The ABC’s of Island gardening


Opportunities abound in the coming months for learning how to improve your garden and how to better appreciate the Island environment. West Tisbury’s Vineyard Gardens offers free weekly gardening lectures on Saturdays at 11 am through the summer. Polly Hill Arboretum, also in West Tisbury, casts an even wider net by providing fee-based educational lectures and workshops on a variety of gardening and landscape topics.

On Saturday, June 12, Vineyard Gardens owner Chuck Wiley guides a tour through the nursery’s collection of small, low-maintenance shrubs and talks about which ones grow best on the Island.

Continuing chronologically, Eastville Point Beach is the destination for naturalist Dick Johnson’s barrier-beach walking tour, offered by the Arboretum on Tuesday, June 15 from 9 to 10:30 am. He will discuss how plants and animals adapt to the hot, dry, and nutrient-low setting of a barrier beach.

As a member of the Eastville Point Beach Committee, Mr. Johnson is helping develop a restoration and management plan for the popular beach located between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs. Registration is required for this event, and a fee of $18 ($15 for members of the Arboretum).

Observing and Drawing the Landscape is a series of Arboretum classes that start Thursday, June 17 from 1 to 4 pm, and continue July 8 and July 22. They will be led by painter, illustrator, and landscape historian Diane Nicholls and can be taken singly or as a series.

Ms. Nicholls will cover perspective, sketching, and methods for keeping a daily sketchbook and using a personal shorthand. The cost is $36; $30 for members per class, or $98; $80 for members for the series. Advance registration is necessary.

Mr. Wiley speaks again, this time on Unusual Annuals, on Saturday, June 19. This should appeal to gardeners ready to move beyond the summer standbys like geraniums, petunias, and impatiens.

Edgartown’s Pagoda Tree is only one of the unusual trees on the itinerary for the Arboretum’s Arboreal Amble on Wednesday, June 23, from 10 am to 12 noon. Arboretum collections and grounds manager Tom Clark leads the walk ($18; $15 for members).

Shady gardens can provide a particular challenge, but some plants thrive in low-light conditions. Vineyard Gardens’ Saturday, June 26 talk is about plants and ground covers, some of which are native to the Island and like shade. The speaker will be announced at a later date.

Learn more about propagating trees and shrubs from cuttings at the Arboretum on Saturday, June 26, from 9 am to 12 noon. Led by Arnold Arboretum propagator Jack Alexander, participants will learn how to make softwood cuttings from woody plants. After a brief talk by Mr. Alexander, they will collect cuttings from the Arboretum grounds, prepare them in the greenhouse, and take home a box of cuttings. Space is limited to 12 for the class, which costs $55; $50 for members. Pre-register by calling the Arboretum.

Middletown Nursery sponsors a lecture on turn-of-the-century landscape designer Beatrix Farrand by Judith Tankard on Wednesday, June 30, at 7:30 pm at the Arboretum. A landscape historian and the author of eight books, Ms. Tankard has most recently published “Beatrix Farrand: Private Gardens, Public Landscapes.” Her talk costs $10; $5 members.

Native Plants is the subject at Vineyard Gardens on Saturday, July 3. Like the local food movement, growing local plants has become a popular new trend that this talk will explore in the context of Vineyard flora.

Holly Bellebuono of Vineyard Herbs leads an Arboretum-sponsored workshop: Making Herbal Salves, on Tuesday, July 6, from 1 to 3 pm, which will be repeated August 17. It begins with a walk through the grounds to identify and collect medicinal herbs and weeds. Participants will follow-up by making oil infusions and beeswax-based ointments to take home. Supplies for this activity — which costs $45; $40 for members — will be provided. Preregistration is necessary.

Horticulturist Susie Bowman discusses the always-popular topic of how to select plants that attract birds and butterflies on Saturday, July 10, at Vineyard Gardens.

Art Cameron, Director of the Michigan State University Horticulture Gardens, speaks on Ornamental Grasses: Old Friends and New Trends at the Arboretum on Wednesday, July 14, at 7:30 pm. Sponsored by Jardin Mahoney, Professor Cameron’s talk explores how grasses can be used for high visibility and low maintenance. He has designed demonstration gardens for ornamental grasses on the MSU campus. The lecture is $10; $5 for members.

Same place the next day, a workshop on bamboo trellis making takes place from 10 am to 12 noon. Art and Maureen Cameron demonstrate how to make 7- by 10-foot trellises that can be used for vegetables or flowering vines like clematis. Materials will be provided and the class is $70; $60 for members. Space is limited and preregistration is required.

On Wednesday, July 21, learn about Inspiration for Garden Design with Horticulture Extension Specialist and University of Delaware professor Susan Barton at 7:30 pm at the Arboretum. Professor Barton will discuss how to create gardens that incorporate the character, climate, and culture of their settings. Sponsored by Eden Market and Garden Center, this talk will cost $10; $5 for members.

How the World Got into Your Garden is the topic for garden historian and author Judith Taylor’s talk at the Arboretum on Wednesday, July 28 at 7:30 pm. A retired physician, she is the honorary librarian and book editor of the San Francisco Garden Club. Among the books she has written is “The Global Migrations of Ornamental Plants: How the World Got into Your Garden.” The lecture is $10; $5 for members.

Both the Arboretum and Vineyard Gardens Nursery continue to offer programs later in the summer. Contact them for further information or check the Calendar listings in the weekly Times. For more information about Polly Hill, call 508-693-9426 or visit For more information about Vineyard Gardens, call 508-693-8511 or visit

Brooks Robards, who divides her time between Northampton and Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.