Home & Garden

Beautiful winter groundcover at Polly Hill Arboretum includes Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ — Photo by Susan Safford

A mélange of brown, grey, and tan, the island winter landscape is generally a monotonous one, and the seasons that create it seem to stretch out over-long from the “front end.”

The greenery we add to our winter landscapes is an antidote to that brown and grey monotony, especially for C. Colston Burrell, a self-described chlorophyll addict, who lives and works in the Piedmont of Virginia, a plant hardiness zone not too different from the Island’s.

Burrell is an award-winning garden writer (among other books, “Hellebores: a Comprehensive Guide,” co-authored with Judith Knott Tyler) and landscape designer. On a recent trip we visited his garden, Bird Hill, in the deciduous forest of the Blue Ridge foothills. Almost entirely sited on sloping ground and surrounded by stalag-like deer fencing, it is a morning garden with a southeastern exposure. The pale, low-angle sunlight at the time of our visit highlighted the dull gleam on foliage of hellebores (as might be expected), epimediums, and other plants of great fall and winter interest.

The Bird Hill winter garden contains 350 or so varieties of the genus Epimedium, in addition to the countless hellebores (which self-sow and hybridize freely where happy), greenery such as ferns, sedges, hardy cyclamen, asarums, and much euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, all at ground level or just above, not to mention taller sorts of evergreen winter interest, such as winter blooming camellias, azaleas, skimmias, and other broadleaf evergreens. Some of the monumental trunks of magnificent chestnut oak and tulip poplar are clothed in vines. Based on the enormous cold season variety on display, one can only guess at the breadth and extent of the garden’s warm weather character.

Gardeners are for the most part great sharers, pleased to support the efforts of those who lack experience. While visiting gardens of greatly skilled gardeners makes one realize one’s own deficiencies, the good news is that excellence rubs off, whether through visual stimulation, advice, or even the sharing of plants.

I return home and survey my mostly brown, fallen-leaf and undergrowth base layer; my paltry array of hellebores, epimediums, cyclamen; the single specimens of cyrtonium and Christmas ferns — mentally contrasting with what I have just seen at Bird Hill — and realize once again: all comparisons stink!

Brassicas: Cooking and Specialized Equipment

There is a lot of brassica coming your way, dietetically, if you desire to eat locally: it is a cabbage-y time of year. Broccoli, Tuscan and other kales, Brussels sprouts, and cold tolerant mustard greens appear on the seasonal table. I pulled four flat-head cabbage from my vegetable garden upon return from the trip to Virginia and made them into sauerkraut at once.

Where I formerly would have used my big, Amish-made “kraut cutter” to shred the cabbage into ribbons, I now use my Portuguese “maquina de corta couves” to slice it into threads that make a fast-fermenting fine-cut sauerkraut. The addition of a fermenting crock, or gärtopf, a Christmas present from my son, has simplified my sauerkraut making for many years now.

However you can, slice or chop up the cabbage and mix with kosher or sea salt in a large bowl until it tastes slightly salty. Either massage the cabbage with the hands, or pound it in the gärtopf with a wooden implement, in order to get the juices flowing. Pack into very clean glass mason jars, gärtopf, or crock. Repeat until all the chopped cabbage is packed. The juice should cover the contents. If cabbages are dried out, it may be necessary to make up additional brine by boiling one liter of water with fifteen grams of kosher or sea salt. Cool brine and add to cover cabbage.

The gärtopf comes with two stoneware weights for keeping the contents covered with its juice or brine; an airlock water channel the weighty lid sits in; and the lid itself, notched to permit the release of fermenting gases. I recommend finding one if a steady supply of fermented vegetables is part of your menu. However, stoneware crocks and mason jars with plastic lids may also be used to make sauerkraut.

It is likely that many families have streamlined their cooking chops into a standard family tradition for the Thanksgiving meal, no deviations permitted! However, with holiday gathering taking place, many of us entertain at other meals as well during the festive time. This great cabbage salad recipe comes from a longtime gardening client and utilizes my “maquina de corta couves” perfectly.

Savoy Cabbage with Pancetta and Gorgonzola

For the Dressing:

4 tsp. white vinegar

1 bsp. Dijon mustard

2 cloves minced garlic

1/3 cup olive oil

For the Salad

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 lb. pancetta, cut into 1/8 ” dice

1 small head Savoy cabbage quartered, cored and very thinly sliced

1/2 tsp pepper

1/4 lb. Gorgonzola, crumbled (option: substitute feta cheese, crumbled)

1. To make the dressing, place the vinegar, mustard, and garlic in bowl of food processor and process until creamy. Drizzle in oil in thin stream.

2. To make the salad, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet set over medium high heat. Add the pancetta, stirring occasionally, until it is crispy but not darkly browned. Drain the pancetta, reserving 3 Tbsp. of the fat left in the pan and setting the pancetta aside.

3. Transfer the 3 Tbsp. of reserved fat to a large heavy skillet set over medium heat. Add cabbage and cook until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add reserved pancetta, pepper and dressing and toss and cook another minute. Add half the crumbled Gorgonzola and cook until the cheese just begins to melt. Divide the salad among four plates. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and serve immediately.

Seed garlic performs best if vernalized — being chilled for two weeks at 43 to 50°F before planting. Protective cloches are by Rob Phillips of the Glassworks in North Tisbury. — Photo by Susan Safford

The Island’s autumn beauty is displayed in the deep-toned array of grass and foliage spread across the landscape, and magnificent skyscapes of gigantic grey-bottomed cloud foretell winter’s approach.

The 20th annual Barn Raisers’ Ball, celebrating the Agricultural Society’s historic barn raising, is Saturday night, 7:30–10 pm, at the Agricultural Hall, with Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish. Bring a dessert to share, admission is free.

Garlic culture

In matters culinary, Martha’s Vineyard has come a long way. Back in the day, the post-war “Joy of Cooking” open in front of me listed just ten “Italian” recipes, nothing East Asian, and just two under Garlic, one of which was garlic bread!

If one was planning an “exotic” dish, one had to go to Bangs Market, or one of the other S.S. Pierce emporia on the Island, for those little gourmet oddments such as capers and other condiments. (I am not sure we knew the term “gourmet,” then.) No longer is it sufficient, the way it used to be when garlic was considered to be a socially embarrassing seasoning, to go down to the store and pick up a little box containing two dried-up heads of generic garlic when a dish of something exotic is planned for the menu.

The general consensus is that garlic growing has increased in importance both among Island growers and cooks. Here, where planting garlic is one of the final chapters of the vegetable garden year, when to plant garlic is often debated.

Since there is a wide array of opinion on getting the best results with the culture of this plant, I decided to read up on it and pass along whatever of interest I could glean. I consulted three vegetable-growing books, but many specifics come from two different editions of the Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, Fall 2012 and Summer 2013.

In an MOF&G 2012 (Vol 40, no 3) article, Tom Vigue, a Maine garlic grower, says garlic does best when planted four weeks before the ground freezes, because root development begins in the fall. A critical humidity induces root growth, which typically begins one or two weeks after planting. Roots will grow for a couple of weeks more before soils freeze. If planting is too early, it may induce leaf sprouting; if sprouts emerge from the soil and are damaged by freezing, the plants receive a setback; loss of leaves reduces yields.

