Mushrooms, bulbs draw attention of Martha’s Vineyard gardeners

Kirengeshoma palmata, an autumn beauty for shade gardens. — Photo courtesy of Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh

Mushrooms are common in fall, especially after plentiful rains. Now they are to be seen everywhere, especially caterpillar-ravaged areas, assisting other life forms in digesting the rotting trunks of forest oaks. As part of the life cycles of soils and forests, fungi break down and digest hospitable materials forming ever-deeper and more nutritious soils that sustain ever-greater biological diversity.

What we call mushrooms are the visible, fruiting bodies of fungal growths that are largely unseen and below ground. The thread-like hyphae of the organisms’ mycelia are sometimes encountered when we turn the compost pile, lift a decaying log, or dig planting holes.

Therefore, when fungal fruiting bodies appear on garden mulch, it is not really an “ee-yuu” moment. The fungus is just a part of nature and has inhabited the soil/mulch all along. It is only now “flowering.” Its presence on the mulch signifies that the mulch really is being broken down and becoming available to augment the soil where it was spread.

Natural Roots Farm

Kicking off the annual Living Local Harvest Festival, on September 28, David Fisher of Conway, who farms with draft horses, gave a talk about the weed control program on his farm. His talk, sponsored by the FARM Institute and Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society and illustrated with photos showing the appeal of farm, fields, and methods, was inspiring and made the audience wish to jump right in and follow his example.

Integral to the success of Natural Roots Farm’s vegetable production and CSA program is a system of fallowing and cover-cropping his sections that any farmer or home gardener may duplicate. Cover-cropping with mixtures of both perennials and annuals alternates on every section that has previously produced a vegetable crop.

Each producing section is separated from the next by a cover-cropped, fallow one. They flip-flop from year to year. Mixtures left to winterkill and stand are composed of non-hardy field peas and oats where earliest crops are to follow.

Perennial mixtures of hairy vetch and ryegrass go in in early spring and are managed by mowing on carefully observed schedules and by precision plowing and cultivating (all horse-powered), giving the Natural Roots crew weed-control, fertility, and soil structure. Then June/July crops are planted.

Natural Roots’ teams work in the woods during the winter, skidding out timber to improve the woodlot’s productivity. A number of the farm’s structures, including the timber-framed farm store, were built from farm-grown lumber.

Of course, there is more to it than that, and Fisher invites those in the vicinity of Conway to come by for a visit and look-see.


I catch myself repeating certain thoughts in this column, and one of them, a maxim really, is “all gardens become shadier,” through time and maturity. So be it, and one of the compensations is creating an enticing woodland garden. Here may be grown ferns, spring ephemerals, solomon’s seals, mayapple, uvularia, bloodroot, spring-flowering bulbs, hellebores, azaleas, hostas, and much, much more.

These foregoing make their show in spring primarily, but not kirengeshoma. A late summer treat in woodland gardens with acidic, moisture-retaining soil, kirengeshoma (say “kir-ENG-shoma”) is a stately clump-forming perennial in the Hydrangea family, whose flowering coincides with the asters’ and goldenrods’ in sunnier places.

Kirengeshoma is native to forested, mountainous areas of Japan and Korea. It is usually described as containing two species, K. palmata and K. koreana, hardy in temperate climates, hardiness zones 8-5, although now it is claimed that K. koreana is a slightly taller subspecies of K. palmata.

A well-grown clump may attain a height of four to five feet, but around three feet is more usual. The mid-green leaves’ pointy lobes remind me of maples’ or sycamores’ foliage, contrasting nicely with the darker stems. At summer’s end, conspicuous clusters of round flower buds open to become nodding, pale yellow, waxy bells, sometimes tinged with a deeper apricot. These give rise to the common name, yellow waxbells, a dull-sounding name for such a charming inflorescence.

Plant associations for kirengeshoma include hostas, hardy ferns, hydrangeas, and the late-blooming tricyrtis and actea (formerly cimicifuga) varieties. Kirengeshoma appears on lists of plants that are not attractive to deer.

Bulbs for 2013

A fall garden column would be incomplete without a mention of planting spring-flowering bulbs. Whatever happens — politics, the government, weather, health, finances — failing to plant a few bulbs for Spring 2013 will have you wondering “Whatever was I thinking?” and kicking yourself for inertia!

Hyacinths and alliums have good longevity and are generally not bothered; most that I have planted are still around after many years. Likewise for narcissi: they are poisonous. (However, many must be divided as over time the clumps increase and become over-crowded, with diminished bloom.)

So-called small bulbs, planted in out-of-the-way spots, such as in grass or rock gardens where their foliage may mature undisturbed, are some of the earliest spring pleasures. Bulb specialists are the best sources for uncommon ones, while island garden centers will have a reliable assortment of classic standbys. Tulips on Martha’s Vineyard may be planted later than narcissi, sometimes right up to the holidays, but need the protection of enclosed sites. Deer and everything else relish them — bulbs, leaves, buds, and flowers. Prevent chipmunks and voles dining on the bulbs by burying in chicken wire. I believe some bulb catalogues supply specially made planting cages.

I am adding Narcissus ‘Green Pearl’ this year. I checked out its description in a catalogue, and then purchased bulbs locally. My tulips are for cutting and grow within the vegetable garden. This is working fairly well because they are planted at a depth below which I would normally plant vegetables.

The truth of the matter is that almost any spring bulb one plants repays the time and trouble.