Real Estate

The popular Vineyard Haven boutique will make its final sale on Saturday.

Daisy Kimberly is closing Alley Cat, after 25 years selling women's clothing and shoes on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. – Photos by Michael Cummo

After 25 years on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, countless women sent home with stylish new outfits, and many lifelong friendships made, Daisy Kimberly will close the doors of Alley Cat on Saturday, Jan. 31. She calls her upscale women’s clothing and shoe store a “destination boutique,” because so many of her customers make special trips, including many from off-Island, to shop at the 66 Main Street location.

Her secret for keeping a successful business going in a highly seasonal economy, through economic boom and bust, for a quarter of a century?

“Dogged determination, and denial,” Ms. Kimberly said this week as she prepared for her final few days open for business. While she won’t be retiring, she hasn’t settled on the next chapter of her life yet.

“Nobody can do anything forever. I have put, for 25 years, all of my creative energies, all of my thought, all of my efforts into this store. I’m kind of curious to see what might emerge from that.”

Ms. Kimberly said there was a collision of coincidences large and small that caused her to step back and evaluate the business climate.

“It has been a dodgy couple of years in terms of sales,” she said. “I think the Internet may have been a factor. I just found that when I thought about going back to New York and buying again, it was with a sigh of resignation, and when I thought, what if I just didn’t do it, I got really elated. A lot of possibilities emerged from that.”

She took other coincidences as a signal that it was time to close the shop. She rented a parking space from Beadniks on Church Street for 30 years, but when that business closed last spring, she lost her spot. Her building needed a new heat pump, and the installation behind the store took the space of a small courtyard where she and her employees took breaks. She made a mental list of the pluses and minuses of another year in business.

“What I won’t miss is a little bit longer than what I will miss,” she said.

Customers had an unusually close bond with the store and its owner. Ms. Kimberly said several longtime patrons came to the store in tears when they heard the news that she would close the doors for good.

Alley-Cat-Closing-2.JPG“I have a really solid corps of really loyal customers,” she said. “I like to make it a cross between a personal dressing room and a clubhouse. One of my friends called it a combination of psychology and show biz. We’ve been therapists in here, we’ve been medical advisors at times. We’ve heard many super-personal stories from people. It’s pretty great.”

Many customers looked forward to the annual Alley Cat “yard sale” in March. She and her friends bring in some of their “gently used” clothing for resale, along with marked-down merchandise left over from the previous season. This year, she is moving the yard sale up to the final two days she is open, Friday, Jan. 30, and Saturday, Jan. 31.

“It’s usually a madhouse for two days in March,” she said. “But I won’t be here, so why not move it up?”

— File photo by Susan Safford

Earlier this month the Ocean View Restaurant in Oak Bluffs came under the ownership of Mike Santoro, who owns the Lookout Tavern and Fishbones Grille. Mr. Santoro purchased the restaurant from Ron and Peggy Jackson, who had owned the popular year-round restaurant for close to 35 years.

New General Manager Jennifer Toppin, formerly of the Lookout Tavern, notes that the tried-and-true Ocean View menu will remain intact, with some new additions that were popular at the Lookout, including the Tuesday-night burger special. Now Ocean View customers can enjoy a ½-lb. burger with cheese for $8, or a specialty burger for $10, which includes fries. Customers can still take advantage of the popular prime rib special on Saturdays and lobster night on Wednesdays.

The Ocean View serves a full menu for lunch and dinner daily, including Sundays, from 11:30 am to 10 pm. Their pizza and bar menu is also available until 11 pm on Friday and Saturday. Ms. Toppin said that the restaurant can accommodate large parties, and is a great option for the sporting groups crowd after a late game, given their reliable late hours.

Mr. Santoro and Ms. Toppin also managed the serving staff at this past Saturday’s Big Chili Contest. “Now that Chilifest is behind us, we’re excited to hit the ground running. It’s already been amazing, and everyone has been so supportive,” said Ms. Toppin.

After a successful start, the business operator said, he was unable to negotiate a workable lease agreement.