Vigne claims “the size of the seed bulb is many times more significant than the size of the seed clove in determining the eventual size of harvested bulbs.” Nevertheless, cloves from medium to medium-large bulbs make the best planting stock. Cloves from smaller bulbs will result in smaller, weaker plants, yielding smaller harvests; planting the largest cloves from the largest bulbs results in the greatest lack of uniformity in harvests. Vigue recommends planting three to four inches deep in cultivated and heavily composted soil; and then covering with six to eight inches of loose and fluffy mulch, with the expectation that it will compress under winter conditions.

The MOF&G’s 2013 (Vol 41, no 2) article offers comprehensive coverage of the garlic portion of MOFG Association’s spring growth conference. David Stern of the Garlic Seed Foundation recommends starting garlic culture by sowing oats at the end of August, in soils testing at pH 6.8-7. In October he mows and discs them, makes furrows, and plants and covers the garlic. Stern recommends placing the tip of the clove one and a half inches below the soil surface in furrows where soybean meal, supplying nitrogen (N), has first been laid. Oats reemerge with the first rain and later winterkill.

Growers experimenting with different spacing had differing results. Vigue prefers 5×8″ spacing. Slightly larger, 6×8,” produced slightly larger bulbs but total yield in pounds was lower. He found that scape removal produces larger bulbs and earlier sizing up, but he wonders about its effect on long-term storage. Stern prefers spacing of 6×6″ or 8×8″; closer spacing sacrifices quality. For row crop spacing, plant garlic 4 inches or more apart within rows, with 18 inches or more between rows. Double row planting involves two rows in a 6- x 6-inch grid, with 18 inches or more between the double rows.

Many additional factors are important in garlic culture, one of the foremost perhaps being storage qualities. It is desirable, obviously, for garlic to remain in good condition until planting and beyond, when the next crop is ready for use. About one pound of seed is needed to produce five pounds of harvest.

Hugelkultur: the ultimate raised bed

Springing from the permaculture movement, an interesting development is called “hugelkultur,” or mound culture. It is a wild and crazy composting, where there is no need to worry about layering, turning, and all those other bothersome details of scientific composting: just pile ‘er up and after a month, plant right into the pile.

Due to various ailments that Island trees have fallen prey to, and ensuing breakdown and rot, woodlots are producing piles of rotting wood unable to qualify as firewood. Well-publicized concerns about its fire hazards make finding a use for it a win-win situation, although rotting wood does not generally burn well.

In hugelkultur rotten logs are prized, the bigger the better: it is essentially making raised beds filled with rotten wood. A framework of rotting logs is laid on the ground where the mound is going to be sited. Brush, sticks, dirt, more logs, compostables of all descriptions — all are thrown onto the pile and covered with soil. Some settling occurs, but in a month it is plant-able. The mound is self-watering due to the hydroscopic qualities of the rotting wood, and carbon is sequestered. For more information, go to http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/.

The fully enclosed Earth Flow composting system can mix and shred up to three tons of organic waste per day. — Photo courtesy of Green Mountain Technologies

Stepping into the breach of a decades-long Island battle, Green Mountain Technologies (GMT) president Michael Bryan-Brown and sales manager Mollie Bogardus recently came to Martha’s Vineyard to pitch Island-wide composting.

Mr. Brown and Ms. Bogardus made their initial foray to the Island in May to speak at a composting conference organized by Tomar Waldman of Vineyard Haven.

“We gathered so much information in May, and we recognized the huge opportunity here,” Ms. Bogardus told The Times at the recent Living Local Harvest Fest in West Tisbury. “Hauling waste off the Island was even more expensive than we expected, as much as $300 a ton. And compost here is imported. It starts at $35 a [cubic] yard to well over $60 a [cubic] yard. We became convinced this is a no-brainer. There’s tremendous savings to be had here.”

The Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs stated in a 2010 report, “Castoff food is the largest single component of the waste put in landfills and burned in trash incinerators. Twenty-five per cent of the waste stream in Massachusetts (after recycling), is food waste, compostable paper and other organics.”

Mr. Brown said waste equals costs for residents of Martha’s Vineyard. “You have the highest disposal costs in the state and maybe New England,” Mr. Brown said. “Twenty-five percent of waste is compostable waste. So you deduct that from the total cost, and look at the price that farmers and landscapers pay for compost on the Island, it’s a win-win situation.”

Pay dirt

According to a Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) report, dated December, 2009, “Currently we ship 33,500 tons of trash off-Island each year, accounting for 15 percent of the Steamship Authority’s freight traffic. Our generation of waste is growing much faster than our year-round population. We import compost at great expense, while shipping off sewage sludge and organic materials we could use to make our own fertilizer and compost. A diverse and local composting infrastructure is needed on the Island. Composting can take place effectively in a wide range of scale and sizes: small backyard bins, community gardens, onsite systems at schools and hospitals, rural and urban farm based operations, and large low-tech and high-tech regional facilities.”

The last landfill on the Vineyard closed in 2009. Since then, waste has been shipped off Island, truckload by truckload. In 2009, according to MVC estimates, it cost a little more than $10 million to get rid of Island waste, a quarter of which, worth $2.5 million, could be composted. This substantial savings doesn’t include the benefit passed along to Islanders by having home-grown compost available on the market, Mr. Bogardus said.

“A lot of the farmers can’t get the good compost because they can’t afford it,” said Ms. Bogardus. “For the landscapers who are servicing the expensive homes, the cost probably isn’t much of an issue, but to the average citizen or farmer, $60 a yard for compost is a lot of money.”

Green Mountain Technologies (GMT) produces a wide range of composting systems that can handle from 100 pounds to 500 tons of organic waste per day. The company, which has been in operation for 20 years, is keenly aware of the challenges of waste disposal on an Island — they’re based on Bainbridge Island, Washington, an island slightly smaller than the Vineyard, where they have two composting facilities in operation and another under construction.

They also have installed composting facilities in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and are in negotiations with the U.S. military for a facility on the Marshall Islands. To date, GMT has been awarded three patents and has another patent pending for its composting technology. Mr. Brown, a graduate of Tufts University, grew up on the North Shore of Massachusetts and, being an avid sailor, has made many visits to the Vineyard.

Trash talks

Mr. Brown and Ms. Borgadus recently met with Don Hatch, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District (MVRDD), which serves Edgartown, West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah, accounting for roughly half the Island’s waste. The Oak Bluffs-Tisbury refuse/recycling cooperative (OBTRRC) handles the refuse of those two towns. According to Mr. Brown, their meeting was a productive one, and there is a glimmer of hope for composting on the Island. That’s good news, because there is a looming imperative.

“Don is very optimistic about putting a small project together to try something next summer, so there would be at least some on-Island capacity to meet the new DEP regulations,” Mr. Brown said.

“Which is July 1,” added Ms. Bogardus. He meant the start date for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed commercial food waste ban. The measure would require any entity that disposes of at least one ton of organic waste per week to donate or re-purpose the useable food.

“The win for the district is to promote themselves as the solid waste answer,” said Ms. Bogardus.

Cautious optimism

“It’s a small initiative,” said Mr. Hatch, emphasizing that the project was in its nascent stages. “We’re just at the beginning of the process, nothing’s approved, nothing’s guaranteed.”

