Authors Posts by Abigail Higgins

Abigail Higgins

Abigail Higgins

A carpet of fallen leaves. – Photo by Susan Safford

Trees are one of the things that move me to giving thanks. How is it that with the amount of concern about drought, wild weather, flooding, possible food shortages, and hotter conditions, we continue to blind ourselves to what trees contribute to our living world?

The world’s forests are its terrestrial treasure, its lungs. The following is a short quote from “The Letters,” by the early 19th century English artist and poet William Blake:


The tree which moves some to tears of joy

is in the Eyes of others

only a Green thing that stands in the way.

I plucked it from a book I am reading, “The Lost Language of Plants” (Stephen Harrod Buhner, 2006), recommended by a young phycologist friend, an intermittent garden crewmember. The quote sums up the deadened response of many people to the natural world. The modern paradigm in which we exist is: Clear, clean, control. “The Lost Language” brings such issues to the fore, and addresses itself to our relationship to and with the rest of life. I recommend it.

“Carbon follows water follows carbon” is a well-known trope that is described in the Wikipedia entry for the carbon cycle ( On the garden level, it means that carbon is the brown component of your compost pile; nitrogen is the green component. This brings me to the carpet of autumn leaves falling all around us. Not only are trees the lungs of earth, giving off the oxygen all terrestrial life needs, but native plants are the foundation of all terrestrial ecosystems. Without leaves and hardwood forests, there is no topsoil. Without topsoil, and the life of that soil, there would be no food for anything terrestrial and, consequently, no life of any sort. Soil is our only true capital.

I love winter, when gardens are dormant. We are leaving the leafy, fluttery, fluffy, flowery gardening cycle behind for a while, to re-encounter each other in spring. That fluffiness is replaced with winter’s quiet austerity. The garden (and the landscape) calms down — visually and aesthetically. There are fewer colors, fewer distractions. How can the island’s topography, laid bare, and the patterned beauty of trees not pierce one’s eyes and heart?

The New England Wild Flower Society makes a plea: “Stop Raking! Your neighbors might disapprove, but there are myriad reasons not to ‘clean up’ your garden this fall. Many pollinators, and some amphibians, overwinter in leaf litter and dry perennial stems. Cleaning up your leaves destroys their habitat and kills any who have already bedded down. Let your garden work for nature this winter and save the cleanup work for spring!”

I can anticipate much disagreement with the foregoing appeal. In fact, our own garden work in client gardens requires a great deal of cleanup and orderly putting-away-for-winter. It all depends. Clearly, there are some gardens better designed to handle a naturalistic scene of decay and debris (rich in busy decay detritivores, while the garden seemingly “sleeps”) than are others. Perhaps these gardens belong to owners who place a premium on care for the natural world — and let the leaves blow where they may.

Some gardens, however, belong to owners who scrupulously compost every scrap of organic matter possible, in order to produce superior flowers and vegetables. Other gardeners may want as much leaf mold as possible, for future use as mulch or soil conditioner. Perhaps the diktat should be that gardeners know and understand why they follow their practices, and are not simply blindly conforming to a set of empty, rote ones.


Spring bulbs

Remontant iris ‘Harvest of Golden Memories.’ – Photo by Susan Safford
Remontant iris ‘Harvest of Golden Memories.’ – Photo by Susan Safford

For me, the jury is still out on remontant irises. I have a very vigorous clump of I. ‘Harvest of Golden Memories’ covered in big, yellow iris flowers. This plant also blooms along with the tall bearded irises in June. Maybe iris in November fail to thrill? Maybe the light is wrong?

I have scarcely concerned myself with what are going to be the cheerful and welcoming signs of spring in 2016, an oversight that makes me say, What was I thinking? I did follow my own advice to tuck crocus bulbs into small empty spots in perennial beds. It is not too late to plant tulip bulbs here on the Island, although generally speaking, the supplies and selection of all bulbs, local as well as mail-order or specialist, plummet as the weeks of autumn go by.

I continue to recommend Brent and Becky’s and John Scheepers Inc. as quality suppliers of a wide range of spring bulbs. For those who want to specialize, or to find more exotic material, joining plant societies, such as the North American Lily Society and the American Daffodil Society, and searching the Internet are good ways to widen one’s choices.


Wayside planting

I had been looking for certain shrubs here on the Island during the fall, and finally succeeded in acquiring what I needed to fill a small area. Three Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ and three Fothergilla gardenii were enough to round out a tangled (i.e., “naturalistic”) area alongside the road where I already have witch hazels, Colorado blue spruce, Stewartia monadelpha, and a few daylilies and narcissus.

As often happens with disturbed ground, years of brought-in fill and road repair have given this spot bittersweet and multiflora rose in addition to wild grapes, sassafras, and viburnum, which are all part of the native plant palette. I would be an old lady if I waited until the invasives were completely eliminated; I have been slowly grubbing out the junk as I add what I like.

That is all a wordy way of saying: A carefully drawn plan is not always necessary in order to make an informal planting that will work. It does require time and continued observation.

While mating season is underway.

Euonymus alatus, a.k.a. burning bush, on the Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List and illegal to plant, shows its invasive capability and dominates a stretch of Edgartown–West Tisbury roadside. — Photo by Susan Safford

Autumn ticktocks by, leaf by falling leaf. Each shorter day brings us closer to the quiet palette of winter. For now, though, it is a brilliant marvel, pierced by the solitary calls of tiny tree frogs, the calling of owls, and scents of woodsy, mushroomy decay taking place in the shade of hedges, stone walls, and fallen trees.

Praying mantises have been breeding; watch for lumpy egg cases attached to plants and structures. Avoid damaging them. Look for scraped trunks of young trees. Bucks have rubbed their antlers there; wrap in treeguards. Harvest leaves.

Mating season of white-tailed deer is underway; already counts of car/deer impacts are rising. Drive with care and caution, especially at dusk and dawn; use high beams when possible. Remember: One deer crossing is likely to be pursued by a couple more. Check for deer ticks; adults are prevalent.

Easy greens

Corn salad, lamb’s lettuce, mache — these are all common names for a cold-hardy, easily grown salad green, Valerianella locusta, that commands high prices at market.
Corn salad, lamb’s lettuce, mache — these are all common names for a cold-hardy, easily grown salad green, Valerianella locusta, that commands high prices at market.

