The Living Local Harvest Festival begins Friday evening, October 2, at the Grange Hall with a panel discussion among young Vineyarders, "The Next Generation of Martha's Vineyard." The event continues the next day, October 3, at the Agricultural Hall, ending with a community potluck dinner, Slow Food-style. All parts of Living Local/Harvest Fest aim to be zero-waste. Bring a dish to feed six and your own dinnerware, please, for the potluck. Check our local papers for details.
Someone not attending, however, is Bill Honey, enthusiast of oxen and for years a fixture at the Antique Power Show, who has died. The putt-putt of the antique engines shares the fairgrounds for the Living Local/Harvest Fest. Bill was a friend and supporter of the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society, and to many Islanders of every walk of life. Spanning the years and wearing several different hats, he delivered opinions that were considered and prudent but never more solemn than necessary. He shall be well remembered.
Whirling right along through the garden year, now we are officially in autumn and the fall garden should be in full swing. Only it isn't, due to weather this past season, and we behold many gardens that are in a strange blend of summer and autumn flowers. The schedule is out of kilter and who knows what the future holds for next year. My own garden has never had as many phlox in bloom at this time of year. They look lovely accompanied, unusually, by billowing clouds of asters.
The goldenrod is at its height of bloom too. Yes, it is invasive and sprouts up in garden beds (lodging in perennials is a trick of the fluffy seed) where it is unwanted. However, goldenrods support 115 species of butterflies and moths, and many more forms of other insect life, like gall wasps and aphids, as part of the web of life. If you like birds and butterflies, then you need these plants. They are tough and able to tolerate poor and drier soil conditions. There are native goldenrods for sunny spots and shady ones, even the beach. Try to leave the colonies intact somewhere around the edges on your property, if not front and center in the garden.
That, however, is exactly where many gardeners believe goldenrod belongs. It is also a fabulous cut flower, both on its own and as filler material in bouquets. Lacking the proverbial honor in its own land, goldenrod's fortunes have been taken up by plantsmen and gardeners in Europe. Some native North American goldenrods can easily top five feet with good garden soil and water. I was struggling to contain a smirk when, as a much younger visitor in a Danish coastal garden, my proud host admiringly pointed out his robust clump of what I thought of as 'rough old common goldenrod.'
Breeders are creating versions that fulfill the needs of ornamental gardens by selecting for compactness, although this sacrifices the stem length that makes goldenrod such an easy flower to use in arrangements. Look for 'Crown of Rays' at about two feet tall by about three feet wide; and 'Goldrush' at about one foot tall. Perennial plant companions include asters (most now confusingly renamed Symphyotrichum) and Rudbeckias of all descriptions, and caryopteris.
Goldenrod has a long medicinal history, traditional and modern, as well. The name of the genus, Solidago, according to types-of-flowers.org/, comes from two Latin words 'solido', meaning "to strengthen or make whole," and 'ago', meaning "to make." Wherever Solidago species occur worldwide, they have been used herbally for staunching bleeding, reducing inflammation, easing kidney and urinary tract problems, and ironically, reducing nasal congestion. European researchers, like the above plantsmen and gardeners, have led the way in modern pharmaceutical studies of goldenrod-based drugs. There are promising leads in bladder- and kidney-stone treatment and anti-microbial activity.
Mulching is often done at this time of year. As readers of Garden Notes know, I am a proponent of composted wood chips, laid as mulch and soil conditioner in the off-season, for ornamental gardens. At this time of year once irrigation has been turned off, commercial mulches on beds are often bone dry. The interior of mulch that has been composted, like woodchips or the matter from a compost pile, is moist and teeming with earthworms.
An article in a recent edition of "Garden Chic," an independent garden retailers' trade publication, (from which I quote below) tells the story of Marvin's Organic Gardens, a 64-acre garden center and nursery in Lebanon, Ohio. The business includes a 5,000-square-foot indoor retail space, five acres of container grown plants, 25 acres of field-grown trees, and 20 acres of composting.
"The compost yard accepts waste from arborists, landscapers, home gardeners, and farmers who bring their organic debris and pay a small fee to deposit it. The compost, piled into windrows 20 feet tall and two hundred feet long, is mixed and aerated twice a year. In addition, runoff is captured and reused.
"The site has been classified as an Environmental Protection Agency Class 3 composting operation, and accepts everything organic except food scraps, construction debris, and animal remains. Marvin Duren, who founded Marvin's Gardens 10 years ago, says he's had more than one million cubic yards of the black gold.
"He uses the compost in his own growing operation, sells it to customers, and uses it in landscaping jobs. 'We don't do any digging on our landscaping projects,' Duren says. 'To build a new bed, we lay six inches of compost down right on top of the turf. That's enough to kill any growth underneath. We top that off with eight sheets of newspaper, and add the mulch of choice.'"