James Goff and Tanya Chipperfield will no longer operate Bob's Pizza, on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. –Photo by Michael Cummo

James Goff and Tanya Chipperfield, who began operating Bob’s Pizza on Main Street in Vineyard Haven in midsummer, closed the popular eatery this week. Mr. Goff said he was unable to come to a lease agreement with the building owner, Chris Sze LLC.

Soon after Mr. Goff and Ms. Chipperfield began serving pizza and sandwiches, word spread through word of mouth and social media that the fare was much improved.

“The response from the Island and Main Street was incredible,” Mr. Goff said. “That showed me how desperate the town is for quality. It was like wildfire; we were popular right away.”

Mr. Goff said the building owner asked for rent that began at $60,000, with incremental increases to $78,000 over an eight-year period. Mr. Goff said the owner also wanted a $25,000 lease fee for each of the first two years of the lease.

“The more we crunched the numbers, the more out of whack the reality seemed to me,” Mr. Goff said. “When I plugged them into a model for running a responsible business, they didn’t match up. Call me crazy, but those numbers don’t match up to me.”

Mr. Goff said he is actively looking for a new location, and hopes to be back in business soon.

“We have an army of Islanders ready to follow us to our next location,” he said. “I’ve got a storage unit full of stuff. The company is formed — we need a roof.”

Contacted by phone Wednesday, Mr. Sze said said he is working with other potential tenants for next season.

“We can’t get a deal, so we’re waiting for next year,” Mr. Sze said. He declined to confirm the terms of the proposed lease with Mr. Goff.

“That’s between me and him, I don’t have any comment on that,” Mr. Sze said. But he added, “$60,000 a year is not a lot, with taxes and everything included, it’s not much.”

The original online version of this article incorrectly reported that Bob’s Pizza is looking for a new location. The restaurant will not move, the most recent operators, James Goff and Tanya Chipperfield, are looking for another location to open a new restaurant. 

Force hyacinths in water for a taste of spring. –Photo by Susan Safford

Garden dreaming “I-wanta’s”

This is the dreaming, scheming, and planning portion of the gardening year. The catalogs arriving daily are a font of ideas and “I-wanta’s.” At some point reality must reassert itself, but not yet. Maybe this is the year I will grow every dark red-to-black dahlia cultivar known. Maybe the garden will be only onions, plum tomatoes, and cucumbers. No, beans, onions, plum tomatoes, and lettuce …

One can start to go nuts choosing the gardens of one’s imagination.

Dreaming, scheming “I wanta’s”!

I have some personal “I wanta’s” this year, too. I feel an obligation to Trudy Taylor to plug for regional composting on Martha’s Vineyard. She has been a tireless proponent of this principle for years, and wonders why I have not been doing my part to influence people’s thinking.

We should have regional composting and responsible recycling of organic waste. We are an island — small, unattached, apart. We should be able to sort this out. (Especially since Nantucket has already, now a couple of decades ago.) Can we compel our town leaders to be more environmentally proactive? And why is there such an avoidance of the existing opportunities?

Take the new public safety buildings in West Tisbury and Tisbury: large, south-facing roofs, with no photovoltaic capacity whatsoever installed. I look at the new Y facility — extensive south-facing roof with no PV,  and at the Martha’s Vineyard Arena, perennially fundraising for high electricity costs and structural improvements, almost within spitting distance of the Y. One needs to gain heat, while the other needs to lose it. One could be swapping Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) for the heat of the other.

Possibly, the entire campus area of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, MV Arena, the Y, seniors’ Woodside Village, and Schoolhouse Village subdivision could be linked with some combination of biomass gasification and distributed generation that would make dollars and sense for us/them all.

Space needs and cooking ingredients

Most of us come to our senses at some point, and remember what works and what is needed. It is always good to remember what the household uses, and how it cooks. In fact, I would recommend taking a stab at growing the ingredients of the most frequently cooked bases and recipes, the staples.

When my garden starts up in spring, garlic planted the previous fall is already occupying row space. In the limited garden space, it is better for me to grow all the peas I can in the spring, instead of giving over room to items such as brassicas (cabbages, kales, turnips, etc.). Who wants to eat cabbage when there are fresh peas out there? Plus, the peas are easy to freeze, and the brassicas do very well as a second crop, and continue right up until hard winter.