Corn salad, lamb’s lettuce, mache — these are all common names for a cold-hardy, easily grown salad green, Valerianella locusta, that commands high prices at market. It was grown in the gardens of Louis XIV and Thomas Jefferson, and is highly nutritious, according to Wikipedia. As with many other greens, such as cilantro, brassicas, and lettuces, mache bolts quickly in warm weather. I turned this to advantage with my spring crop, leaving them undisturbed to flower and seed. Now I am harvesting delightful, nutty-tasting leaves and plants from a carpet of mache that were no effort to grow, except to avoid weeding them out.

Invasive? Prohibited?

The varying rates of color change, as autumn progresses, help one to see and differentiate among plants that line our roadsides and byways. As I wrote recently, color in the landscape thrills: it excites our eyes’ rods and cones. The crimson of sumac identifies its location unmistakably, just as sassafras’s rich yellow “mittens” show the extent of its stoloniferous colonies. The festoons of Oriental bittersweet color to a recognizable chartreuse, aiding in its removal; poison ivy signals its location by the contrast of its autumn color against the undergrowth where it is found.

Many plants possess excellent strategies for expanding their populations, including beauty and color. Why are some defined as invasive? Verbena bonariensis and Digitalis purpurea are welcomed, although we expend time and effort to rid gardens of excess seedlings. Oaks shed acorns copiously some years — those of white oaks are sprouting now — but we do not designate oaks as invaders, although that is what they are programmed to do in certain situations.

After the no-name storm that followed Hurricane Sandy, rockweed and eelgrass blanketed Island beaches for the taking, which many did. The following spring I was surprised, not unpleasantly, to find seedling yellow horned poppy plants (Glaucium flavum) among the vegetable rows where I had sheet-composted the seaweed.

Horned poppy is on the Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List (MPPL; see I do not let it flower now; I appreciate it merely for the Moorish-tile pattern of its symmetrical basal rosettes. I love having the biennial Hesperis matronalis turn up from time to time in my flowerbeds: early, fragrant, and never proliferating for me. Yup — on the MPPL!

So it is that the stretch of Edgartown–West Tisbury Road, where New Lane leaves it near the Cleaveland House, provides a great “see-for-yourself” example of an invasive plant. There you see an understory thickly studded with burning bush in all different sizes, shapes, and shades of turning red. These originate from plants down the road on the opposite side, where mature euonymus hedges and specimen plants stand, having been planted many years ago, before any of us had conceived of invasive plants and a Prohibited Plant List.

I was greatly surprised to see three large, recently planted shrubs of burning bush (Euonymus alatus) in a nice stretch of native woodland, by the side of a nearby road, along with some other plant material obviously intended as screening. A reputable local landscape company was apparently performing the work. What constituted the surprise is that burning bush, though very striking at this season, is also on the Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List and is illegal to import, propagate, or plant in the commonwealth. From the Prohibited Plant List FAQ page: “Q: Why are invasive plants a threat? A: Invasive plants typically have few (if any) natural enemies and a very high reproductive rate. These characteristics allow invasive plants to outcompete our native species of plants, which could lead to disruption of ecosystems.”

Let’s return to the MPPL for a moment; please take a look at the list’s contents. Many are out-and-out weeds, but there are quite a few surprises, although the reasons for landing on the list may vary. Familiar “plant friends” in addition to burning bush are now on it: common privet, Norway maple, and many grasses (Miscanthus and Pennisetums), porcelain berry.

Tom Clark, the curator at Polly Hill Arboretum (PHA) is in seeming agreement with the many lovers of burning bush: “Burning bush is so malleable, adaptable, easy to cultivate, trouble-free, and lovely this time of year that I completely understand why people bemoan its removal from our plant palette,” he said. However, PHA (whose grounds are looking particularly good just now — go visit!) has researched and mounted a feature on its website, the useful Plant Selection Guide, It helps gardeners, landscapers, property owners, and designers make choices based on sound knowledge of what to plant, and where, to achieve desired effects.

For example, three other shrubs with strong red color that could have been used instead of those roadside burning bushes, of similar size, site requirements, deer resistance, and shape are Enkianthus campanulatus, enkianthus; Vaccinium corymbosum, highbush blueberry; and Viburnum carlesii, Koreanspice viburnum.


October days filled with opportunities to see red.

Textures of fall. –Photo by Susan Safford

Clear days and nights result in radiational cooling, leaving behind a heavy blanket of dew the following morning if we narrowly avoid frost, or an icy sparkle outlining every leaf and petal if we don’t.

Daybreak comes later and later. Now, as plants of ordinary green drop the pretense and burst forth in many colors, everything gleams and shines in the low-angled light. Emerging out of the gloom, bright yellow native witch hazel, glowing huckleberry undergrowth, and coral Virginia creeper brighten it. The bluejay manager-bird hails the morning, and obediently, quotidian events begin to unroll. Sunlight lances through gaps in the woodland, foretelling another gorgeous October day.

A little later, part-way through the morning, the manager-bird sounds a different alarm; the woodland falls silent and poultry dashes for the rhododendrons. The hoarse scream of a light-phase redtail hawk answers from above, as she wheels off, in apparent frustration at being cheated of chicken for dinner. Why doesn’t she try for the lawn-churning voles?

After cutdowns of passé bloom and matted top growths, garden beds are left looking shorn — good time to lay low-number organic soil food (fertilizer) and mulch, and to insert some crocus bulbs. The visual textures of what is left — basal foliage, pattern, and color — come to predominate without the competition of bloom, and they still provide a satisfying picture.

The platycodon have finished flowering, but their foliage lights up, transformed into bright gold with maroon tints. Large-leaved hostas morph into tawny ochre masses when their chlorophyll drains away. Cut them down later.

Seeing red

Bluestem grass, taken at the Trade Wind Airport field. – Photo by Susan Safford
Bluestem grass, taken at the Trade Wind Airport field. – Photo by Susan Safford

These October days are filled with opportunities to see red, to compare redness, texture, magnificence, and to decide whether you like red in the landscape. Any flash of it in nature is a visual thrill, whether it is bird, flower, or foliage, but it is interesting to note that some of the best red foliage here comes to us in the form of plants from weedy or ruderal places.

Weeds or wreaths? Virginia creeper, huckleberry and dangleberry, and sumac, Island natives that are the objects of much eradication effort, are the ones I am referring to. They are usually planted by no human hand, and perhaps for this reason are disparaged and undervalued.

I suppose if one has paid thousands and thousands for a piece of the Vineyard, it might be an underwhelming disappointment to have it come up all sumac, huckleberry, and Virginia creeper (not to mention sumac’s relative, poison ivy). The natural plant palette of any place or location is a complex sum of its ecology and history. What is the soil makeup, profile, or disturbance? What were its prior historical origins or uses? Is the seed bank, stored deep in the soil, able to express itself through new disturbance?

