Landscape Planner Cricket Vlass pays a call to Wellesley Gardeners’ Guild

I rushed into the monthly meeting of the Wellesley Gardeners’ Guild, eager to be reassured by our speaker Cricket Vlass, the Town of Wellesley’s Landscape Planner, that indeed Spring would soon be here. She was there in the Wakelin Room of the Wellesley Free Library to show us slides of beautiful spring plantings around town and give us the inside story about how the continuous blooms in the public areas are accomplished. She said she and her team were ready to kick into high gear and start planting and mulching just as soon as the weather cooperated. But with another snowstorm on the way, Vlass was unwilling to give us any promises about exactly when that would be.

Cricket Vlass, Wellesley
Cricket Vlass, Wellesley’s Landscape Planner, spoke at a meeting of The Wellesley Gardeners’ Guild.

Still, we are gardeners and somehow manage to keep the faith, slogging through this dreary March in a daydream haze, coaxing ourselves along with thoughts of a soon-to-come atmosphere of light and freshness and flowers. Oh please, bring on the flowers, the spring flowers that right now seem about as certain as investment performances. What is it they say in those stocks and bonds brochures? Something about past performance being no guarantee of future results, I believe.

Still, I choose to believe in stocks and bonds and tulips and daffodils, no matter what kind of a roller-coaster ride they all take me on, no matter how unlikely easy street and riotous blooms may seem. Because I suspect that with both investments and bulbs, it’s all about starting early, planning, and holding on for dear life.

Here are some insider tips Vlass let us in on. Just between you and me, I happened to learn that the town put in over 7,000 bulbs last fall. That says something about faith in future results. That’s a vote of confidence, right there, because Vlass doesn’t go around spending all that time and effort for nothing.

And she does it all pretty much with nothing. “The Park and Tree Division takes care of multiple traffic islands, parking lots, several parks, and trees throughout town. We take care of plantings in small, hot spaces that have limited soil volume and no irrigation, and it’s got to cost almost no money because we have almost no money to do it.” Vlass makes do on a skeleton budget of $800 and must fundraise for her projects.

Despite the joys and trials of gardening in Wellesley on sites that she says are “subject to all sorts of abuse and indignities” she says that judicious use of mostly perennials, some annuals, and more and more natives (although she says the natives often can’t handle the conditions) keep Wellesley beautiful and blooming. “Ideally I’m choosing plants that don’t have to be pruned,” she said, pulling up a striking before and after slide of the Clock Tower area. Decades ago the plantings in that iconic area, currently maintained with the funding and hands-on help of the Hills Garden Club of Wellesley, were clipped and tamed into submission. There were a lot of uptight-looking hedges that looked like they had to visit the salon on the regular. Today, the area looks more relaxed and free-and-easy. The multiple hostas in evidence today don’t need pruning, and azaleas just ask for a trim after they’re done blooming. It’s a less studied, more inviting look that doesn’t require as much care as the old prim-and-proper model.

Clock Tower, Wellesley
Hosta and Lady’s Mantle at the Clock Tower in Wellesley Hills.

Nowadays it’s all about sustainable landscaping practices such as matching the plantings to the conditions rather than trying to force a plant to fit in a place that ultimately will be inhospitable. “Gardening in the public eye has brought many challenges and rewards,” says Vlass, “but I could not imagine working anywhere but Wellesley.”

Cricket Vlass has been with the Park and Tree Division of the Department of Public Works since the summer of 1980 when she was hired to assist with the tree inventory. For 34 years she’s worked as the Horticulturist and Landscape Planner. Vlass holds degrees from the University of New Hampshire; Radcliffe Seminars; and holds certifications as a Massachusetts Arborist and Landscape Professional.