Mr. Hatch is looking into the GMT Earth Flow system, which could be sited next to the recycling area at the Edgartown transfer station. The enclosed unit mixes food waste and grass and wood chips and can convert between 500 pounds and three tons of organic waste per day. The Earth Flow looks like a greenhouse and it’s about the size of a flatbed truck. It takes 21 days to process waste into compost. It works on a “plug flow” system, not a batch system, which means the operator can add varied amounts of waste and take out compost in increments. This allows the system to better handle the summer surge, when half of the Island’s waste is produced, he said.

Mr. Hatch stressed, repeatedly, that the unit is enclosed, so there will be little smell, thanks to the extensive air filtration system. He also said, repeatedly, there will be no exposed waste to serve as vermin and avian vectors.

“It’d be nice if we can do it,” said Mr. Hatch. “If the DEP puts in waste ban for commercial restaurants and grocery stores this summer, there’s about eight sites on the Vineyard that could be affected. In 2015, they’re talking about a residential waste ban. Either way, it’s going to be a mandatory issue. It would be good to be in front of it.”

Mr. Hatch said he will be working on the application and applying for a state sponsored Community Innovation Challenge (CIC) grant, with the assistance of Bill Veno at the MVC and with Ms. Bogardus.

“First I’m going to see if it’s even feasible to purchase this equipment,” Mr. Hatch said. The Earth Flow system will cost around $150,000. “Once we know, I’ll present it to the town selectmen and the neighborhood.”

Island incongruity

With strict land use regulations and thousands of acres under conservation protection, the Vineyard is thought to be on the forefront of environmental protection, but when it comes to waste disposal, the Island is behind the curve. According to a 2008 study by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, recycling rates for the six towns averaged about 27 per cent.

In an email to The Times, Fred Lapiana, director of the Tisbury Department of Public Works, which oversees the Oak Bluffs-Tisbury refuse/recycling cooperative (OBTRRC), said their recycling rate was “about 40 percent.” Nantucket — with its centralized recycling and composting facility— is at 91 percent. San Francisco, a city of more than 815,000 people, has a recycling rate of more than 70 percent and is on track to be fully self contained by 2020.

A major impediment to more effective waste disposal on the Island is the lack of a cohesive Island-wide waste policy. While New York City — which started residential organic waste recycling programs this summer — has one department of sanitation for 8.3 million people, the Island has two departments for 17,000 or so year-round residents.

As the MVC reported in 2009, “The fragmentation of current management systems — among towns and between the public and private sectors — increases administrative and operational costs, has resulted in varying disposal practices for people across the Island and within towns that present barriers to increasing recycling practices and re-use programs. The combined volume of waste resources could open up new opportunities such as composting and building materials recycling to draw us nearer to being a zero-waste community.”

Mr. Brown hopes that a methodical approach to composting can be instituted, regardless of local politics.

“I think a distributed system is the way to go,” he said. “We think it could be practical to have a system at every one of these drop centers. You go to Aquinnah drop center, drop your recycling, and drop your food waste and not even have to go to a transfer station,” he said. For smaller locations, Green Mountain produces an “Earth Tub,” a jacuzzi sized composting vessel that can process up to 100 pounds of waste a day, ideal for schools, large landscapers, restaurants, grocery stores and drop centers for smaller towns.

Dirt is the new clean

Increased composting on the Vineyard can mitigate the growing phosphate pollution problem in the great ponds and estuarine waters caused by chemical fertilizers. Whereas chemical fertilizers are full of phosphates and must be applied once or twice a year, a layer of compost comprises organic nutrients, and one application can last several years. Compost can also be a highly effective barrier to chemical-laden storm run-off. “Compost use can reduce watershed contamination from urban pollutants by an astounding 60 to 95 per cent,” according to a May 2013 report from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. “Because compost can hold 20 times its weight in water and acts like a filter, it can reduce erosion and prevent storm water run-off.”

For Islanders who want to use compost in their yards, but are concerned about the smell or the possibility of attracting an army of skunks, Ms. Bogardus had reassuring words. “By the time this goes on your lawn, there is no odor,” she said. “You can pick it up, hold it in your hand, you’d never know it was made from waste. We’ve never had a problem with it being a vector for wildlife.”

“There really is not a downside for anyone,” said Mr. Brown. “If you can show people the environmental advantages and articulate the value, hopefully it’ll minimize the fractious behavior. Since there’s such a compelling financial component to it, I think it’ll be very difficult for people to say ‘no.'”

Though putting a garden to bed should actually begin in August, British garden writer Monty Don says that "...October is my gardening new year...Time to take stock, plan, prepare, and start again." — Photo by Susan Safford

Putting the garden to bed is actually a process that tugs in opposing directions. Sanitation is of great importance in vegetable gardens for disease and pest control. Wildlife support is the province of ornamental gardens. Many flower stalks are nowadays left for their seed value for birds (and other wildlife), to which gardeners owe a standing debt of gratitude for insect control. Whether you are a neat-freak or wildlife lover, it is your garden and you decide.

Cutdowns, starting with plants whose foliage ripens earliest

Putting the garden to bed actually starts in August when some annuals will be seen to have gone by and may be pulled to make room for other seasonal plant material. Debris removal and cutdowns are on-going: plants with foliage that yellows early or is diseased, for example, slug-damaged hostas; plants such as daylilies that will regenerate fresh basal leaves; clearing fallen leaves.

By mid- to late October

As the British garden writer Monty Don says of this season: “The beginning of October is my gardening new year…. Time to take stock, plan, prepare, and start again.” How you prepare now lays the foundation for success next year.

Much of the cutdowns have been done. Leave woody sub-shrubs, such as lavender, caryopteris, and perovskia, alone: cut them back in spring.

Eliminate unwanted plants, or transplant; divide overgrown perennials; find improved locations for plants that are too big or not doing well. Division is often the difference between, for instance, a Siberian iris loaded with bloom and one with scarcely any. This time of year normally you can move plants around with the expectation of autumn rains to keep them watered. Give beds a final weeding, and then top-dress with low-number soil food and layer over with compost or mulch.

Tuberous begonias and pelargoniums (geraniums) may be removed from pots and stored dry in a cool dark cellar. They are revived in spring by being brought into the light and repotted in new soil. Alternatively, take cuttings, using strong sprouts without flower buds, and root in fine, gritty potting mix.

Use a tarp or trash barrel to collect debris generated by clean-up, and remove it to the compost pile. If you have not previously composted, find a quiet corner of the garden, and bring everything there. Even if you do nothing, this will eventually turn into a soil-like product composed of your garden’s own elements, whose use improves whatever is grown with it.

Order spring bulbs and plant them. The various narcissi should be planted in October, ideally, but you may put off tulip planting until Thanksgiving or later on the Vineyard. Likewise, it is often well to naturalize narcissi, away from ornamental beds, unless their ripening foliage can be tolerated aesthetically, while tulips are best planted in beds.

Vegetable Plot

As with the ornamental garden, the vegetable garden starts acquiring its autumn character in early August (if not actually in July if one aims to continue production through the fall). Space left by harvested garlic and onions is freed for subsequent crops, which are direct-sown then. Some of these, such as carrots, beets, kales, and late leeks, may remain in the garden until the following spring when covered by some means of protection. Others, such as cabbage, greens and spinach, may also be finished with freezing weather.