Maybe it is asking just a bit too much to suggest that sumac, huckleberry, and Virginia creeper be cut some slack for living here, being native, needing no special care, planting themselves where no one asked for them to grow; but perhaps when they glow so brilliantly on these beautiful autumn days, we can appreciate them as the beautiful plants of the island sandplain and mixed hardwood forest that they are.

An early-succession helper plant, three species of sumac (Rhus) are common everywhere on the Island where there is sandy soil and some sunlight: R. copallinum (winged sumac), R. glabra (smooth sumac), and R. typhina (staghorn sumac). Their thickets assist in the establishment of larger, woodier plants such as oak species and eastern redcedar. A far less common, fourth species is white-berried poison sumac, Toxicodendron vernix, to be found occasionally in swampy places up-Island. All light up the autumn landscape where they grow, and support wildlife, with the first three also having dietary and medicinal uses.

Huckleberry appears as two species on the Vineyard, Gaylussacia baccata and G. frondosa, black huckleberry and dangleberry respectively. Together they form the currently fiery undergrowth in the mixed oak-hickory-beech Island woodland; in many areas of sandplain habitat the low groundcover is composed primarily of G. baccata. These plants form spreading mats of soil-holding roots, and appear to be able to exist mostly on air and sunshine, so nutrient-poor are the sandplain soils. However, a very decent huckleberry pie or muffin may be made with berries of either species, and for local and migrating birds, they are probably a critical food source.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is a member of the same genus as Boston ivy (P. tricuspidata), and both do this flaming, drapery-curtain thing that can cover anything, as William Cullina jokes in his entry for the plant in his “Native Trees, Shrubs, & Vines” (2002). The plant may be mistaken for poison ivy in the seedling stage, but has a five-clustered leaflet (not three), which has a more prominently toothed margin. The autumn color of Virginia creeper contrasts with its clusters of bloomy blue fruits, adding to the effect. Bird-sown seed naturally spreads the plant, as this is a prime wildlife food.

If you are determined to extirpate these plants, I probably have not changed your mind, but try to look at them with eyes that see red — not in annoyance, but in appreciation. Weeds, or wreaths?

Seeing more red

The above-mentioned plants for brilliant fall color volunteer in our landscape, but there is also a hefty list of cultivated ones that may be found at the nursery or garden center. Examples include but are not limited to low growers: ceratostigma and nandina; shrubs: certain hydrangeas, highbush blueberry, shrubby viburnums and dogwoods, crape myrtle, and several small maples. Trees that color brilliantly in autumn include amelanchier; dogwoods; Japanese, red, and sugar maples; oxydendrum, parrotia, and beetlebung.


Dahlias - Photo by Susan Safford

Trudy Taylor was a multitalented artist of living — fierce and contrarian in her beliefs, and entirely unique. Matriarch to her large biological family and to many more whom she mentored, Trudy, well known to Islanders for her love of gardens and passionately-held beliefs about them, the nature of change, human folly, composting, and a thousand and one other subjects, died Saturday at her Stonewall Pond home, aged 92.

Dorm proctor? Self-appointed manager-bird? The bluejay’s harsh call wakes up the surrounding woodland, the first birdcall of these darker mornings. Then the rest get going, chickadees and sparrows, jetting in and out of the evergreens.

Migrating blackbirds sweep in with a thunderous whooshing of wingbeats, a mix of starlings, grackles, and cowbirds, to alight on the canopy of beech and oak and gobble this fall’s mast. Fragments of shell rain down, littering the ground, while dislodged acorns ping the vehicles parked below.

I was rummaging around in the earthworm-casting-rich soil beneath the straw mulch in the ‘Keuka Gold’ rows, thinking, as one does, about the difference in growing potatoes the way I do and growing potatoes as the forebears of Irish Americans did, and what would it be like to be dependent upon that crop for one’s family’s sustenance over the coming year. It is a heavy thought, and one most of us are fortunate enough not to need to experience directly.

Is there anyone (apart from maybe a child laborer from a past century, forced to labor all day in the potato fields of Presque Isle and Aroostock County, Maine) who has not likened digging potatoes to digging for treasure?

The concepts of food security are bandied about fairly innocently in this era of mostly well-nourished Americans, it seems, compared to the experience of those in war zones, in chronic poverty, or in areas of desertification.

The school garden programs here and elsewhere are a means for young Americans to gain awareness of what it might take to feed themselves. Insect damage? Weather woes, such as three-day nor’easters? Happily, we can always go to the store.

Micro habitats

How life on earth lives and flourishes is understood, increasingly, as minute pieces of unknown or barely understood puzzles that we humans painstakingly pore over in an effort to see what makes them tick; and, in too many instances, how close we can cut it and still retain a semblance of what we know as a habitable planet.

After the storm last week, which left five and a half–plus inches of rain in the rain gauge, I was looking around for “my” three bats. Since last summer I had been observing them with great pleasure most evenings at dusk.

White nose syndrome

Press coverage of “white nose syndrome” (See Wikipedia: in bats has done a good job of consciousness-raising about the decimation of bat populations throughout North America and Europe, and about the key role that bats play in insect control, which benefits agriculture and tourism alike.

But now, same setting sun but no bats. Then, a few days later, I noticed that a large dead “habitat tree” on neighboring land had crashed to earth, most likely due to the storm.

Habitat trees are by now a well-recognized ecological concept, protected in many states in the U.S. and European countries, although local pressure to eliminate so-called dangerous trees and fire hazard remains strong. From the article “In Focus — Managing Forest in Europe”: “They are defined as very large, very old, and dead or living microhabitat-bearing trees. They are of prime importance for specialized forest flora and fauna.” The entire document may be read here:

It is likely that “my” bats roosted by instinct in cavities or crawled under the bark of that tree to shelter themselves and their young. When it fell, they must have had a parallel instinct for surviving the blow-down and finding another suitable tree. I hope so, as bats have low birth rates and populations are vulnerable.

Dahlias for pollinators

To dahlia lovers, all are wonders in themselves, and worth waiting for. ‘Daydreamer’ entranced me this season. When all else is coming to the very end in the fall garden, dahlias bloom in a dramatic finale. Under observation, toward the end of August many previously doubled dahlia blossoms tend to single, showing a prominent pollen center beloved of bumblebees, small bees, and hover flies. Seed ensues.

