Garden Notes

The fiery-red viburnum. Photo by Susan Safford

Garden thanks

By Abigail Higgins - November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving greetings to Island gardeners and visitors! The Island is particularly beautiful at this time of year; I hope the holiday weekend gives everyone the opportunity to enjoy it, whether doing yard work or walking off holiday calories somewhere scenic. I hope all have something grown in the backyard, whether literally or figuratively, for the festive table. Despite the drought, there has been an abundance of fruit this entire growing season, something to be thankful for when the pie course arrives!

The fall garden has turned out to be fine. The white 'Macomber' Westport turnips, the seed of which came to me courtesy of Alan Wilder, were sown in July and have been yielding delicious turnip greens for quite a while. Soon we shall eat the roots. Carrots, leeks, beets, arugula, broccoli, cabbage and collard greens have been growing well; 'Heritage' ever-bearing raspberries okay (ever-bearers grow a small summer crop and a more sustained fall crop); New Zealand spinach is out of control; and even tomatoes have been hanging on.

The mention of raspberries reminds me to report on an item of interest concerning raspberries and bird losses that I read last summer. According to Anna Pavord, in a piece on raspberries in the No. 128 of "Gardens Illustrated," ever-bearing raspberries are much less subject to losses from birds than are summer-bearing raspberries. But time of bearing is not what foils the birds; rather, it's the more densely growing canes and the foliage shielding the developing fruit.

If you are losing too many raspberries to birds, consider planting additional canes of an ever-bearer. Personally I continue to prefer 'Heritage' as compared to two "new and improved" ever-bearers, 'Indian Summer' and 'September.' The two, summer-bearing and ever-bearing, are pruned differently. The two kinds should be kept separated. Summer raspberries are pruned after bearing. Ever-bearing raspberries are pruned in late winter or early spring. Ms. Pavord warns against planting them adjacent because they will soon intermingle, making pruning impossible.

Even though it means the end of the garden for the current year (for the most part), I like coming to the point in the vegetable garden where a lot of plant material can be bundled away to the compost piles, giving the surface a light cultivating, spreading whatever compost there is, and cover-cropping. The newly emptied and tidied spaces are satisfying in their neatness.

There are usually seed heads to be plucked back from the pile, cleaned, sorted, and saved. Even the most lackadaisical gardener can save nasturtium seed. Scour the ground below the masses of frosted nasturtium plants and pick up a few seeds for next year. They lie all over the ground where the plants have been growing.

This year I have been writing with a marker on plastic flagging the cultivar name of dahlias and tying it right around the main stem. It has become too difficult to find durable oak tag trunk tags; this is my new system. Then into the plastic bags that various bagged products like potting soil come in, one kind in each bag with plenty of soil left clumping around the tubers, and into the cellar.

A problem is that more and more new houses do not have unheated cellars. Some garages may be okay, if the roots are stored in peat moss or sand. Or perhaps you could find another dahlia lover who does have a cool cellar and would take in yours. Buying new every year from a supplier like Connell's or Swan Island might be the answer. For the amount of pleasure most people take from their dahlias, the summer cut-flower nonpareil, the price per tuber is not excessive. It provides the opportunity to succumb to temptation, the temptation to try new cultivars.

Last winter we had a debut dahlia swap at the Agricultural Society in conjunction with another program. We plan on continuing with a second swap, at a date to be announced this season, and hope that interest in the colorful dahlia continues to grow.

After taking care of the above-mentioned chores, there is still raking and clean up of all the troublesome spots where leaves pack and clog, killing either grass or harboring insects or rot organisms around the house. Plant a few additional spring bulbs, just for the heck of it and to help local garden centers sell out their inventory. They need only to make root growth before the soil becomes cold. Have a look at the gutters before the winter downpours arrive; it is downright amazing what small amounts of pollen, pine needles, acorns, oak tassels and general woods gurry it takes to obstruct gutters. Note to self: re-do cages around the plants deer love.

Then - sit back and imagine how much better next year's garden is going to be. Catalogues are piling in already.

Coastal pond disappears

When I drive out Main Street toward West Chop, I notice that someone is making a little garden at the foot of the slope that forms the inland side of the Hatch Road neighborhood, in the vicinity of new curbing that Tisbury Public Works installed to control road run-off. This spot is of interest because it is located in the ghost bed of a long-gone creek that led to a long-gone pond, or so I have heard.

My father (b. 1913) told me that when he was a boy this was called Frog Alley. Long before that it had once been a creek that followed the track of the road to the lighthouse, now Lighthouse Road. Before it was diverted or ceased to exist, the creek drained into a coastal pond called Ashponquonset Pond. It lay behind the beach at the foot of the sheltering Hatch Road upland, where William Daggett Jr. had a saltworks.

Mr. McLellan, the grandfather of the late Alexandra Carroll of Daggett Avenue, was my father's source for this local geography in the 1920s. Apparently William Barry Owen, who also had the houses moved off the beach and rearranged along Owen Little Way, filled in Ashponquonset Pond. Fifty years ago or so, all that was left was the little wetland called the Frog Pond. Neighborhood children sledded down the face of the rise, upon which Hatch Road runs, and skated on the Frog Pond. Today there are no traces left.

Thanks to Harriet Barrow, Madeline Carroll, Melinda Loberg, and Jim Norton for additional background and local knowledge.