By this time in October, it’s time to prepare the garlic bed: weed, cultivate, and fertilize. A quick cover crop such as buckwheat can be sown and forked in, if desired, as long as it has several weeks to break down before the garlic is planted. I aim to plant garlic in mid-November to early December.

As crop rows are harvested out, or as plants such as tomatoes and eggplant have finished producing, the debris is composted, open spaces or beds are weeded, and then sown with a cover crop. Cover crops are plants intentionally sown to add something to the soil, as green manure, and to protect the soil from wind and water erosion. Additionally they “cover the space” against seeding by weeds.

The harvesting of some crops, such as pumpkins, squash, and sweet potatoes, requires curing in a warm place for several weeks for optimum storage life of the vegetables. Likewise, dahlia tubers need to cure, although with them it is in the ground, for optimum storage quality. ID well and leave them for several weeks after frosting; then, cut them back, dig, and store wrapped in newspaper.


Acquire and compost manure any time during the fall. Manure of cows, with their unique fermenting digestion, has special properties that manure of horses lacks. It is a source of weeds from their grain/hay diet, so avoid it raw; but compost it or age it, and it is the stuff of gardeners’ dreams. Stable muck — not mostly shavings — is a nutritious winter blanket for fruit trees, roses, asparagus, and rhubarb, and conditions any soil superbly. Protect orchard trees from winter rodent damage with tree guards, which you can buy or construct from wire fencing.

Walkways and Terraces

Weed and rake walkways and terraces; they will remain in a mainly weed-free condition until next spring’s weed seeds germinate. Clear out, sweep, and replace items in garden sheds, then stow pots, stakes, plant supports, and hoses drained, coiled, and tied off. Store “like with like” and consolidate these items. Clean and store tools, and, if you are truly conscientious, oil the blades and moving parts. Sort seed packets and store in a cool dry place.

Lawn Care

Using a spring rake, rake the lawn. This always has a revitalizing effect on grass and the amount of debris it pulls out is surprising. Mow and edge the lawn, leaving the blade at a higher setting. Repair lawn bare spots: scratch up (scarify) soil and sow grass seed, lightly covering (again, with the expectation of normal autumn rains). Harvest fallen leaves frequently and add to compost. If you want to be truly ahead of the game, perform maintenance on mowers and weed-whackers, or take them in to the shop. Clean jerry cans.

Soil Testing

Take soil tests for lawn, vegetable garden, and ornamental planting beds: each has different requirements, so one soil test for all is insufficient. Specify that you practice organic management and follow up on recommendations. Get information, download forms, and get mailing directions, at UMass website http://soiltest.umass.edu/.

The Martha's Vineyard Hospital roof garden provides a restful place to sit and look out over the Lagoon. — Photo by Susan Safford

I learned of the recent death of James van Sweden, the renowned landscape architect, as I planned to visit the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital’s roof garden. Beginning in the 1970s, van Sweden, along with Wolfgang Oehme, partner in the landscape design firm Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, radically changed the look of American gardens. Abandoning fussy, constrained conventions then current, they used “broad sweeps of long, flowering perennials and ornamental grasses…. It [the firm's design idiom] presaged today’s emphasis in landscape architecture on naturalistic and ecologically sensitive design…” (obituary by Adrian Higgins, The Washington Post).

An entire generation of landscape architects, American and international, is esthetically indebted to the late partners’ work. They were game changers: gardens such as the beautiful second-floor one at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, designed by Horiuchi & Solien, reflect their influence.

The hospital’s quest to build its facility greener in every way possible led to the incorporation of a roof garden, in addition to many other features supporting its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. Our hospital has achieved the highest LEED hospital rating in Massachusetts, according to Rachel Vanderhoop, who showed me around.

It is easy to appreciate how the garden could be by turns exhilarating or calming. With its fresh air, sunset exposure, and lofty panorama of the Lagoon and Vineyard Haven outer harbor, the roof garden is secluded and intended to support patients’ healing. However, it also supports the building’s heating and cooling processes and helps in the management of rainwater run-off. Altogether the garden area is 9,704 square feet and helps to extend the life of the roof membrane.

Reminiscent of Oehme, van Sweden’s work, the garden’s striking ribbon of white pavers, forming the hardscape, appears to meander and flow, a broad creek through a sweep of prairie. The plant palette and layout, too, is arranged to enhance the spacious, flowing feeling.

Now, with the floral aspect of the roof garden almost past, the blond swath of the feather reed grass backdrop, speckled by dark seed heads of rudbeckia, predominates. The grasses respond dynamically to the breezes off the water. The rest of the planting, deepened in tone and consisting of perovskia, rudbeckia, salvia, agastache, and several varieties of sedum, has gone dark, apart from some perovskia and agastache, but nonetheless retains interest.

The plants occupy clever pre-planted modular units, supplied by GreenGrid, square or rectangular, shallow or deep, according to plant type. They may be removed and entirely replaced for maintenance and are supplied with irrigation, but the species planted have all been chosen for their ability to flourish under challenging conditions.

Groupings of comfortable seating furnish hardscape spaces, both in the open and under a porch through which one enters the garden. Although the hospital rooftop is a secret garden, its patients and the entire Island community are its beneficiaries.


Rich autumn color is erupting wherever one looks, and the native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, is beginning to bloom. When buying a cultivar of this small native tree, for maximum impact look for one that sheds its leaves before flowering.

Now is when I overwhelmingly want to be in my own garden, there is so much to do, to think about, to start. It can be at times overwhelming when there are daily details to juggle; yet these garden tasks are emphatically calling too.

The decided lack of rain locally — soils are dry ten inches down — has put on hold some of the jobs one would like to be doing before dark, chilly November: for instance, transplanting biennial seedlings, such as hesperis and foxglove, and settling in perennial divisions.

Leaf harvest is ongoing and seemingly never-ending; acorn collection provides top-notch treats for hogs. Top-dressing with hydroscopic compost assists plants going into winter as it attracts moisture but needs screening out from rough piles. Thinking about bulb orders, placing bulb orders, and then planting bulb orders — energy-intensive creative work, hard to do on the fly.

Transplanted trees and shrubs need to be watered if “sky delivery” is not happening; if possible, put it off while it remains dry. Without a watering schedule the plants’ survival and subsequent good establishment is not assured.

There comes a time when imposing order on the garden takes precedence over some other factors, and one needs to be able to see what one is doing. Admittedly we often perform cutdowns just to get it done, especially when the plants are in need of division, even though plants’ leaves are clearly still photosynthesizing. Ideally, one would leave foliage of all herbaceous perennials until it was worn out, to insure that the crowns were as fortified as possible.

Oakleaf hydrangea

Thinking about plants my garden lacked, and to celebrate autumn more colorfully, several years ago I declared my intention in Garden Notes to plant oakleaf hydrangeas here at our place. This has now been accomplished, and three of the straight species H. quercifolia, one ‘Snow Queen’ and three ‘Amethyst,’ are ripening their foliage from deep green into shades of pink, red, and burgundy.

I have always found it surprising that I do not see more oakleaf hydrangeas in gardens. The plant seems well adapted to Island conditions, and with moisture-retentive soil is comfortable in sun or shade. Its coarse-textured foliage does indeed resemble large oak leaves and supplies welcome contrast to finer textured shrubs. The species grows to about eight feet by eight; compact forms are available.

