Need a little tropical?

Wednesdays at the Greenhouse are a cure for the winter blues

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Phyllis Jampol, Janice Rattet and Greenhouse manager Diane Sylvia at the Greenhouse’s Wednesday weekly lunch., — Photo by Sam Moore

Looking for some sunshine and warmth, those comforts we miss in the dead of winter? No need for a ticket south — even in deepest darkest winter. The Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard, a community supported nonprofit year-round gardening operation, is an effective cure for the winter blues.

Inside the Greenhouse, it’s almost like summer: warm and humid, with the scent of flowers and sunlight streaming through the leaves. Only the sound of birds is missing.

It’s Wednesday, chore day, when Greenhouse members gather to socialize as they pick, plant, weed, and otherwise keep the Greenhouse producing in a “seed to salad bowl” operation. At the back of the greenhouse, Greenhouse manager Dianne Sylvia is nearly swallowed in the eight foot tall forest of still fruiting red and yellow tomato plants, as she tidies the growth, plucking dead branches and ripe tomatoes.

At the potting bench, Greenhouse president Thalia Scanlon is involved in a recycling project, turning plant and plastic into something new. She clips two-inch sprigs from an ancient rosemary plant and sticks them in an old plastic salad container from Stop & Shop. Once the lid is closed — voila: a mini greenhouse. By May, in time for the huge Mother’s Day Plant Sale that is the Greenhouse’s primary fundraiser, these clippings will have been transplanted a couple of times before exploding into large, lush rosemary plants.

As with any gardening operation, there is a rhythm and a timetable here. Today, the propagation of rosemary and perennials has begun. Next week: salad greens and herbs.  Petunias and eggplant are on the schedule, as are peppers, leeks, and dozens of other vegetables and flowers. Excitement builds in February as the pace quickens, and we begin to plant tomatoes, including the heirloom varieties for which the Greenhouse is famous.

Ms. Scanlon, a longtime New York advertising executive, brought a passion for tomatoes when she retired to the Vineyard 15 years ago. With names like “Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter” and “Cherokee Purple,” these heirlooms come with equally intriguing stories. “Earl of Edgecombe” tomatoes, Ms. Scanlon explains, are named for the Earl of Edgecombe, who was a sheep farmer in New Zealand. When he went to England to claim his earldom, he took with him the seeds of a mild yellow tomato he had developed.

Sue Streeter, the day’s designated salad maker, roams the greenhouse in search of ingredients for our noon potluck, weeding as she goes, offering fellow workers samples of particularly tasty findings: upland cress, a milder version of its watery cousin; tiny Sungold tomatoes; figs from a tree newly carried inside for the winter. The inventory of plants from which Sue has to choose is large: roughly a half dozen kinds of lettuce, plus mustard greens, arugula, kale, and various herbs. Both sweet and hot peppers, which flourish in winter, are added to the salad bowl.  

All these and more are available on a pick-your-own basis. You don’t have to be a member to buy from the greenhouse, but members benefit from a discount. Tomatoes, regularly $3 per pound are just $2 for members, $1 with two hours of volunteering per week, and free if you volunteer for four hours per week. On an Island where just one heirloom tomato can run upwards of $5, Greenhouse pricing borders on the miraculous.

Membership is reasonable: $35 a year for a single, $40 for a couple. Knock off half if you purchase membership through the Edgartown Senior Center. Folks in other towns might want to pester their own Senior Centers to add this discount to their roster of offerings, but any way you look at it, access to fresh veggies in the wintertime is a sweet deal.

Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard, 114 New York Avenue, Oak Bluffs (behind Health Care Access building) 508-693-2019. mvgreenhouse.org.