Plan room in the spring garden for the “earlies”: potatoes, onions, beets, spinach, and lettuce, in late March to mid-April. Garden space must be left for tender crops, planted at some point in May, when spring planting takes place. As “earlies” are harvested out, plan on replacing them with, for example, squashes (summer and winter), main-crop tomatoes, basil, carrots, and Swiss chard. Most seed catalogues and vegetable growing manuals contain information to calculate amounts needed and row space required.

For us, a paramount staple is Garden Special (from the All New Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook, by Wilma Lord Perkins, Bantam Books, ca. 1970), forming the basis for many soups, sauces, and stews. It contains four garden vegetables: plum tomatoes, onions, green peppers, celery (and basil and bay leaves), all of which we can grow, and we wouldn’t be without it.

We would not want to be without a year’s supply of pesto in the freezer either, and potatoes, onions, and garlic as well, for as long as they last. We try to make and freeze as much stock as possible throughout the year. With potatoes, and broccoli and leeks, two favorite soups are easily put together: cream of broccoli and potato-leek (“potage bonne femme”).

The bounty of bean plants is well known; they form the basis for many summer dishes, and freeze well, in addition to being served on their own, cooked or raw. Less common is growing your own dry beans, for baked bean dishes and soups. This is easily stored, homegrown protein!

Many people harbor hopes of accomplishment, the bucket list of unrealized garden goals (“This year is the strawberry jam year!”). Do we have to enter cucumber pickles in the fair to enjoy a few cucumbers in salads? Easily eaten and processed fruits and vegetables are a good category to consider. Be realistic. If it requires a complicated process to preserve, is it truly worth it? Moreover, is it actually going to happen?

There are many vegetables I have not mentioned here, because people’s gardens reflect individual preferences and places. My brother has sent me seed and complete directions for producing Belgian endive, a lengthy procedure. But will it happen? For some gardeners and cooks, unusual and challenging crops are The Reasons for doing it, and that is what pushes the envelope in gardening excellence.

But for now, in January, it is OK to dream garden dreams and entertain fond hopes and fantasies, the more the better.

New garden product?

Speaking of strawberries, since 2014 was a very frustrating year for us with our strawberry patch, due to the wily Christiantown squirrels, I paid attention when I read about an interesting new product in The Avant Gardener, which I intend to follow up on.

“An advertisement for ‘The All Natural Ceylon Cinnamon Oil Pesticide’ claims that it ‘repels all insects, kills fungus, eliminates powdery mildew. Stop the squirrels … Spray on garden vegetables and fruits. Safe for humans. The most effective insect repellent. Period!’

“The product is applied by means of a spray. Use once a week and after heavy rains. It is nontoxic to humans and can be used the day of harvesting vegetables. Cinnamon has antimicrobial properties that also help to control molds and fungus as a substitute for liquid copper fungicide. For more information visitcinnamonvogue.com.” I hope it repels squirrels.

Indoor gardens

Reading a book such as Forcing, Etc. forcing,_etc-book_coverby Katherine Whiteside, or going to blogs such as Matt Mattus’ Growing with Plants (growingwithplants.com) can be daunting due to the seeming perfection of the presentation or technique. Matt’s greenhouse is inhabited by “specialist” plants, knowledgeably grown and lovingly photographed. The color pages of Forcing, Etc. are perhaps more populist, with many easily recognized plants among the more exotic ones. They are both guides.

One of the easiest ways to begin is to force or root plants in water. It might be characterized as your grandmother’s rooting the coleus or philodendron cuttings in a tumbler of water over the kitchen sink.

Pieces of ivy, impatiens, or pussy willow in a vase might be a good place to start, or forcing hyacinths, as in the photo (I have thoughtful friends to thank for both Forcing, Etc. and the hyacinth bulbs and the vases). Avocado pits, leaves from succulents, begonias, and African violets are also good starting points. Cool room temperature and frequent changes of water are helpful.

Sprouting on your kitchen counter brings chlorophyll into the diet simply and affordably.

Martha’s Vineyard Interior Design (MVID) of Vineyard Haven received the “Best of Houzz” award by Houzz, the leading platform for home remodeling and design.