Agricultural Hall

Homegrown, the vegetable gardeners’ collaborative, has its first meeting of the season October 20, 4–6 pm at Agricultural Hall. Meetings take place on the third Sunday of the winter months and during Eastern Standard Time, from 3 to 5 pm.

The West Tisbury Winter Farmers’ Market hours are 10 am to 1 pm. It will be held October 26th as well as three November and December Saturdays.

October glory: dahlias backed by regal asparagus foliage in Carol Brush’s West Tisbury garden. — Photo by Susan Safford

As many Islanders have become aware, certain black oaks, Quercus velutina, are hosting a tiny insect that is proving to be highly destructive to numbers of these trees. The insect doing the damage is a tiny cynipid wasp, Bassettia ceropteroides. There is more information, with links, from Polly Hill Arboretum at pollyhillarboretum.org/science/cynipid-wasp-information/

I have been frequently asked my opinion about the black oak situation this year. As usual I have a slightly different, contrarian, pro-life perspective, which attempts to employ up-stream thinking and discern less-proximate causes.

According to Michael Dirr in the “Manual of Woody Landscape Plants,” Q. velutina “makes best growth on moist, rich, well-drained, acid soils but is often found on poor, dry, sandy, or heavy clay hillsides.” Do the latter sound like Island conditions?

Furthermore, this tree is an earlier-stage species in the deciduous forest succession, lacking the durable wood and hardiness of some other Island oaks. Taken together, these two factors add up to trees that come to the end of their life span after a relatively short cycle. They then fall prey to one or more pathologies; their fate paves the way for species in the next stage of forest succession, such as white oak, beech, and hickory.

The trees most damaged appear to me to have been stressed, in one way or another, mostly by age or unfortunate growing sites, often given an assist by human intervention. This includes mutilation for power-line trimming or compaction from roads and other activities. Many troubled trees have been carved out of their forest environment and turned instead into lawn trees, with their root runs deprived of their preferred cover of pucker brush, fallen leaves, and leaf mold, and fungal/bacterial balance altered to benefit lawn, not tree.

For trees absolutely critical to the landscape, there is an off-label use of a systemic pesticide that can be infused into the oak. It makes the entire tree toxic to the communities of life-forms that live off that tree, such as caterpillars, and consequently to the life-forms that live off the life-forms, such as birds. It is worth remembering that oaks as a group support more life-forms than almost any other genus, according to Douglas Tallamy, in his work, “Bringing Nature Home,” (Timber Press, 2009).

My opinion for landscape trees that are not critical is to relinquish them and plant two good replacement trees for each one lost. (My replacements here include oxydendrum, magnolia, and styrax.) Polly Hill Arboretum exists as a resource for those who would appreciate expert, site-specific advice for what to plant.

Gardening on slope

A technique that seems especially advantageous if your garden is blessed with sunny slope — where some of our black oaks used to be — is recommended by Gertrude Jekyll, the 20th-century British garden designer. (If my garden is “blessed,” it must be because practically our whole place is slope.) She recommended training later-blooming perennials forward, as arching sprays, to cover the remains of plants that have previously gone by in the border. Chrysanthemums, natural leaners, are known to be amenable to this sort of training, as many will know who have seen the displays of Japanese chrysanthemum cascades, a stunning art and flower show category of its own.

Other natural leaners to try on sloping sites might be platycodon, perovskia, and asters. Additional subjects well suited to slopes include those whose natural preference is for well-drained or even dry soil. Lavenders, stachys (anything with grey/silver leaves, for that matter), daylilies, agaves, sedums, salvias, nepeta, grasses, and all the rock garden plants, should do well, given sun and good drainage.

In the garden

Lawn repair is on the minds of many as cooler conditions and, we presume, more regular rainfall make scarifying and re-seeding timely. If the lawn is small, weed out and remove by hand any of the growths of crab grass that have smothered out the better stuff, leaving dead patches. The rakings that are produced from combing over the lawn are deluxe material for compost piles, producing heat and breaking down readily.

Dahlias in early fall are at their most beautiful and prolific. You may notice that many, which have been double all summer, now appear more single and show yellow pollen centers. Pollinators are avid for this stage and nighttime finds flowers with sleeping bumblebees still nuzzling them.

When frost hits, let the tubers remain in the ground for a while, as long as two weeks, to drive the energies down into them for good keeping qualities. “Tubers dug too early are still ‘green’ and will not store,” according to the folks at Swan Island Dahlias.

Further storage advice: Use a storage medium such as slightly dampened peat moss, sand, or sawdust/shavings. Tubers should be stored in crates or cardboard boxes. Line the containers with 10–12 sheets of newspaper, for which the MV Times is perfect. Start with the packing medium in the bottom and layer tubers and medium until the container is full. Store in a cool, dry area, 40–50°F.

Clean up and cut back in both vegetable and ornamental gardens. Compost is almost always in short supply and using it always seems to involve prioritizing: use on places/plants that need it most. Cover-crop open areas of the vegetable garden. Rake up leaves regularly and compost them. Mulch may be applied to portions of beds that are dormant or areas that need protection. My own preference is first to put down a layer of low-number organic soilfood (i.e. fertilizer) to assist the soil organisms that process the organic matter you plan to lay.

Coming up

Friday and Saturday, October 4 and 5: Living Local/Harvest Festival: Check the paper for details.

The two-story chicken coop includes a spiral staircase and a private roost. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Three young designers for Hutker Architects put their talents to use this summer designing a chicken coop that would be the envy of Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds anywhere.

Tom Shockey, Sean Dougherty, Nelson Giannakopoulos approached the project like any other architectural challenge, figuring out how the building could meet the needs of its occupants. They came up with a silo design that is easily assembled and moved into place. It provides protection from predators, roosting and nesting, sufficient ventilation, and accessibility.

Made entirely of recycled or repurposed material that might otherwise have been thrown out, the two-story cutting edge coop includes a spiral chicken staircase and private roost.

The coop will be on display at the West Tisbury farmer’s market Saturday, September 21. It will be raffled off to benefit Slow Food M.V. The winner will be drawn October 5.

The Polly Hill Arboretum display garden features Lespedeza thunbergii ˜Gibraltar" with ornamental grasses, perennials and the dark-leaved ninebark, "Diabolo." — Susan Safford

Late summer! Its last few days before the autumnal equinox contain a tension similar to that of New Year’s. One finds one’s thoughts flickering back and forth between the summer drawing to an end, its successes and disappointments, and the season to come, hoping always for better gardens, and much more, to take shape.

Impressive flocks of blackbirds have been visiting the oak woodlands nearby. When the flock moves overhead, or shifts from one set of trees to another, an accompanying murmuring of twittering birdcall, as if a strong wind had suddenly sprung up, enlivens the sound. The flocks appear to be composed mainly of grackles, however birds spotted with shorter tails must be starlings, and perhaps other “blackbirds,” such as cowbirds, join these migratory flights. I suppose, since the huckleberries have gone past, the objective must be gorging on the abundant crop of white oak acorns to gain fuel for migration.

Wood, field, and garden are stirring with spiders and caterpillars; or rather, the caterpillars are stirring and the spiders are mostly sitting in their webs, patient and still. I had an amusing encounter at the Fair in August with a girlhood friend. She recounted to me her seriously unpleasant episode with a stinging, bristly Lo caterpillar. She had identified it via the Internet, and did I know it?