Although not all pollen-gathering insects pollinate (some are pollen thieves), if pollinator habitat is one of your garden goals, there are dahlias that cater to it. Several strains of dahlia exhibit this pollen-center trait from the beginning of bloom. The ‘Bishops’ strain, including famous blood-red ‘Bishop of Llandaff,’ as well as ‘Bishop of York,’ ‘Bishop of Leicester,’ etc., have dark foliage and open flowers that are attractive to pollinators. The different ‘Bishops’ form a range of attractive colors, and there is even a popular seed dahlia strain known as ‘Bishop’s Children.’

Verwer-Dahlias, of Lisse, the Netherlands (, produces a number of successful dahlia strains, including the bedding ‘Gallery’ dahlias, the ‘Classic’ strain, and the ‘Karma’ dahlias, bred for good cutting stems. All are great performers, but it is the ‘Classic’ strain that has the pollen-rich open flowers. I grew ‘Classic Elise’ this past summer, a lovely honeyed-apricot with dark stems and leaves that was never without bloom once it began to flower.

Try seed strains such as the ‘Figaro’ and ‘Caruso’ strains, many of which start as double dahlias but eventually single.

Rogue asparagus

Eleanor Perényi, in her classic “Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden,” advises on asparagus: “Notice … which ones produce berries. They are females, whose sprouts are skimpier than the males’, and they will self-sow, crowding the bed with still weaker seedlings. Pull them out.”

One of my seed-sown asparagus crowns is berried. Ironically, this plant happens to be my earliest, sturdiest, best-producing crown.


And don’t give up on beans yet.

Exotics and tropicals, such as this hibiscus, offer prolonged fall color. – Photo by Susan Safford

The new air comes in,

As rustling wind,

A sojourner here,

Hurrying onward —

Toward autumn.

Background Noise

How many connoisseurs of silence remain? On quiet days, early-morning stillness carries the sound of the resident crows clacking their beaks. An occasional cockcrow or hen cackle escapes from nearby henhouses. Later, the crows will become more vocal as they patrol for something to eat or for a redtail to harass. Faint honking of Canada geese, flying from the ponds to their pastures, draws excited echoes from my three Brown Chinese as they practice their feeble domesticated flight. Soon, though, the thrum of tire on pavement penetrates this quiet, and then overhead, airplanes ferrying workers to Island jobs erase it further.

At night from here it is possible to hear the rhythmic murmuring of the wavelets rolling the beach pebbles in and out at Lambert’s Cove. During the day, although like the tides it persists, I can no longer hear it.


Bright spots; beans; insufficient pollination

Having a bright spot, a container or perhaps ’mums, brightens fall gardens as the inevitable nears. Use exotics and tropicals; they originate in far different climates and continue blooming here, until killed by frost.

“Those pole beans are done.” My husband, who is of the Pessimist Tribe, informed me. He was referring to the planting of tall, tasty, and tender ‘Fortex.’ I went out to check; 30 minutes later a nine-quart bowl filled to the top with over six pounds of ‘Fortex’ green beans sat on the kitchen counter. Moral: Don’t give up — there is almost always another picking of pole beans!

On another note though, my daughter, gardening in Virginia, bemoans the empty, rubbery pods containing no beans that her lovely Charlottesville garden produced this year: insufficient pollination. She is an ecologically aware gardener, so it is not as if she does not encourage pollinator activity.

It is possible that pollinators for our food crops will become too scarce to carry out this critical function for us, if we continue with widespread environmental/pesticide abuse, and there will be “empty, rubbery pods” of many, many descriptions.

You might say, “Impossible — there are too many insects, and they are everywhere!” (Were similar words were spoken about the passenger pigeon?) None of us knows what the critical mass is, but we must maintain awareness that we cannot live apart from nature and that our very lives are dependent upon it.


Little bluestem

One of the iconic glories of island autumn is the burnished spread of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) in open places. As it turns meadows and fields from a nondescript, mundane green into a glowing sunset color, a twisting and veering windblown tapestry, little bluestem lifts the ordinary into something dynamic and bewitching.


Reading for gardeners

I am more like a compiler or reporter of garden information, I should think, than a writer. However, I very much enjoy reading garden writers whose prose and thinking enter my mind and enrich my perception of this ambiguous and ancient urge called gardening.

Of the seemingly limitless numbers of garden writers and weblogs that the Internet gives us access to, it might be good to mention here a few that appeal to me. I am not a subscriber to blogs; the plethora of them is an invitation to spend vast amounts of time I do not have. Most blog writers also list, as sidebars, links to their own favorite sources of inspiration or information, so reading garden blogs can become like a hall of mirrors, with unending possibilities stretching into hours staring at a screen. (Not much gardening is accomplished that way.)

Some are design-oriented; others write with more focus on plants or their culture, or a particular kind of gardening. I tend more towards the plant-geek or eco-oriented garden authorities, and enjoy John Grimshaw’s and Noel Kingsbury’s posts and books. Nigel Colburn is a admired voice of British gardening experience. In a previous column (Sept. 17, Garden notes), I extolled Matt Mattus, a Massachusetts plantsman and blogger.

Almost anything by Adrian Higgins (no relation), the Washington Post’s garden columnist, and Anne Raver, who writes frequently for the New York Times, is good writing and reliable information. Higgins’s predecessor at the Post, Henry Mitchell, an almost universally revered source of garden writing and pithy knowledge, was the essential earthman (“Everything grows for everybody. Everything dies for everybody, too”).

Many gardeners who read have been exposed to the writing of Vita Sackville-West, on gardening and otherwise, but how many know the masterful writing of Mirabel Osler? Her “A Gentle Plea for Chaos” and “A Breath from Elsewhere,” among other work, are well worth seeking out. Christopher Lloyd would be on many best-garden-writing lists, as he is on mine: His books offer forcefully worded opinions, good writing on a broad array of plant subjects, and are strong on practical gardening advice.

I am enjoying the wise and gentle voices of Joe Eck and the late Wayne Winterrowd in a loaned book, “Our Lives in Gardens” (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2009). The topics in this collection of garden essays are interesting, and I think I have arrived at the point of exposure where I can identify for myself, as a New England gardener, how acute and well written their observations really are, instead of taking it on “faith in the experts.”

Which isn’t to declare there is a point of becoming expert where one can sit back and coast. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that though an old man, he was but a young gardener; this applies to everyone who attempts to grow and plant. Every garden is different, every year is different, and every gardener is different.


Heat, little rain, and fear of frost leave plants in limbo.

