Late-season gardening on Martha’s Vineyard


Polly Hill Arboretum

Visit the arboretum to stimulate your ideas for late summer and fall plantings and to view the collections against the backdrop of the meadows’ deepening palette

Upcoming at PHA: Fall Plant Sale, Saturday, Sept. 11, from 10 am to 2 pm. Wednesday, Sept. 15, at 7:30 pm: The Call of the Wild Apple, a talk by Phil Forsline describing travels and work in Kazakhstan in search of expanding the genetics and diversity of apples for Cornell’s Agricultural Research Station’s Plant Genetics Research Unit.

Saturday Sept. 18, from 1 to 3 pm: Tim Boland, PHA director, leads Fall Field Botany in the State Forest, (meet at the West Tisbury School.) Call 508-693-9426 or visit

Local food reflects its environment

That three-day northeaster in August was enough vacation that I actually visited the library and borrowed books. Enjoyable indeed is Adam Nicolson’s “Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History,” (Viking Penguin, 2010).

Sissinghurst is perhaps Britain’s, if not the world’s, best-known garden, created by the author’s grandparents, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. This volume, however, is not about the garden, but is rather an engagingly written account of everything that surrounds the garden, from the ice age to the present.

“Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History” is Adam Nicolson’s account of his campaign to reinvigorate and restore the estate Sissinghurst sits upon. After his father’s death, he returned to live at Sissinghurst. The place Nicolson had known from his childhood, an extensive, historic estate with mixed farming and a beautiful garden open to the public, was now the most visited National Trust (NT) destination in Britain.

Sissinghurst had morphed into a cash cow, the ultimate slick garden “brand.” Its restaurant served 115,000 people yearly. To bring back the livestock and crops that had made Sissinghurst beautiful and functional in the past, he hit upon the idea of serving local food: growing lunch!

Several of the farms once part of the Sissinghurst estate had been sold off to provide the endowment the NT required. Decades of agronomic cropping and chemical fertilization had left the soils compacted and lifeless. Mixed-use farming was banished, a victim of modern management and contemporary thinking about streamlining agriculture; estate endeavors such as dairying, haying, orcharding, and hop growing had ceased, changing the very landscape itself. Sissinghurst had become bereft of its former diversity and vitality.

Why not serve local food that reflects its environment? Why not revive the estate’s prior history of mixed farming to supply that demand? Why not try in the process to reinvigorate the local agricultural economy?

The National Trust was no pushover, and convincing the Trust management is part of the tale. “Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History” turns Nicolson’s campaign to reinvigorate and restore the working estate into an interesting, complex, and highly readable story.

In the garden

Hurricane Earl: all the fun of preparing without the trauma of experiencing. In the aftermath the yellow jackets have been defensive and testy.

“Top” plants of Brussels sprouts now, or when they have attained about 30 inches of height. Indeterminate tomato vines continue to make fresh growth; tie it in and trim off any fronds that have withered. Clean up the numerous drops beneath ‘Sungold’ or ‘Sweet 100’s’ vines. Sow cool-season crops such as beets, spinach, and greens. Plant cover crops in vacant portions of the vegetable garden. Try the fall green manure mix from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, whose 2011 catalogue has arrived.

Cut back foliage of perennials that have gone by, such as iris, Siberian iris, daylily, delphinium, peonies, and phlox that have finished. Side dress with low number organic fertilizer and mulch the beds. Being able to better see what’s what in them, consider a little reorganizing, for instance getting rid of mongrel phlox seedlings, consolidating, or making spaces for ‘mums. September is a good time for lifting and dividing, especially peonies and iris. Replant or pot up the excess and share with friends. Think about fall bulbs.

The recent rainfall appears to have caused the pink and white flowers of hardy cyclamen to pop up, but the truth is that they would have appeared even without it.

Too much basil?

This pesto recipe, when multiplied, is especially well adapted to long-term freezer storage. From “Gourmet” magazine, September 1985. Makes about one and a half cups. Place all ingredients in food processor in the order given:

4 c. coarsely chopped basil leaves

1 c. pine nuts

1/2 c. olive oil

1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 (4 Tbsp.) stick unsalted butter, cut up

2 cloves garlic, crushed.

Salt to taste

Too many tomatoes?

Tomates Confites — delectable recipe from

Ripe roma tomatoes (or similar variety, firm with little juice)

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Chili pepper flakes (optional)

Dried herbs such as thyme, rosemary, oregano

Olive oil

Preheat oven to 210°F.

Halve the tomatoes; run your thumb in the cavities to remove the juice and seeds (save for another use). Roma tomatoes have a thin stem that you can leave in, but if the tomatoes you’re using have a tougher stem, carve it out.

Place tomato halves, cut side up, on well-oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper, chili flakes, and dried herbs. Drizzle with olive oil.

Put into oven to bake, keeping an eye on them, for 2 to 3 hours depending on variety and desired consistency. Use warm or cold in pasta, salads, sandwiches, spreads, etc.

To freeze without clumping, arrange tomatoes in a single layer on a clean baking sheet lined with parchment paper; place baking sheet in freezer. After a couple of hours, transfer to a freezer-safe container. (Save oil and parchment paper for another use.)