Although I did not know the Lo caterpillar, from her vivid, unmistakable description — large, bristly, chartreuse — it quickly became apparent that my friend was speaking of the Io moth caterpillar. We had a good laugh over her misreading of the “I” for an “L.” (If we had been watching the cattle show instead of the horse pull, I might have reminded her of the Greek myth of Zeus and the nymph Io, turned into a heifer by jealous Hera.)

The Io caterpillar, whose beautiful moth is one of the Saturniidae (giant silkworm moths), is capable of causing a painful sting, akin to being burned with acid, should its setae brush against the skin; and it is not the only caterpillar of our woods and fields able to do so. Check clothing, and laundry coming in from the line, for random caterpillars that, unseen, drop down from out of nowhere.

Early holiday shopping

The UMass team produces an attractive, useful item with their UMass Garden Calendar. The 2014 edition is ready to order, with free shipping and handling for up to nine calendars on orders received before November 1. It is aptly designed and laid out, with “eye-candy” plant images for each month; each day’s space containing moon phases and time of sunrise and sunset; and daily gardening tips for Northeast growing conditions. Today’s tip, good to know, is “Ripe apples will snap off the tree if held in the hand and lifted upward.” To order, go to www.umassgardencalendar.org.

Plant of the moment

Experienced garden designers often suggest that each season in a garden should have a “bang” or high point. In late summer, the yellow, golden, and orange flowers are monarchs and rule the eye: species of rudbeckia, heliopsis, helianthus, goldenrod, tithonia, and zinnia, to name some. Where does this leave the yellow-free gardens, when these shades are not part of the color scheme? At a disadvantage.

Let me introduce you to the lespedezas, also known as bush peas. Take a drive to West Tisbury and, as you pass the Polly Hill Arboretum, take in the vision of rich, rosy red, billowing and spilling over the picket fence. This is the “bang” that lespedza can bring to season’s end in your garden.

Being leguminous and fixing their own nitrogen in soil, lespedezas prefer infertile, warm, well-drained sites — typical Vineyard sand plain conditions. No wonder then that rare, wild lespedeza species are found here: “The Flora of Martha’s Vineyard” lists 11 known or historical ones. According to the “Manual of Woody Plants,” (Michael Dirr, Stipes Publishing, Champaign, Ill.) the principal species of lespedeza for garden use however are L. bicolor and L. thunbergii.

L. bicolor includes three named selections: Li’l Buddy, compact, rose purple, three feet after four years; ‘Summer Beauty,’ rose mauve, extended bloom time, to five feet; ‘Yakushima,’ 12-18 inches, tight mounding form. The plants showcased in the Polly Hill border are L. thunbergii ‘Gibraltar.’

Other selections from L. thunbergii include ‘Albiflora,’ a white-flowered, more upright form; ‘Edo Shibori,’ rose-pink and white on a four- to six-foot shrub; and ‘Pink Fountain,’ gracefully arching, up to five feet. An introduced form of a Japanese species, L. liukiuensis, is sold as ‘Little Volcano.’ It is upright with cascading branches, to eight feet high and wide, with fuchsia/red flowers.

Unlike their leguminous cousins the brooms, which are mostly to be had in shades of primrose-to-mahogany in spring, the garden forms of lespedeza are mostly white to bicolor pink to deep rosy red and fit in well in late summer gardens where yellow is banished. Lespedezas harmonize well with dahlias, sedums, Michaelmas daisies, other species asters, and grasses, and they enjoy the same levels of light and attention from bumblebees.

Lespedezas display particularly well on slopes and make a magnificent backdrop to plants in the forefront of the border or garden. Allow for plenty of room unless planting a compact form. Although classed as shrubs, lespedezas may winterkill under some conditions and are generally cut right back to within four or five inches of the ground in early spring.

In the garden

The first to-do commandment is: be out in it and enjoy it, as much as time allows, for summer is coming to an end. Build up your reserves of vitamin D! The rest of the year contains plenty of opportunity for garden work and productive effort, but it is long and humdrum compared to the golden warmth and sunshine of late September.

(Left) Dr. Lisa Nagy has built an environmental medicine practice treating mold-related illnesses on the Island. Photo by Lynn Christoffers (Right) Doug Gordon brought XSpor technology to the Island after witnessing its effectiveness in combating mold at his father's Connecticut home. Photo by David Welch

You know the odor. It’s that musty, dank, damp, earthy, and altogether unpleasant smell that’s immediately recognizable. Call it mold or mildew, it’s not good news and it’s growing everywhere around us on the Island – in basements, crawl spaces, attics, on clothing, shoes, and furniture.

Our homes and cars are susceptible to mold growth for a variety of reasons, but no matter what the cause, mold can lead to both illness and compromised real estate values.

Over the years, I’ve rented houses and stayed in hotel rooms that nearly knocked me out with noxious fumes or gave me bad dreams after seeing pink and brown slime growing on the plastic shower curtain liner. I’m embarrassed to admit that I unknowingly cultivated a crop of fungi on a pair of my favorite fine leather shoes in my own bedroom closet – without any noticeable musty smell to be found anywhere. Years ago, I opened a drawer in an old pine dresser I’d stored in my basement only to find its contents – treasured family photos and papers – to be damp and stinky. I spent the next three days in bed, overcome by flu-like symptoms, coughing, sneezing, headache and exhausted. And, when I was house hunting here, my real estate broker knew me well enough that if she opened the front door to a house we were about to tour and was greeted by “the smell,” we exchanged “the look” and simply backed away.

The subject of mold seems to come up more often these days. Is it becoming more plentiful or are we simply becoming more aware? Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, and devastated New Orleans and much of the surrounding region, our personal radar about mold has grown more sensitive. Who can forget the images of all the flooded, condemned homes with toxic black mold creeping up the walls?

Here’s a fresh look at a stinky situation – what you should know about mold in your own backyard (and probably your basement, too).

What are mold and mildew?

Mold is a type of fungi that grows in the natural environment. Tiny particles are indoors and out, thriving on moisture and high humidity levels, the very conditions we often experience here on the Vineyard, especially in the summer.

Mildew is a type of fungi as well and is referred to as a kind of mold or mold in its early stages. It can be downy or powdery. Downy mildew appears as yellow spots that become brighter, then turn brown. Powdery mildew is whitish, turning yellowish-brown before becoming black. Mold has a fuzzy appearance and can be orange, green, black, brown, pink, or purple in color.

Mold produces spores — microscopic cells that spread through the air, by water or insects, acting like seeds, creating new mold colonies when they land in just the right setting.

How can mold affect our health?

The most commonly reported health problems from exposure to mold are respiratory in nature – sneezing, stuffiness, coughing, wheezing, and throat irritation. Rashes and eye irritation are also typical reactions for those who are sensitive to mold. People with actual mold allergies may have more severe reactions, including shortness of breath, and more vulnerable populations – those with immune system problems and the elderly – may be more likely to get serious infections in their lungs. One local physician, Dr. Lisa Nagy, has built an environmental medicine practice treating what she believes are mold-related illnesses after experiencing debilitating symptoms herself that she links to mold exposure in a former home off-Island.

Why is the Vineyard so conducive to mold?