MVID was chosen for the 2015 Customer Satisfaction Award and the 2015 Best of Design Award by the more than 25 million monthly users that comprise the Houzz community, according to a press release.

“Houzz provides homeowners with a 360-degree view of home building, remodeling, and design industry professionals, empowering them to engage the right people and products for their project,” Liza Hausman, vice president of industry marketing for Houzz, said. “We’re delighted to recognize Martha’s Vineyard Interior Design among our “Best of” professionals for customer satisfaction as judged by our community of homeowners and design enthusiasts who are actively remodeling and decorating their homes.”

Liz Stiving-Nichols, MVID co-owner and senior designer, said, “Receiving this award again is particularly meaningful, because it reflects our success in meeting clients’ expectations, as well as maintaining positive relationships with clients and professionals in our field of work.”

For more information, go to mvidesign.com or call 508-687-9555.

The Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury now offers an online plant selection guide designed to choose plants to best fit the Vineyard landscape.

The Polly Hill Arboretum developed a searchable plant database. – Photo by Susan Safford

The Polly Hill Arboretum (PHA) in West Tisbury recently launched a new online plant selection guide designed to choose plants to best fit the Vineyard landscape. PHA, with the support of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), developed a searchable plant database targeted to municipalities, landscape architects, landscapers, professional gardeners, home gardeners, and garden centers on Martha’s Vineyard, according to a press release.

Searches are based on site conditions, native region, plant type, and plant characteristics. Each category has more detailed options, allowing individuals to tailor requests to their landscape or garden. In an effort to encourage plant selections based on appropriateness for the site, plants with the natural ability to thrive in an Island environment are listed. Plants not suitable for Island conditions, but widely used, are clearly noted in search results.

“The MVC and the Arboretum are both working to increase biodiversity, promote ecological integrity, and preserve the unique ecosystems of the Island,” the press release notes. The guide is available at plantfinder.pollyhillarboretum.org.

Edgartown

Jan. 13, US Bank NA, as trustee on behalf of the holders of CSAB Mortgage-Backed Pass-Through Certificates, Series 2007-1, the present holder of a mortgage from Barbara A. Person-Tersigni, sold by foreclosure deed 9 Cummings Way to Atlantic Shore Builders LLC for $490,000.

Jan. 14, Judith A. Draper sold 3 Swan Lane to Steven and Tamara Richter for $550,000.

Oak Bluffs

Jan. 12, Ronald E. and Margaret Jackson sold 16 Chapman Ave. and a lot off Summerfield Park to Charles C. Hajjar, trustee of OB MV Realty Trust, for $1,400,000.

Jan. 12, Maida M. Remmer and Henry J. Remmer, 3rd, Personal Representatives of the Lois M. Remmer Estate, and Maida M. Remmer and Henry J. Remmer, 3rd, trustees of the Henry J. Remmer Revocable Trust, sold 6 Harbor Lane to Stephen and Elena Schlegel for $885,000.

Jan. 14, Philip D. and Lemlem G. McCrary sold 12 Puritan Dr. to Melissa Thomas for $477,500.

Tisbury

Jan. 15, Headmasters House LLC sold 1140 Main St. to Stuart and Eliza Sedwick Brunson, trustees of Nashville North Realty Trust, for $1,890,000.

Jan. 16, Diane C. Nordin and Thomas L. Keller sold 100 Connies Way to Judith A. Draper and Randall D. Perrine for $998,000.

Jan. 16, Meghan Tiernan sold 262 Franklin St. to Anita R. Smith for $315,000.

West Tisbury

Jan. 13, Laurel Stavis, a/k/a Laurel R. Stavis, Personal Representative of the Eugene B. Stavis Estate, sold 8 Waldron Bottom Rd. to Joseph F. O’Donnell for $285,000.

The Edgartown planning board considers a development off Mullen Way. Martin "Skip" Tomassian (back to camera) represented developer Michael Kidder.

The Edgartown planning board Tuesday unanimously approved an application from Chappaquiddick resident Michael Kidder to build nine 2,800-square-foot, four-bedroom houses on a 7.1-acre lot off Mullen Way, following a contentious public hearing continued from Dec. 16.