Well suited to summer 2015 conditions of heat and drought, the Big Bang series of hybrid coreopsis includes the aptly named 'Full Moon.' – Photo by Susan Safford

Gardeners always face challenges. It is midway through September, and still the Island has received very little rain. Last week’s thunderstorm (2.25 inches in my rain gauge, delivered throughout the day) was very timely. Island trees and shrubs are “suddenly” brown and dead, but have actually been coping with drought stress all season long. Paradoxically, growth of vines and weed species has been spectacular. Look at porcelain berry, bittersweet, poison and English ivy; one would never guess that this has been a parched season.

Not only drought but also frost — depending on where your garden is located, frosts too are now a real possibility. Not so much in my Island location, but still — coastal southern New England is experiencing more climate disruptions than we are used to; being prepared for sudden shifts is a now foregone conclusion.


Outstanding performer

The pictured plant, hybrid coreopsis Big Bang ‘Full Moon,’ is one well suited to summer 2015 conditions of heat and drought. Along with many other coreopsis, it also performs well in soils that are naturally gravelly, dry, or poor.

Bred by Darrell Probst, the Hubbardston plant explorer and breeder, ‘Full Moon’ was the first introduction in the Big Bang series of Probst hybrids, which includes ‘Cosmic Eye,’ ‘Galaxy,’ ‘Mercury Rising,’ and ‘Star Cluster.’

Plant any of these in full-sun beds, rock gardens, or containers to cope colorfully with difficult growing conditions. In some ways these hybrids of Probst’s, with flowers up to three inches across, resemble annual cosmos (C. bipinnatus) and, who knows, with up to eight species used in the hybridization program, maybe there is a little bit of cosmos thrown in there.

However, it is ‘Full Moon’ I praise here. Such a glorious clear yellow, it lights up its location from early summer until frost. Deadheads can actually be pulled off instead of having to be snipped (as is the case with C. ‘Moonbeam, a 1992 Perennial Plant of the Year pale-yellow threadleaf coreopsis). In fertile soil, plants achieve 24 inches, and may require staking.


Thinking ahead

In case they need to be rushed inside, I have started looking at my potted plants vacationing outdoors, with an eye to what should be repotted while it can be done outside, where it is less messy.

It might be nice to have parsley in a pot for the long winter days ahead, in which case provide plants with a deep flowerpot, as parsley forms a taproot. Do you have fresh rosemary and bay leaf for the coming winter? Buy plants at your favorite garden center now.

Matt Mattus of Growing with Plants (, a writer whose blog I really appreciate, cooks, eats, grows, and gardens in the Worcester area, the “icebox of Massachusetts.” His breadth of topic and knowledge far exceed those of the usual hobby gardener, his writing is spontaneous and interesting, and his subjects cover many different aspects of gardening life.

Mattus keeps a collection of fuchsias (take note, those with weak spelling skills: f-u-c-h-s-i-a), plants and color both named in honor of the 16th century German botanist, Leonhart Fuchs.

I was dismayed to learn from one of Mattus’ blog posts ( that as far as he is concerned, fuchsias in hanging baskets are strictly “meh.” Mattus prefers the traditional fuchsia standards and upright forms that may be seen in heritage glasshouse collections all over the British Isles. Notice the proportions of the containers pictured in the link: deeper than wide.

In my repotting project today, guess which plant leaves its longtime porcelain hanging-pot home and transfers to a flowerpot? Fuchsia ‘Shadow Dancer’ has switched places with some variegated ivy; I hope both plants appreciate the change.


In the garden

Tidying and cutdowns: this pretty well sums up the time of year. Deadheading of annuals and perennials prolongs bloom where plants are able to continue pushing out new buds, but the northern dimming of sunlight makes this less and less likely.

Get rid of tattered or insect-ravaged foliage. Those grayed-out heads of echinops, nepeta, or Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) are not only feeding sparrows and goldfinches, they are self-sowing around the garden. Decide which outcome is best for you, and act accordingly.

Mark locations of perennials in need of division, or document photographically, for once cut back they all look disturbingly anonymous. Done in spring with bulbs, it simplifies fall digging and increases your assets of spring color. Peonies that did not bloom may be planted or mulched too deeply. Scrape away soil carefully until eyes are closer to the surface.

Top up mulch. This is your best avenue for plant and soil health, especially while we have heat and little rain. The following recommendation is counter to convention, which puts me at odds with the suppliers of mulch. “Dark mulch” is a form of lookism, and in my opinion is no better, and may be worse, than composted wood chips, especially those composed of smaller hardwood twigs and branches that originated right here on Martha’s Vineyard. “Dark mulch” may be nothing more than ground, dyed, softwood shipping pallets. Choose carefully, and remember that important adage, “Form ever follows function.”

My ‘Brown Turkey’ fig carried a good harvest, but agile, unknown, after-hours visitors gnawed holes, which did not have the appearance of bird pecking, in many fruits. A gardening neighbor recommends sonic devices, such as the T3-R, that repel various species of rodents. We have had continuous losses in the garden, starting with strawberries and carrying on through cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, and now figs. Rodents that climb — squirrels — must be at least a part of the problem, but we also have chipmunks residing in stonework.

And even your flowers know it.

Keep windowbox containers growing well with grooming, feeding and cutting back. This robust example is at CB Stark in Vineyard Haven. — Photo by Susan Safford

Labor Day weekend nears; a seasonal turning point approaches. Whether or not it penetrates the conscious mind, everything senses it at the cellular level, including plant life, animal life, and higher vertebrates. It marks the imminence of autumn.

Daylight is now rapidly diminishing (emphasis on d-i-m), while the sun’s arc across the sky is noticeably lower and more southerly. The first day of the fair, two weeks ago, sunrise was at 6 a.m. and sunset occurred at 7:41 p.m.Today those figures are 6:15 a.m. and 7:18 p.m.

Chickens are molting, pets are shedding, vegetables, ornamental annuals, and perennials are ripening their seed or fruit. “Time’s a-wasting away,” and winter will be here before we know it: exercise forethought and try not to put anything off.

Architectural perennial

Echinops (globe thistle, in the Asteraceae) has long mesmerized me, going back to the late 1950s, when it featured in some of the flower arrangements at the fair with the most flair and charm, which were often the work of Alice Matthewson or Ted Meinelt. It is the quintessential flower arrangers’ plant.

My friend’s mother had a large clump of echinops beside her Edgartown barn that grew seemingly effortlessly, year after year. Bold and blue, they were a paragon of rustic style, backed by the simple, white-painted shingle wall, and were probably the form of E. bannaticus, ‘Taplow Blue,’ that was the most available cultivar at the time.

