Open days, open gardens

The garden at 85 South Water Street. — File photo by Susan Safford

Six lovely private gardens in Edgartown were opened to the public on Monday, thanks to the Open Days Program of the Garden Conservancy, a national organization dedicated to preserving garden spaces of remarkable beauty and historical import. Now in its 15th year, the Open Days Program offers access to fine private gardens all across America. This is the first time that Vineyard gardens have been represented.

Walking the streets of Edgartown and peering into beautiful gardens is a pleasure, especially now when picket fences are laden with pale pink “New Dawn” roses and hydrangeas are at their peak. Going inside these gardens was a wholly new, infinitely richer experience. Here was an opportunity to experience garden design at its best and to see an extraordinary range of trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals.

Run by helpful volunteers, Monday’s tour was very well organized and planned. Participants could visit gardens individually for $5 each or purchase a pass to all six of the gardens for $25. A clear map was provided and a detailed brochure described the history, plantings, and design of each garden.

I started the tour in John and Judith Tankard’s garden at 16 School Street. This is an intimate in-town garden with hardy shrubs and ornamental trees around a brick patio. From School Street it was a short walk to two majestic gardens, one at 85 South Water Street and the other at the home of Cate and Tom Applegate on South Summer Street. The beauty of these gardens is largely hidden from the street.

The Applegate garden is calm and elegant, the colors cool and stately. The South Water Street Garden, owned more than 50 years ago by the founder of the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club, has a sunken garden filled with perennials and a sweeping view out across the harbor. The current owners are avid gardeners. The owners of both of these gardens work with Jeff Verner of Verner Fine Gardens.

We found Jeff sitting with the volunteer at a garden 108 North Water Street, yet another garden where he assists. Also known as Stretch’s Garden, this hillside gem flows down to the harbor. From Jeff we learned the name of a tiny columbine we had admired at 85 Water Street. When I complimented Jeff on being involved with three of the six gardens chosen for the tour, he admitted modestly it was a feather in his cap.

The tour was designed for walking, but the day was hot and humid, so we drove to the final two gardens, Michael and Janice Donaroma’s garden on Bradley Way and Dorothy Chafee’s Woodside Garden at 78 Planting Field Way. The sheltered Woodside Garden garden has a quiet serenity, while the Donoroma garden is a half-acre of exuberance. A combination of seven gardens each with a distinct character, it includes raised beds of flowers, different outdoor rooms, and a guest cottage covered with roses. Here we were treated to lavender lemonade and a snack of fresh fruit and cheese.

Taken together, the gardens offered a wonderful sampler of what’s possible in ornamental gardening. Hopefully this was the first year of many for Island gardens to be showcased in the Open Days Program. These six gardens offered a stunning debut.