In the coldest part of the year, it's time to think about gardening again

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With an epic Arctic freeze assaulting the eastern U.S., it's hard to think about gardening at all, let alone the effect a warming global climate might have on Berkshire horticulture. But that's exactly what celebrated speaker, author and photographer Ken Druse will examine — with lots of gorgeous pictures, he promises — when he gives an illustrated talk on "The New Shade Garden: Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Change" on Saturday at Lenox Memorial High School for the Berkshire Botanical Garden's 21st Annual Winter Lecture.

A self-taught, award-winning author and photographer — the Smithsonian acquired his collection of 100,000 images — Druse has penned 20 books on natural gardening over 25 years, including his best-seller "The Natural Shade Garden."

Twenty years on, his latest title "The New Shade Garden" explores the subject in a different light, recommending shade as a solution to challenges caused by global climate change.

Druse lectures throughout North America, illustrating his talks with his images and video from far afield and near at hand.

For 20 years, he has gardened at his home on an island in a river in a high valley in northwest New Jersey, a location with a similar climate to the Berkshires, he said.

"When you're at the top of a mountain you have a view, and when you're in a valley you have water," he explained.

Sometimes, however, water is not a gardener's best friend.

In 2011, Druse experienced nature's fury up close when Hurricane Irene followed by Tropical Storm Lee traveled inland, altering the river's course and submerging his garden in an unprecedented 4 feet of water.

Big old trees were lost, drowned in the deluge, and Druse had to reimagine his cherished landscape. It took five years for the garden to recover, he reports, but come back it did, better than ever. And it has not flooded since, he points out.

Druse looks at a garden as a living sculpture. Over time, it will peak and require pruning and editing, which transforms it. Nowadays, however, the effects of climate change can be seen more easily.

As the planet warms, Druse recommends moving into the shade and planting trees to help fight erosion and absorb CO2. These woodland gardens, he pointed out, "are very good for the Berkshires."

Grow vegetables in the morning, he said, then tend to cut flowers in the evening. When it's hot and sunny in the middle of the day, move into the shade.

Things have changed, he cautions. "And we should talk to everybody and loudly."

"He's very well regarded in his field," said Berkshire Botanical Garden Executive Director Michael Beck, who listens to Druse's monthly broadcasts on Margaret Roach's weekly gardening radio show.

As a contrast to last year's speaker — distinguished landscape architect Thomas Woltz — Druse is a "real plantsman," Beck said. That Druse focuses on gardening in the face of global climate change made him even more appealing, said Beck, who has seen first hand how weather changes such as unusually severe winters have impacted the Botanical Garden's plant life and facilities.

"Intense storms wash out walkways and create havoc in our gardens," Beck said. "I've read that's an indicator of things changing rapidly, and I think everyone that's gardening is noticing these challenges. That's why people are really interested to hear what [Druse] has to say."

At the Botanical Garden, warming conditions are addressed with strategies like extra mulching and identifying plants capable of handling erratic water supplies and temperature spikes. Certain areas might depend on irrigation to flourish, while some plants considered marginally hardy in this area are now successfully overwintering — although this year may test their mettle.

"It's fascinating from a growing perspective," said Beck.

Horticulture director Dorthe Hviid will review the garden's seasonal plan with Druse while he is in town, Beck said. But Druse doesn't consider himself an expert in all things horticultural. When he starts a project, it's because he wants to find out, and he shares his findings liberally on his blog at KenDruse.com.

The Winter Lecture attracts 300 to 400 people each year, eager to hear from these distinguished North American and international speakers. Behind the scenes, bakers are busy preparing 80 dozen cookies for the traditional post-lecture reception, where Druse will sign books and the audience can mingle with fellow gardening enthusiasts.

Scheduled for the coldest part of the year, the annual talk "really gets people thinking about gardening again," Beck said. "Everyone's eager to hear about plants and gardening and see some beautiful pictures, and start thinking about their next season."

If You Go:

What: Berkshire Botanical Garden's 21st Annual Winter Lecture: "The New Shade Garden: Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Change"

Who: Ken Druse, gardening author, lecturer and photographer

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13. Snow date is Sunday, Jan. 14.

Where: Lenox Memorial High School, 197 East Street, Lenox

Tickets: $45 general public, $35 members; includes post-lecture reception. Available at berkshirebotanical.org, 413-320-4794, reservations recommended.

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