I now know that echinops are indeed trouble-free, almost effortless perennials that shine from July to summer’s end, growing perfectly in well-drained, sunny Island perennial gardens and mixed borders. Deer-resistant and drought-tolerant, echinops’ popularity is increasing, as I found it impossible to acquire more plants after July this year — all my sources seemed to have sold out.

A mature ‘Taplow Blue’ may top out at just below six feet, and will need staking unless grown lean and hungry. The ones I grow are a generally smaller, shorter-growing echinops, E. ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue,’ (about 36 inches high), prized for good reblooming qualities. A friend gave the plant to me some time ago; I have managed to increase it to five repeats in my sunny bed.

Transplanting mature plants is usually discouraged, as, similar to oriental poppies, echinops grows a deep taproot that is easily injured. Propagating is done by waiting until plants are strong enough to produce offsets, and then carefully separating them from the parent plant and replanting. A few echinops come true from seed, such as E. ritro ssp. ruthenicus ‘Platinum Blue.’

  1. bannaticus ‘Blue Glow’ is a recommended introduction, with globes of intense blue (and a reputation for self-sowing). There are about 120 species of ornamental thistle, according to the American Horticultural Society’s “Encyclopedia of Perennials,” not all of them blue, either. E. sphaerocephalus may grow to above six feet, and sports globes of ghostly white. These are most easily acquired from seed, and add architecture to gardens.

Echinops attract large numbers of insect pollinators; seeing them combing over the flowers will gladden your heart. Flowers harvested for drying keep their blue color if they are dried in a warm, dry place; best results may come from harvesting before flowers open.

Dead-leaf echinops to keep plants looking tidy, but leave foliage intact over winter; cut back in early spring. Grow in well-drained soil for best results. Goldfinches and other seed eaters pick over flower heads if they are left to stand.

In case you were wondering …

The August 27 edition of UMass’s Vegetable Notes contains the following information about temperature and ripening of fruits such as tomatoes:

“Steve Reiners, Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable Team leader and

horticulture professor writes, ‘Light conditions have very little to do with ripening,

but when temperatures exceed 85° to 90℉, the ripening process slows significantly

or even stops. At these temperatures, lycopene and carotene, pigments responsible

for giving the fruit their typical orange to red appearance, cannot be produced. As a

result, the fruit can stay in a mature green phase for quite some time.’” 

Cover cropping

The same edition of Vegetable Notes contains information about cover cropping: “Cover crops planted in the fall, preferably before Sept. 15th, are an excellent way to capture and store nutrients for your crops in the following spring … here are some general guidelines for fall-planted cover crops and their spring contributions of plant-available nitrogen (PAN) per acre:

Legume cover crops provide up to 100 lb PAN/a. To maximize PAN contribution from legumes, kill the cover crop at bud stage in the spring.

“Cereal cover crops immobilize up to 50 lb PAN/a. To minimize PAN immobilization from cereals, kill the cover crop during the early stem-elongation (jointing) growth stage.

“Legume/cereal cover crop mixtures provide a wide range of PAN contributions, depending on legume content. When cover crop dry matter is 75 percent from cereals and 25 percent from legumes, PAN is usually near zero.”

In the garden

Supplement chickens’ diet with a higher-percentage protein feed, such as chick starter, or black sunflower seed, as molting proceeds. Egg production tapers off during molt, unless lights on timers are employed. Many growers use them, but others, such as Joel Salatin, claim that the individual hen has a finite number of eggs to lay — you can get them quicker and burn her out, or you can pace them, and eat a nutritionally superior egg when you do get it.

Keep containers growing well with grooming, feeding, and deadheading or cutting back. The nutrients in typical “container mix” are gauged to last a season — about four months — and then may leach out through watering. Supplement with soluble seaweed fertilizer and/or slow-release granules. Seasonal accents such as ornamental peppers, mums, and asters, or small evergreens, can freshen the look.

Dahlias, the September garden mainstay, appreciate extra water and feed now.



After an uncertain spring, the Island favorite blooms far and wide.

Oakleaf hydrangea’s white flower heads age beautifully to burgundy. Photo by Susan Safford

Cutline quote: “Oakleaf hydrangea’s white flower heads age beautifully to burgundy.”

It would seem that the nation is in the grip of hydrangea mania. Sales campaigns for new introductions are planned and executed almost like military campaigns, q.v. the blue pots and logo of ‘Endless Summer.’ Consequently, sales of hydrangeas of all species and varieties are booming, and not least on Martha’s Vineyard. The evidence is everywhere that the Island is enjoying a hydrangea love affair of immense proportions.

Is there another plant whose blooms are more anticipated or more closely inspected, or whose coloration is more discussed?

Due to unexpected weather patterns, there was no way to prune hydrangeas correctly during the spring of 2015. Didn’t matter if one waited, or did not wait; there were so many bud-shriveling temperature shocks that garden owners all over the Island questioned whether their gardeners were pruning their hydrangeas incompetently and incorrectly.

This makes a great selling point for the newer hydrangea types of the ‘Endless Summer’ sort, which form flowering buds on old wood as well as new, throughout the season. If a temperature shock aborts buds formed on last year’s growth, replacements form shortly.

Now that we are in August, aging effects taking place on hydrangea flower heads are changing their coloration to the subtle and artistic colors we now see. The “petal” part of the flower actually turns and hangs upside down, and the deeper colors form on the undersides.

Everyone’s favorite, the mophead hydrangeas, H. macrophylla, may form new flowering buds after a light pruning. H. arborescens cultivars such as ‘Annabelle’ may do likewise, but most of the lacecap types bloom once only, after which the flowers age. Hybridizers are working, however, to breed a lacecap with continuously forming flower buds.

As the name hydrangea would indicate, hydrangeas are water lovers. The leaves of mopheads and lacecaps hang limply and they look very sad indeed, if grown in full sun or hot locations. Yet one sees this commonly, hydrangeas planted in baking locations: front of buildings, alongside asphalt streets, in planters outside storefronts. They look miserable! Partial shade is best for flower bud initiation, performance, and maintenance.

Drought-stressed hydrangeas are far more liable to be browsed by deer, at a cost of lost flowers. Either install them with a permanent drip line, sort of like a hydroponically grown plant, or avoid such locations altogether. Using good fertile soil that is free-draining and laying a temperature-moderating mulch are good cultural practices for these plants, which put out lots of energy in producing new canes and oversize foliage, but do not like soggy soil.

