Dog-day challenges, recalling a pair of Fair pillars

Garden cleanup gains importance in muggy weather. Shown here: heavy, soggy deadheads on hybrid daylilies. — Photo by Susan Safford

Longing for rain then getting it constitutes a form of gardeners’ good fortune. Island gardens and fields were becoming dry by the first week of August, but the rainfall since has altered that. Instead we must battle the high humidity and associated mold and fungus growth that accompanies warm, humid air masses.

Clean up container plants, especially annuals such as petunias and geraniums, by deadheading, removing damaged foliage, and tidying the top of the soil mix in the container by collecting leaf and petal drops. Remove the spent flowers of annuals regularly, down to the node at least. Ageratum, with fuzzy blossoms, holds onto moisture like a shag rug.

For better airflow, mounding plants such as nepeta may be cut back and plants such as phlox may have their lower leaves removed. Continue to remove dead outer leaves of daylilies. The remontant cultivars need more of this kind of upkeep, because their fans continue to grow from the center. Spectacular hibiscus hybrids come into bloom in August, their enormous deadheads like sheets. Remove them daily. Heliopsis deadheads turn grey in humid weather. Keep up with their removal as long as possible. Continue to adjust staking.


The onions this year are the nicest looking ones I have grown, despite the trampling of a nighttime marauder, whose fence-scaling landed it, apparently repeatedly, in the onion patch. A combination of factors made for a great onion-growing season, which yielded results. It should be great fun to see all the onion entries in the Fair!

In the interest of sharing tips on onion culture, I grew them in a patch where much earlier in the year I spread henhouse manure and shavings, overlaid with a layer of Pro-Gro, and incorporated it all with the broadfork. It had all settled down by planting time in April. It has become light and fluffy, almost weed-free, but must be fertile too; some of these onions are 12 inches in circumference.


At one time I thought that spiderwort, Tradescantia spp. and hybrids, would be good plants for my woodsy and informal gardens, so I planted a nice trio of navy blue, violet, and white-and-blue cultivars. Ever since I have been digging and ripping them out — they succeeded very well. They have taken on a life of their own. Colors I never purchased are growing and I can track down only the navy blue one, ‘Zwanenburg.’ The other two, ‘J. C. Weguelin’ and ‘Osprey’ have morphed into something else.

All that whining aside, I concede that spiderwort is a low-effort plant that takes care of itself quite well. It makes bloom in partial shade and obviously naturalizes well. It may even be used in bouquets as a cut flower, the individual florets making up the bundles of bloom continuing to open after, sometimes, weeks in the vase.

About this time in the summer though, the plants begin to look a bit dreary, their sprawling greenery taking on greyish/olive tones and the tufts of florets messy-looking. The parent plants are busy setting seed where one does not want any more spiderwort either. Cut it all back ruthlessly, and after a blank interval new foliage will sprout and fill in. Sometimes a flush of new bloom occurs.

Or dig it out. The fleshy roots, which remind me somehow of a sea creature’s extremities, may be dug without too much effort. The lax growth may have been sprawling over a sizeable area, into which goldenrod or asters will seed, if left open. Be prepared to plant something else to fill the void.

Rust on hawthorn

A volunteer hawthorn that planted itself in the shrub island in the center of our lawn finally acquired the size to bloom and fruit. The plant seems to bloom in alternate years. The year before last it was covered with white blossoms and set large, handsome brick-red fruit in enormous numbers. Last year — nothing. This year, once again it bloomed and set fruit heavily. Alas, almost immediately, the fruit began to show little spiny rust-like growths and quickly became covered with rusty “dust.”

The hawthorn is displaying the physiological weakness that has ruined its reputation: its role as the alternate host of rust diseases. Many in this area refuse to have this lovely tree in their gardens due to defoliation and disfigurement from rusts; however, the rusts that hawthorns host usually occur on the leaves, not the fruit.

Prizewinners: Newhall and Fischer

In thinking about my Fair entries (150th annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair, August 18-21), my mind is filled instead with memories of Jane Newhall (97) and Ozzie Fischer (96), who died a day apart late last month. Miss Newhall’s distinctive script upon year after year of patiently handwritten entry tags; that cool little basket on her arm for carrying ribbons during judging; her astonishing wardrobe of checked and seersucker shirtwaist dresses that gave her image an enviably recognizable, decades-long “brand.”

I am reminded of the challenge Ozzie provided, year after year, with his entries, stimulating competition in the best way. When one thought one knew what could be grown, his selections would be new and gorgeous. His vegetables and fruits were invariably prizewinners too, selected and shown with meticulous care, upping the ante for other exhibitors.

For many of us, the dedication of Jane Newhall and Ozzie Fischer to the Agricultural Society, its community and its goals, made an impression. Both demonstrated how to contribute to where one lives.

My hope is that there is a whole new generation of participants and enthusiasts, aware of the role our institutions play in keeping our community livable and cohesive, and who will continue the best of the past into the future.

Emulate Jane Newhall and Ozzie Fischer: join the Agricultural Society and participate in the Fair.