The approval comes with a list of improvements Mr. Kidder offered to make at his expense, and set as conditions by the planning board. These include installation of a new eight-inch water main and fire hydrants, public access to extend Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank trails, 1.7 acres of open space, and a prohibition on guest houses or any further subdivision.

The vote to approve the project came after the five-member board voted unanimously not to refer the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), over the objection of attorney Ellen Kaplan, who represented many of the Mullen Way homeowners opposed to the development. The threshold for mandatory planning-board referral is a 10-lot development.

Several residents argued that Mullen Way, a 17.2-foot-wide, town-owned road off Pease Point Way, with pavement covering about 14 feet of the right of way, is not adequate to safely support extra traffic that would be generated by the new development.

“If you allow Mullen Way to become a driveway to this development, you’ll destroy the special character of Mullen Way,” Robert Coad, a Mullen Way homeowner, said.

“Most of what I’ve heard centers on the issue of change,” board member Robert Sparks said, just before he made a motion to approve the application. Edgartown “is a resort community, which has its appeal because old Edgartown was able to exist over 3.5 centuries of change. Is it going to change the world as we know it? I don’t think so.”

Second time around

Mr. Kidder is one of the founders of the FARM Institute, and heads a charitable foundation that has provided generous support to a number of Island institutions that include Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. He purchased the land for $3.6 million in 2005, according to assessors’ records. It is currently assessed at $1.1 million. Mr. Kidder submitted a slightly larger development proposal to the Edgartown planning board in 2005, but subsequently withdrew his application in the face of strenuous opposition from area residents, which included a petition submitted to the MVC in 2006 to declare the neighborhood a district of critical planning concern (DCPC). Such a designation, which would have been unprecedented for a specific neighborhood, would have allowed for the imposition of a layer of regulatory control above and beyond that which exists at the town level. The MVC rejected the designation.

Mr. Kidder, doing business as MRK Mullen Realty Trust, submitted a new development application to the planning board on Nov. 19, 2014.

The application sparked a blizzard of correspondence. At Tuesday’s hearing in town hall, attended by about 20 people, the board presented copies of 10 letters in support of the project, and eight opposed. Also distributed were letters from the chief of police, fire chief, board of health, water department, wastewater department, and selectmen, expressing support for, or no opposition to, the plan.

The location of the planned development is shown in this map.
The location of the planned development is shown in this map.

Water Superintendent William Chaplain wrote that a new eight-inch water main would be a considerable improvement over the current four-inch main.

“While this approach to the design and construction may require the developer to incur additional costs over the original design, this approach will serve the community in a better and more reliable fashion, [and] may afford the residents with a reduction in homeowner insurance rates,” Mr. Chapman wrote.

David Young, a Mullen Way seasonal resident, spoke in opposition at Tuesday’s hearing, and submitted a letter outlining his objections. “It is important to note that the very modest homes on Mullen are frequently rented in summer, and there are always a good number of children of all ages on the street,” Mr. Young wrote. “When our grandchildren come, we rent another house, as ours is too small for them. Obviously we’re looking at a dangerous personal-safety situation as well as emergency-vehicle and fire-safety issue along with the dramatic degradation of a classic Edgartown neighborhood.”

Road warriors

The objections of Mullen Way residents about the adequacy of the narrow road to accommodate more traffic held little sway for board members, despite the case made by Ms. Kaplan. She noted that Mr. Kidder recently sold two adjacent house lots that are no longer part of his development proposal, but may also bring more residents to the neighborhood.

“It is almost double the amount of homes, it is at least double the amount of bedrooms,” Ms. Kaplan told the board. “The road as it exists with no turnouts is insufficient and incapable of handling the resident traffic and the service-provider traffic. You’re going to have more landscapers, more cleaning people, more FedEx trucks.”

Lawyer Martin “Skip” Tomassian, who represented Mr. Kidder, countered with large pictures of several Edgartown roads in congested neighborhoods that he said were considerably narrower than Mullen Way.