Or plant instead the frothy yet coolly elegant, white-flowered panicle hydrangea, H. paniculata grandiflora (“peegee” hydrangeas), which may be grown in full sun. These are gracing gardens all over the Island right now and, while different from a blue or pink mophead, are glorious and graceful, equally an icon of summer with their H. macrophylla cousins. Flowers of peegee hydrangeas also age beautifully, some, such as ‘Pinky Winky,’ having been selected for this trait.

I have so far failed to mention the oakleaf hydrangea, a North American native hydrangea of an entirely different species. Bold in texture, gorgeous for fall foliage color, this plant is a study in strong texture and form: white cone-shaped flower heads aging to burgundy in a good year, and oversize dimpled leaves mimicking an oakleaf shape. Plant them in partial shade, with the same humus-rich, well-draining soil that mopheads and lacecaps enjoy.

Mopheads, ‘Annabelles,’ and oakleaf hydrangeas encompass but a few members of a large family. Put Michael Dirr’s “Hydrangeas for American Gardens” (Timber Press, 2004) on your Vineyard coffee table and watch your friends reach for it; it contains cultivar info about the above and all their relatives, with many excellent photos and more information.


In the garden

The fair will be underway by the time this column sees print. See you there.

Meanwhile, sowing successional crops must be underway in order to see results before light levels diminish in fall. Good fall crops include beets, radicchio, carrots, Swiss chard, greens of all sorts — brassicas, spinach, lettuces — peas, and edible pod peas. Depending upon an individual garden plot’s siting and light levels, another crop of bush beans may yield well.

Most clumps of daylilies will look better if de-stalked and dead-leaved. Some, such as ‘Stella d’Oro’ and those with ‘Returns’ in their names, may be completely cut back; fresh new foliage will sprout. Cut back spent growth of biennial plants such as lychnis, lunaria, and foxglove; leave clustered basal leaves if any. The seedheads may be laid or shaken around the garden to produce future seedlings.

When cooler weather and rains come, many perennials will flush new growth and flowers if cut back or deadheaded now. Examples include coreopsis, nepeta, phlox, and geraniums. Remove deadheads from platycodon, butterfly weed, echinops — and religiously deadhead annuals.

Top up mulch and attend to watering. I had two nasty surprises at my place with new plants that were a little out of the way; it is shocking how little time it takes for significant damage to occur during drought. (I hope they will claw back now that I have them on my radar.) All recently planted trees and shrubs are vulnerable for a year after planting.

Feed containers with slow-release or soluble fertilizer — the middle number, phosphorus, should be high to boost blossom production. Watering is necessary almost daily during these blazing days. Once the plants dry out and wilt, they split open and the leaves yellow. At that point it is difficult to bring them back up, but you can trim back the growth somewhat, dead-leaf, and, after rehydrating, try a weak feed.

Ecologically informed, authentic, and local.

Keynotes of the West Tisbury library plantings are the orange daisy, Heliopsis helianthoides 'Summer Nights,' along with Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ and Pycnanthemum montana. Photo by Susan Safford

In a community such as Martha’s Vineyard, where gardening and natural preservation standards are high, each gardener and every garden benefits from natural plantings unique to the location.

The town of West Tisbury, known as the Athens of Martha’s Vineyard, has expended a great deal of care on its library project. The naturalistic plantings there exemplify that care, and are a beautiful public asset, thanks to all involved in the project. Laura Coit, wearing two hats as the library’s head of circulation and the plantings’ designer, chose plants to match the site: open, sunny, low maintenance, and heat tolerant.

Billowy switchgrass, mountain mint, echinacea, heliopsis, aster, amsonia, beetlebung, bayberry, and physocarpus form the backbone of this garden. It could be called “prairie in a parking lot,” as the movement and airiness of the plants is indeed what an Easterner thinks of as prairie. Additional plants include lavender, baptisia, liatris, beach plum, and butterfly weed. They demand little while performing to the colorful utmost in this highly visible location.

Almost every bit of the Vineyard’s 100 or so square miles is prized and valuable, too valuable to misuse or abuse with out-of-the box, bad landscaping practices. Enabled by drop-in landscaping, constant irrigation, and chemical fertilization, the could-be-anywhere garden designs that look as if they are straight out of a catalog are very 20th century and outdated.

Much of the current paradigm we live within cannot endure, or we ourselves will cease to endure. We must, in gardens, create an era with a new set of design touchstones: strong desires for the ecologically informed, authentic, and local. Although every garden is to an extent artificial, having been planted, not found, authenticity is a sought-after quality. It implies that the garden has been achieved by paying attention to where it has been placed and what generated it. It is creating, by human hands, what is suited to live and grow successfully in that exact place with a minimum of inputs and aftercare.

Which is neither to despise traditional gardens, nor to make their owners feel bad. Nor is it to impose a “plant Nazi” attitude regarding non-native versus native plant material. It is about each one of us opening our eyes and appreciating where we are, rather than pining for an “Italianate,” “Californian,” or “English” garden, for example, when we are coastal southeastern Massachusetts, one of the best, most beautiful places on Earth.

Although “permaculture” does not mean “native,” the two ideas easily complement each other. Implementing the 12 permaculture principles (generally credited to Dave Holmgren; see Wikipedia: has helped many designers of “native” landscapes and, although phrased in somewhat abstract terms, these are actually ways to guide the gardener and designer to achieve something practical and easy to maintain on the ground.

A simplified permaculture overview might consist of the following concepts:

  • Copy the forest, tree canopy descending to smaller trees, then to shrubs and bushes, with smaller shade plants and groundcover beneath the canopy.
  • Use groupings and associations, such as soil and pH preferences, shade or sun conditions, or drought resistance.
  • Notice micro-areas (microclimates and niches) in your garden, and use to advantage: full sun, shady spots, stony areas, moist areas where rainwater drains.
  • Use the widest possible variety of plants to enhance diversity; for example, allowing a portion of lawn to revert to pollinator-friendly meadow, simply by mowing only once or twice annually.
  • Plan your area in zones based on use and accessibility; for example, plant your herb garden and greens in the areas easiest to access, such as along a walk near your kitchen.
  • Access: design features, such as changes in level or gateways, should allow accessibility for young and old people, wheelbarrows, lawn furniture, etc.

Inspiration for creating naturalistic Island gardens may be found in source books such as “The Living Landscape,” Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy; “The American Woodland Garden,” Rick Darke; “Bringing Nature Home,” Doug Tallamy; “Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants,” W. Colston Burrell.

