best using plants native to the conditions of your site’s microclimate — they establish sooner to thrive not simply survive. 

Brian Karlsson-Barnes, Master gardener/designer

KB garden design, 12 Cross Road, Chaplin CT 06235    Text 617.957.6611

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