Gardens of Love: Carol Brush

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Carol Brush peeks through flowering asparagus branches. — Stacey Rupolo

Every time I have the opportunity to drive a Vineyard road I’ve never been on, I feel as if I’m visiting another state. This was the case as I made my way to Carol Brush’s garden at her West Tisbury home off Lambert’s Cove Road in late fall.

Carol arrived on the Island one summer 45 years ago, started a cheese shop, and never returned to college. She moved her shop from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown, then opened a second shop before starting a restaurant. She met her husband George Brush in 1978, and has never regretted the path her life has taken. Before building their home 30 years ago, she and George lived on their sailboat and rented out their house, so when they moved to terra firma, she did not want to put a vegetable garden in — only a small planting area — a little garden.

Carol grew up in Andover, and said to me: “You remember ‘The Addams Family’? That was my family. We had Lurch, a Victorian house, and I just liked getting dirt under my fingernails.” Carol did not have a garden growing up, but ever since she arrived on-Island, she’s had “a little garden.” There are two side-by-side garden areas, one started when they built their home, and the expanded garden area, which was created about seven years ago. As anyone who works all the time knows, “the garden suffers,” Carol continued, “so what I learned about gardening is to change,” as she points to one raised bed. “This was garlic last season, so I pulled the garlic in July and then I put in my Marvel of Venice beans. Then I took that crop out and I put in some winter squash. Not many grew, so I pulled it all out and put clover in for the winter. Each plot has to rotate, and you’re constantly changing places where you’re doing everything. Except for the asparagus, which was planted about 25 years ago.”

Carol’s garden was still quite plentiful last fall; there was a bounty of peppers, the variety of which she cannot recall, not far from dahlias still in bloom. She had celeriac, the “unsung hero of the vegetable world” according to the BBC, Martha Stewart, and many others, to “make soups for the winter.” One of my favorite things is céleri rémoulade, a celeriac salad. Yes, celeriac and celery are in the same family, but not the same plant. With celeriac you use the large root, which has a celery and nutty flavor. Nearby was another celery-tasting plant, lovage, which was originally cultivated in medieval times, and has both medicinal and culinary uses. I’ve heard lovage pesto is delicious. Close to that was sorrel, which Carol uses for potato soup during the winter. There were more herbs along one side, including parsley. Carol loves to make “green sauces and freeze them for the winter.” She said, “It’s like an Italian green sauce with parsley, fennel, mint, and tarragon.”

Her garden is protected from the elements because they’re “a little bit up from the frost bottom, get early morning sun,” and the trees do a good job cutting the southeast winds. Carol plants her garlic from her harvested crop. Her original garlic came from master gardner Jessie Chase of Vermont and Vineyard Haven. In fact, everything in Carol’s garden came from friends and family. Carol does not grow anything from seed, admitting, “I spectacularly failed at that.” Many of her dahlias came from the basement of Abigail Higgins, The MV Times “Garden Notes” columnist, whom she’s known since first moving to the Island. After a frost, she will move all the dahlias into her home for the winter. Carol pointed out dahlia she had in pots for her daughter’s wedding the previous year, and how it had multiplied.

At the time of our interview, Carol was in the process of taking out all the flower beds and gardens around her home and moving everything to an enlarged garden area, just to simplify her gardening activity. She loves the flower cuttings for her home arrangements, and edibles for salads and food adornment.

The newer garden, about two and a half times the size of the original, was added by her husband, who took down the original fence and chainsawed the trees. The deer fencing blends in, and is barely visible. I noticed bright bok choy, as Carol explained she and her husband put in all the original posts themselves. She proudly told me she had a great composting system, where a wheelbarrow can be rolled below a screen to be filled with a rich source of soil for the garden. She does not add any meat or dairy to her compost because she does not want to attract animals, though fish remains are added. When I ask if she adds eelgrass on her beds, the answer was, “I don’t have a truck, so no, but I need it.” Once a year she does get “a couple of truckloads of manure.” Carol said, “The other easy thing you have to have in your garden is irrigation.” Originally Carol only had movable sprinklers and a handheld garden hose, but now with an irrigation system on timers, she’s not worried if she can’t get into the garden for 10 days, because she will get in there once she can and weed up to speed. I wondered if she chose raised sprinklers for a reason, versus soakers along the ground? Well, they just haven’t gotten to the soakers yet, she saId, but she’s hoping to get them into the flower bed where it gets really dry.

There were two different kinds of parsley. I wondered what else she put away for the winter, and Carol said, “Some beans, but I eat everything.” She pointed out arugula, leeks, and zucchini. There were still a few tomatoes left. Carol gave zucchini flowers to her friend Joyce, who fried them up “just the other day.” Next year she’d like to plan so she has “a second crop of potatoes, black, Yukon, and red.” Carol does not have a specific time of day she works in her garden, “only not in the heat of the day. Sometimes in my pajamas, absolutely.” Carol’s husband works in the garden a few hours every week and loves to pick strawberries and help harvest, which in the fall is a lot of carrots.

Since Carol has more time for her garden now, I wondered if chickens might be in her future, since she and George no longer have a sailboat and the maintenance that goes along with it. The answer was no; for the first time in their lives, they are no longer tied down, but look forward to picking up and going when and where they want. They planted miniature fruit trees in the back of their home 30 years ago, when they moved in, Carol boasted, but unfortunately last year was not an ideal one for fruit. They have pears, peaches, apples, and many beetlebung trees surrounding the house. The boxwoods all come from her mother-in-law, Fanny Blair’s former home in Edgartown. Carol just wants “everything simpler to take care of” at this point in her life.

Inside Carol’s home is a specially designed window to hold her plants brought inside for the winter. I was particularly impressed by the peaceful relationship Carol enjoys with her garden. When I tell her this, she says, “It’s a learning curve. They’ll tell you what they need, just like children.”