Varied habitats

The Vineyard encompasses many different habitats, to be left intact, it is hoped (albeit enhanced), when previously undeveloped land is built upon. The Vineyard has hardwood and coniferous woodland, scrub oak ecosystem, exposed sites and sheltered sites, seashore, inland, sandplain, moraine, outwash plain, old pasture, wetland, in-town — this is not Nantucket, which we think of as all moors! — and each of these may be treated in ways to reinforce its innate charm and uniqueness.

There are many lists and compendiums of native plants for reference. The Polly Hill Arboretum’s Plant Selection Guide’s ( filters help users select for Island site and landscape qualities. However, it is preferable to census, augment, and edit what is already on your land, than to expend the time and money establishing bought-in nursery stock after a clear-cut.

“Form ever follows function” is a motivating, inspirational quote from Louis Sullivan, the early 20th century American architect. This eliminates the fussiness that is often the hallmark of poorly designed projects. A further guidance for our homes, gardens, and landscapes today is that they should be created and maintained using natural and local materials as much as possible, and that practical functionality and pleasing aesthetics are inseparable.

In the garden

Deadhead lavender and cut back nepeta, which have grayed out despite the lack of rain. In the case of lavender, care may be exercised and each stem cut back to a node, or whole handfuls may be grabbed and heartlessly cut in one fell swoop. Either way, the plants should begin to look better within a day or two.

Same applies to nepeta — many forms of this indispensable perennial have billowing growth that overwhelms neighboring plants and looks like an undifferentiated mass. Cut the plants back, and soon they flush with new growth and lavender-blue flowers.



And, after a cold start to spring, forests of dill, and beans are on the way.

To get the hibiscus to fit into the new pot, we trimmed the roots. – Photo by Susan Safford

It took me a long time to get my vegetable garden in hand this season. So cold, so dry — that is how we started in spring 2015. Now, as I brush off mosquitoes and concern myself with fungal and foliar problems, that seems far behind me, and I smile: “Be careful what you wish for.”

My brother sent me seed from the Netherlands for a bush bean, Naaldboon ‘Niki,’ a very fine, needlelike “haricot vert” type that I have sown and now eagerly await. Even the plants themselves are very attenuated. These will be for fresh table use. After a lengthy, cautious wait (beans dislike cold), I finally made a sowing of the wonderful pole bean ‘Fortex,’ and now the plants are in bloom. These are planned for supplying most of the freezer crop.

My mother, with a German background, loved the herb dill, pined for it, and prized it when, in the early ’50s, she could find it here. In my garden the onion plants started off with a bang; so did self-sown dillweed. I could only weed for a bit after work, and the onions were quickly overrun by the forest of dill.

It actually took me until July, carefully plucking to spare the onion plants, to clear all 15 rows of ‘Copra,’ and I fear that this season the quality will not be there. Many people have reported extraordinarily thick and vigorous dill this year. The easily leapt-to conclusion is that it had something to do with the winter conditions.

However — silver lining — when my daughter was here for a visit in early July, she commented on the numbers of pollinators in the vegetable garden. She said she does not see that level of pollinator activity in Charlottesville, where she tends a number of food gardens.

Of course, there are other plants in my garden, such as intentionally bolting lettuce, cilantro, radicchio, and leeks, with a lot to offer pollinators, but my daughter’s opinion is that in spring the umbellifers offer especially good pollinator support. These are plants, many of which are biennial and bloom the second year only, with a flower structure that can be described as umbrella-like; in addition to dill and cilantro, second-year parsley, carrots, and celery are examples. Instead of pulling, leave some to flower, not only for the myriad pollinators but also for seed production.

An unknown oregano variety with white flowers is big enough to season pizza for a village, more than we could ever use. We are happy to share: It is covered with bees, flies, and wasps of all descriptions, some so small as to be nearly invisible.

This plant is completely unremarkable and unshowy next to the brightly colored daylilies, phlox, and gladioli nearby, but probably does more for biodiversity and pollinator support in my garden than most of the real “lookers.”

Later in the season, the many flowers of the great Asteraceae (or Compositae) family, including — just a few names of the many — goldenrod, asters, sunflowers, and heliopsis, offer pollinators the pollen and nectar they require.

Repotting large plants

Most plant lovers acquire plants dear to them, and which (or “who”) need feeding, housing, and to be cared for, like old friends or other family members. I may have a few too many of these. The hybrid hibiscus standard ‘Kona’ has been with us since about 1983, and in the course of that time has inhabited several large pots. The primary risk with a tall plant that, like my hibiscus, spends the summer outside is blowing over in an unguarded, gusty moment. When it hits, the rim of the pot is apt to crack. Several years ago my hibiscus did just that, and the nice, rolled-rim pot developed a hairline fracture.

Repotting a large plant is an effortful endeavor; I put it off. I finally partially bit the bullet and bought a successor pot last fall, but procrastinated about performing The Act; the cracked pot seemed still so useful. The crack began to widen ….

What you see in the photo is when I could no longer wait; it took two of us, and a lot of lifting, tugging, and banging, but eventually the very potbound root ball released and slid out of the old pot, leaving it without further damage. (My husband promised to try thick epoxy on the cracked pot to see if we could save it for some other “old friend.”) The alternative is to take a hammer to the pot and bang it to pieces.

We want to avoid an endless increase in pot size; what happens next is that excess roots are pared away so that fresh soil can replace them, maintaining the root ball at current size. Take an old kitchen knife and cut and slice evenly, all around the root ball: rim, sides, and base. Try for about an inch increase in space all around. Then insert a thin, flat piece of wood, such as a yardstick, to tamp down new container mix and eliminate air pockets, all around the circumference.

Several heavy lifts later, in and out, and the fit was pretty good.



Lots of full-color photos and wonderful ideas in Charlie Nardozzi’s “Foodscaping” (Cool Springs Press, $24.99), make it a guide that it is not too late to follow. Whether you prefer a decorative garden alongside a driveway, in a front yard, or even the hell strip between the sidewalk and the street, there is something edible and handsome to plant. Especially useful for in-town lots in full sun, “Foodscaping” is stuffed with images and ideas that will assist you in achieving an exciting, dynamic garden you can eat out of.

This very nice manual sat on my book pile for far too long, having arrived after the critical moment in the season when sitting home and reading is past for me. Now, most food gardens have been planted and are yielding fresh, extremely local produce, but “Foodscaping” shows the way to continue expanding the available space in a thoughtful and beautiful way.