“This isn’t an unusual situation,” planning board member Michael McCourt said. “Narrow roads exist all around the Island, with plenty of houses on them. I can’t vote against this project because of the width of the road.”

Ms. Kaplan also argued that the project triggers several provisions that require mandatory MVC review, including a provision that requires referral of any land subdivided into 10 or more lots, even though one of those lots is to be designated open space in perpetuity. “I would suggest you deny the project, but at the very least it should be referred to the MVC,” Ms. Kaplan said. “That’s where it belongs.”

Chairman Fred Mascolo disagreed about the need for review by the Island’s powerful regulatory and planning agency, which has wide authority to reject a development or impose conditions.

“So you’re saying this is regional impact?” Mr. Mascolo asked. “I’m really kind of sick of people saying that. We are a town board. I think this is an Edgartown decision. I don’t see this as regional impact, where somebody from West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah needs to weigh in.”

The project still needs approval from the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program (NHESP), because it lies within protected habitat. Mr. Tomassian assured the planning board that after more than a year of consultation, NHESP has given preapproval to development plans.

The project also needs approval from the town conservation commission.

Aquinnah

Jan. 8, Deborah Walker sold 4 Oxcart Rd. to Bradly Smith and Mylan Lam for $609,000.

Chilmark

Jan. 6, Richard S. and Louise Egbert Treitman sold 15 Periwinkle Lane to Michael Shanahan and Yelena Burdan for $880,000.

Jan. 9, Great Rock Bight LP and Kendall P. Harris, trustee of Great Field Nominee Trust, sold a lot on Brickyard Rd. to John C. Wilmot and Nicole Francis for $687,000.

Jan. 9, Susan B. Whiting and William A. Oates, Jr., trustees of the John W. M. Whiting Non-Exempt Family Fund, sold a Black Point Beach lot to Jeffrey F. and Cristina S. Peters for $312,500.

Edgartown

Jan. 6, Frederick L. and Judith C. Buehler sold 18 Dunham Rd. to CHM Real Property LLC for $3,200,000.

Jan. 8, Convery & Associates LTD sold Lot 3 Mariner’s Landing on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Rd. to Mariners Property LLC for $750,000.

Jan. 9, Barbara Anwyl Bates sold 24 Caleb Pond Rd. to Todd C. and Linda W. Davis for $3,478,125.

Oak Bluffs

Jan. 7, Charles F. and Patricia M. Mansfield sold 4 Nahomon St. to Sean T. and Kathleen F. Mansfield for $412,500.

Jan. 8, Sanford H. Low, trustee of Purplex II Nominee Trust, sold 30 Martha’s Park Rd. to Jed A. and Linda Hellstrom for $710,000.

Tisbury

Jan. 6, Thalasa Investors LLC sold a lot on Main St. to Diana Smith for $509,250.

Jan. 7, Simeon J. Denhart-Holzer, trustee of Simeon J. Denhart-Holzer Investment Trust, sold an undivided 49% interest in 303 Bigelow Rd. to Evan C. Denhart for $416,500.

West Tisbury

Jan. 5, Blue Sky LLC sold 60 Pepperbush Way to William David Abraham and Sharon Starzynski-Abraham for $430,000.

Jan. 6, Toro Farm LLC sold 100 Old Holmes Hole Rd. to John E. Keene and Hillary A. Noyes-Keene for $380,000.

The Island’s winter palate is spare and exquisitely subtle.

Skimmias take well to propagation. – Photo by Susan Safford

Celebrate winter

As I emerge into winter and the newly born year (from the holiday haze, cleverly designed to coincide with the solstice stupor), I find the sun stronger, the cold deeper, and improved mental clarity.

Appropriate to the Vineyard winter, the Guardian’s Alys Fowler wrote about her love of winter, and expresses it wellhere: theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/dec/29/some-like-it-cold

“If you embrace our winter in all its dripping wetness, its desolate cold, its bleak grey, then it’s possible to find happiness in the places you least expect. … There is a loneliness to the winter landscape; the whole story is no longer on show, entire chapters are now stored underground.”

Winter’s palette

Dwellers in the temperate zone enjoy four seasons, and many play the game of “favorite one.” I used to feel my favorite was whichever we were currently in, because they are all good. No, wonderful!