According to Phil Regan, principal at Hutker Architects in Vineyard Haven, we experience a wide range of climatic conditions that can lead to moisture intrusion in our homes. The warmer seasons’ low-lying fog can enter through an open window, condensation can occur on interior basement foundation walls, and heated indoor temperatures differ dramatically from outdoor temperatures. “They can all result in mold,” he says. “Homes have always had mildew and mold issues, and poor building practices can be most responsible for mold development.”

Tim Boland, executive director of Polly Hill Arboretum, blames our abundance of atmospheric moisture for the overpopulation of mold on the Island as well. He cites close proximity of plantings to building foundations as another culprit.

Why do some homes seem so much moldier than others?

Brian Nelson, a principal and mechanical engineer at Nelson Mechanical Design in Edgartown, specializes in installing all types of climate control systems in homes and businesses across the Island. The company started off dealing primarily with plumbing issues, but, according to Mr. Nelson, controlling mold from an engineering perspective has become a huge part of their work. “If we can control temperature and humidity, we can control mold,” he says.

Experts agree that mold’s needs are simple: food (such as sheetrock, wood, or fabric), a suitable place to grow, and moisture. Even dust that settles in the right place can provide a steady diet.

Mold can enter your home through open doors, windows, vents, and heating and air conditioning systems. Airborne mold can also be conveniently carried indoors by piggybacking on clothing, shoes, bags, and pets. It flourishes almost anywhere that provides sufficient moisture or humidity.

According to Andy Provitola, principal and consultant at Environmental Resources, a company headquartered in Norwell that provides mold testing and assessment on the Island, controlling humidity is key. “Seventy to 90 percent humidity makes mold grow,” he says. “Everyone should have dehumidifiers. Keep windows closed if it’s above 80 percent humidity outside and crack windows at night if the humidity decreases. Central air conditioning or window units are a huge help.”

Mr. Nelson suggests that relative humidity of between 40 percent and 60 percent indoors is the healthy range. “Below 40 percent and you can have respiratory issues from dryness,” he says. “But above 60 percent is conducive to mold.”

Mold thrives in houses where leaks, floods, poor ventilation, humidity, and other sources of moisture have been left unattended. The key to preventing its growth is, according to Mr. Provitola, to deal with any water issue within 24 to 48 hours from occurrence.

Surprisingly, even newer houses built with state of the art technology can be prone to mold. Mr. Nelson explains: “The push toward making buildings tighter and more energy efficient means houses don’t breathe. The systems have to work in tandem to seal the home and treat the air. Once a home is sealed you have to ventilate it to remove moisture.”

How can you prevent mold in your home?

The best way to deal with mold in the home is to prevent it from getting out of control. There is always some mold everywhere but there are ways to keep it from becoming a problem:

Clean and dry out your home thoroughly and quickly (within 24 to 48 hours) after water infiltration from leak or flood.

Keep humidity levels as low as you can – 50 percent is ideal – all day long. Window air conditioners, central air conditioning, and dehumidifiers in the dampest locations will help keep the air dry.

Be sure your home has adequate ventilation. Use exhaust fans that vent outside from the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room.

Don’t carpet bathrooms or basements and use mold-killing products to clean bathrooms.

Add mold inhibitors to paints.

Maintain your home by keeping roofs, walls, windows, and plumbing in working order.

Keep landscape plantings six to eight feet from your home’s foundation to allow sunlight and air movement, both of which help prevent mold.

If you have a crawl space, install a vapor barrier between the ground and the floor above.

Keep downspouts and irrigation systems moving water away from your house.

If building a new home or remodeling, consult with experts to ensure that new materials and technologies are implemented correctly to prevent moisture from building up.

Site any new construction to take advantage of air and light, encouraging prevailing summer breezes and discouraging prevailing winter breezes.

How should I deal with a current mold problem?

If you detect the odor of mold or see evidence of mold or mildew in your home, there are several ways to approach the problem. First, a home inspector who has received training in mold can come to verify your suspicions. Mr. Provitola, the certified mold assessor, suggests that homeowners be wary of contractors who profit from “detecting” mold.

“Get an independent professional viewpoint from someone who doesn’t do remediation or repairs,” he advises. “There’s a lot of bait and switch out there and no regulation in the industry.” He also recommends relying on visual inspection. “If you see it, you know it’s there.” His company uses a variety of diagnostic tools – visual observation, air sampling, and infrared moisture mapping – depending upon the situation, and provides a detailed written report and interpretation. In the last eight years, Mr. Provitola has conducted more than 3,000 mold assessments at the request of homeowners, buyers, sellers, real estate agents, and physicians whose clients suspect they are suffering from mold-related illnesses.

A new company on the Island, XSpor Life Sciences, now offers a mold clean-up treatment that, according to Doug Gordon, principal, can last up to two years. XSpor, a Connecticut-based firm with licensees across the country, promises that its proprietary plant enzyme-based spray, administered by a trained employee, digests mold spores, eliminating mold both on surfaces, and inside wall cavities.

A carpenter by trade, Mr. Gordon has experienced mold issues firsthand. He says that he witnessed the success of an XSpor treatment on his father’s Connecticut home and that it convinced him to bring the technology to the Island. He has since treated a multitude of clients’ homes with a 100 percent satisfaction rate. In fact, he says, he does not accept payment unless a homeowner is pleased with the outcome.

“In the past 30 years on the Island, I’ve torn out sheetrock, used bleach and water, reinsulated, re-sheetrocked, and painted a variety of properties in an effort to get rid of mold from customers’ houses,” Mr. Gordon explains. “XSpor eliminates the need to do that.”

He says that the product is a formulation of enzymes scientifically engineered to kill mold. Applied in mist form, it is organic and, according to the company’s website, has been verified as safe for humans, pets, and plants. Occupants must leave the house for at least a full day, Mr. Gordon says, and up to 48 hours is recommended. There is little residue after the treatment and a pleasant citrus scent remains. The company markets its service as a cutting-edge solution that ensures a mold-free environment without demolition of mold-infested areas or harsh chemicals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend routine sampling for molds. According to its website, “If you can see or smell mold, a health risk may be present. You do not need to know the type of mold growing in your home. No matter what type of mold is present, you should remove it.” Instead, they recommend removing the mold and preventing further growth, providing guidelines for safely using bleach as a cleaning agent. If the area affected is greater than 10 square feet, they suggest consulting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guide titled “Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings.” Although its focus is not on homes, the document pertains to other building types as well. It is available online at the EPA website under mold remediation.

If you choose to clean up mold in your home, here are several recommendations:

Do not attempt to clean up mold if you have any symptoms of illness or allergies.

Small areas of mold can be cleaned with detergent and water or a mildew and mold cleaner.

Wear gloves and goggles during clean-up.

Discard any sponges or rags you use.

If the mold returns quickly or spreads you probably have a water leak or another ongoing moisture problem. Be sure you’ve searched for underlying causes before attempting clean-up.

Bleach or other disinfectants may be needed on surfaces after mold removal if occupants are thought to be susceptible to fungal infections. Follow the label instructions carefully if you use chemical cleaning agents.

If the mold damage in your home is extensive, there are professional mold remediation specialists both on the Island and on the mainland that can help. Make sure that the contractor has a verifiable track record, check references and be certain that they adhere to guidelines established by the EPA, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), or other professional or government organizations.