In actuality, I always had an affinity for Island winter. I love its stillness, and the Island’s winter palette is spare and exquisitely subtle. Take away the contented opulence of summer, and what do you have? It’s green all over. Take away spring’s fragility and rich promise, and one may be weighed down with the sense of Time’s onward rush.

Autumn comes a close second to winter’s appeal, with its golden light and deeper blue skies and the unstated tension of the coming changes. However, I delight in the spaciousness of winter skies. The contrast of their vast cloudscapes with the Island’s intimate landscapes wins my senses, over and over.

However, our requirements for the winter scenery of our domestic spaces often dictate greater coziness; we employ evergreens to contradict the hardness of winter and mitigate its bleak aspects. Evergreens break Venturi effects’ icy blasts around buildings, and provide wildlife with someplace to take shelter.

I enjoy the beautiful shadings of browns and grays of the native woods around my house, but even more so in contrast to the white pines, hollies, yews, rhododendrons, firs, spruces, and skimmias planted nearby that soften them.

Deer will browse some of the above over the course of winter, but not the charming muffin mounds of the skimmias. They will be left intact. I fail to understand why skimmias are not more widely planted here on the Island, where they associate well with rhododendron, azalea, and holly, and do a good job of fronting them in shrubberies. The ideal planting site is in moist, well-drained soil, in shady spots.

The usually suggested forms of these dioecious broadleaf evergreens, in the Rutaceae family, are a heavily fruiting female cultivar such as S. japonica “Nymans,” and a good male pollinator such as “Rubella.” My male skimmia is covered with flower panicles of a deep dusty red, and is very decorative. The female, however, surpasses it in sheer red and green power, and takes the eye from several feet away with its clusters of large, shiny red fruits, surrounded by glossy mid-green leaves.

As seen in the image, planting in partial sunshine may have led to yellowing of the foliage.

Skimmias may seem pricey at the nursery, but a little secret is that they take well to propagation, either by layering or rooted cutting, or by sowing fresh seed, which germinates well once cleaned of the fleshy drupe.

In the garden

Winter days on the Vineyard can be exhilarating and beautiful, and having some outside work to do is a great antidote to stale, dry indoor air. There is always more to do, small jobs and details, as an excuse to be outside.

Alys Fowler’s column continues, “But I most love getting to know my local trees. It is now that they show off their secrets, the hidden nests and hollows, the comic twists of their limbs, how they tap on their neighbour’s [sic] shoulder, how they let the ivy wrap them up — or not. …

While you’re looking up, take in the winter clouds — snow-laden waves of cotton fluff perhaps, but more often ominous sheets of ash and lead. … For once you start to celebrate winter for what it is, there’s not nearly enough of it.”

The lack of cold temps has brought tips of narcissus and snowdrops, among other bulbs, to the soil’s surface early. Mulching these with something — old straw, leaves and leaf litter, or evergreen branches of cut-up Christmas trees — may help avoid winter damage to them during the Island’s notorious freeze/thaw cycles.

Many small branches and twigs with clusters of leaves attached, I find, have also rained down from the oak trees, a result of various twig-pruner insects such as cynipid gall wasps and carpenter ants. Clear them away and add to compost piles; their addition is valuable due to a high ratio of bark to wood.

It is gratifying to observe how one’s plants have grown, but many will have added growth that may be headed in the wrong direction. Improve it with human intervention. Winter pruning may take place at any time now; observe basic pruning rules.

1) Usesharptools: pruning saws, loppers, and clippers. 2) Locate the branch collar, the slight fold where a branch diverts from its parent limb. Correct pruning cuts are made just outside this fold, leaving a small bump or nub that will callus over. 3) For any pruning requiring a saw, make an undercut to prevent injurious stripping of bark.

Clear “leaf muddles” from evergreen shrubs such as yews, box, skimmia, and shrub hollies. These leaf muddles catch snow and ice. When frozen, these weigh plants down and split them open.

A small branch of hybrid witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia “Jelena,” has chosen to burst into bloom, early but welcome. Many flowering shrubs such as witch hazel, or the familiar forsythia, force well. Try some!