What can mold do to my property value?

According to Lisa Stewart, owner/principal broker at Lighthouse Properties in Oak Bluffs, houses that smell of mold or mildew are “a huge turnoff.”

“Even a whiff of mildew is a turn-off,” she says. “No matter how nice the house is it’s a huge hurdle. If a buyer sees water or mold, it’s a hot button. Then they become more aware of other potential problems in a home.” She recommends eliminating any trace of moisture prior to putting a house on the market. “Fix the source of the problem,” she states unequivocally.

Another Island brokerage, Sandpiper Realty in Edgartown, includes a fact sheet about mold on its website. Courtney Marek, broker/co-owner, says that its inclusion was due to consumer concerns.

“People are more allergy-conscious than in the past,” she says. “Customers are looking for more knowledge.”

She encourages owners to be more proactive, to protect their investments. While she does encounter the smell of mildew in some Island homes, she says she’s never lost a deal due to a mold issue. “People will get past the smell if they think the problem can be dealt with.”

The bottom line: There’s nothing warm and fuzzy about mold. Be vigilant in keeping your surroundings dry and well maintained and mold will have to find another home.

Inspired by his Portuguese grandmother, Frank Leonardo has been tending his Oak Bluffs garden for over 30 years. — Photo by Jeff Glasser

One of the great pleasures of residing in the town of Oak Bluffs is the up-close overlook of neighbors’ gardens, so many of them charming. Through my front windows beneath the mansard roof-lines of the old library, now renovated into apartments and an apothecary, I enjoy the trellises and mature shrubs of Good Dog Goods’ afternoon yard for Gordon Setter Mulligan and Airedale Dinah. Diagonally across the street is the stylishly renovated and landscaped Yoga Center. And in the northeast quadrant of my view lies the splendid garden of Frank Leonardo.

Frank was brought home as a newborn in 1957 to this house on Penacook and Circuit. He has always lived here, and the garden that sits on a full-sized lot is his creation — right down to the prize wisteria winding through the chain-link fence, and the bird-feeder that attracts a constant flutter of feathers and dash of fur, like a scene out of Disney’s “Snow White.”

One assumes that a person who has never moved from place to place, as so many of us restless humans tend to do, might be lacking in sophistication. One would be wrong. For while Frank has always lived at the same address, he has kept up a constant hegira. His first trip to Europe occurred as a young boy, and he now numbers his trips abroad at 58 and counting. Last year, for instance, his usual winter getaway to Hawaii was put on hold by minor surgery. Frank booked a less demanding trip on a cruise ship from San Juan to Southampton.

“I spent three days in the city I love — London, then flew home.”

When I learned that Frank had inherited his childhood home, purchased by his folks in 1952, another assumption was made, that at least one of his parents had created the small but magnificent garden, and that the grown child merely curated and maintained it. Wrong again.

“Except for that oak tree out front [pegged at 100 years of age], this yard was pretty plain during my growing up years,” he says, glancing beyond his porch with its complement of wicker furniture, an ornate brass platter as a side-table, geraniums slung in pots between ivy-covered white wood pillars, and with a clutch of potted flowers adorning the steps.

It turned out his grandmother, in her house across from Viera Park, taught Frank the joys of the green thumb. “I was given a plot out back of her house for raising strawberries. We’d go picking blueberries along Farm Pond. They were so big back then! Every spring, out came the seeds, and we’d just see what came up. We had walnuts. I learned all about herbs. My grandmother taught me the names in Portuguese so, for instance, mint was ‘ortolano,’ and that was the only name I knew for it. I thought, growing up, that everyone was Portuguese which, in Oak Bluffs in those days, virtually everyone was!”

Frank’s father died when the boy was 14. As an only child, this forced on him a sense of responsibility, of needing to stay close at hand for his mother.

“I had to think fast,” he says in describing his decision to plan for a future that would pay off faster than a conventional college education.

He attended the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park in New York from 1975 to ’77. Back on the Island, he found work as a pastry chef for Bob Carroll in his enterprises at the Kelley House, The Seafood Shanty, and the Harbor View. For the last many years, Frank has flourished as pastry chef and caterer for all the big, under-the-tent events at Farm Neck Golf Club.

On a recent tour around the grey-shingled and purple-and-white-trimmed exterior walls of his home, Frank points out a virtual rain forest of flora: “Here’s feverfew; it’s good as a tea for headaches, that’s passionflower, lots of tomatoes — too many tomatoes — it’s that time of year — and the Amaryllis will need time out for its bulb to regroup. The nasturtiums are mixed with morning glory, here are strawberries and zucchini…”

(And to think all this running commentary describes merely the unremarkable side of his house, chock-by-jowl with his neighbor!)

In the yard proper, the oasis that one might think of as Frank Leonardo’s Secret Garden, a giant rhododendron, planted in 1981, and now the size of a small mobile home, forms the centerpiece of the garden. Dahlias, boxwood, and roses spill out from there, alongside pots of sedum, geraniums, and plumbago.

Like all avid gardeners, Frank makes certain that a major flowering tree or shrub is always in play. In June a cherry tree had its annual debut of white blossoms, followed by the astonishing lavender spill of wisteria over the fence, then backed up by the pink petals of the monster rhodo. After these solo turns, of course, the fullness of the summer garden yields a display of all the other featured players — black-stemmed pink hydrangeas, roses, dahlias, calla lilies, and clematis.

Frank’s other great garden hobby, clearly as strongly enjoyed as his passion for plants, is the bird life.

“I name my birds,” he says with clear-cut delight. “There’s Christopher Wren and Peter Finch, and the Mourning Doves are Lawrence and Vivian.”

Regarding the squirrels, he resists calling the critters by name: They’re simply “the gang,” but he’s distinctly aware of the personality of each arriviste. “That’s the one with a bit of red on his tail. He’s a whacko,” he adds as it spins around the trunk of the oak tree.

“If they eat the millet that drops from the bird feeder, that’s fine with me. If you feed them outside, they won’t be bothering your house.”

As if to contradict this statement, a squirrel darts from a high branch of the ancient oak, and swizzles across the steepled roof-line.

Frank explains, “The tree is hollowed out. They live in there. They think of the roof as part of the tree.”

I tell him I’d noticed squirrel faces appearing in the circle of an amputated branch. “It’s kind of a squirrel condominium,” I observe, and he nods in reluctant agreement.

The wonderful part of Frank Leonardo’s garden is that, while he loves it, and has created a place of beauty for himself, his guests, and all passersby, his approach is non-fastidious. No O.C.D. attaches itself to his days-off ministrations. A passing drought makes him sad for the toll it takes on his hydrangeas, but he knows it’s part of nature’s narrative. He mows his grass when time allows, but he’s unconcerned about the bald spots here and there. It’s an established spread of grass, it can take care of itself. In late fall, he transfers some of his potted plants inside, but not all the specimens make the cut.

“I do what I can,” he says with a shrug.

As we prepare to part, another squirrel swings from above, looping twice around a bored-out oak branch. For an instant, it freezes. Tiny black eyes cast a quick, speculative peek at Frank.

“I’m Mr. Foodbag,” he says with a chuckle as his glance sweeps to the bird-feeder. Half-full.

Mr. Foodbag can retire for the morning.