For a largely rural Island with a modest population, Martha’s Vineyard boasts what seems to be an inordinate concentration of professional gardeners. But between the ever-rising tide of seasonal homeowners, and a great body of landlords who want gardens on their properties to entice and satisfy renters, there’s a confluence of demands that justifies the size of the Island gardening pool, and pushes its capabilities a little bit more every year. Herein are some of the stars of that pool — gardeners who are among the best in New England. In the midst of their annual feat of marshaling people, plants, and materials in a high-stakes dance of logistics and artistry, they graciously took breathers to talk with The Times and share their stories. To appreciate the ultra-time-sensitiveness of their work, picture if you will a piece of coal burning in their hands for every minute they paused to talk and be photographed. That piece of coal is the Fourth of July.
Jen Jamgochian, Owner, Multiflora, Chilmark
No suit for me: I started gardening as a job right out of college — despite my grandmother’s purchase of a suit for me for job interviews. I was happier spending the winter skiing and gardening in the summer. I feel fortunate to say I love what I do. I love that my job entails pushing my imagination, using my hands, problem solving, and spending every day with people I adore, who are as passionate about what they do as I am.
On blue flowers and exotic August selections: Never underestimate the power of a perfectly placed tropical in the garden, especially in August. Passionflowers, lemons, limes, a ginger, an hibiscus, or gardenias (with their sweet smell) are all great examples of tropicals that are perfect specimen plants you can use in your garden. Cool nights and warm days make dahlias bloom like mad, and they are an amazing August plant. They are worth the hassle of digging them up in the fall and planting in the spring. I am a blue flower fanatic, and some of my favorite blue-flowering plants in August are: Ceratostigma plumbaginoides [leadwort], caryopteris, and sapphire-blue salvias — all deer-resistant, as well!
Favorite lesser-known shrub: One of my favorite underused shrubs would be Neillia thibetica. Its feathery foliage has a pretty darkish hue. The flowers are a perfect shade of pink.
Peggy Schwier, Owner, Peggy Schwier Gardens, West Tisbury
Musings on the Island and nature: I love gardening. It keeps your feet on the ground and teaches you to be humble. It also teaches you patience, adaptability, acceptance — you can only do what you can do, then nature takes over. It’s a beautiful, amazing thing when plants remember to grow tall again, colors fill out the flowerpot and astound you, and locations develop into gorgeous vistas. Every part of the Vineyard has so much to offer, it just swallows you up in greens and blues, in hills and stone. It’s very satisfying to have a business where you help enrich clients’ connection to it all.
On the mystery of annuals: Annuals mystifying? Not necessarily, they just keep blooming and blooming, and then don’t survive winter’s frost. I suppose they say that every annual is a perennial somewhere, just not here, and some tolerate cooler temps than others. Annuals offer great solid blooms all summer (when deadheaded, particularly). That quality makes them essential for pots and planters. I love to do color themes for planters: blends of blues only, multicolored carnivals, all whites, dripping/trailing and tall.
Favorite lesser-known shrub: Enkianthus is a favorite shady shrub of mine. It blooms in hanging clusters of small bells. ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea is also a favorite, and also loves the shade. It brightens up a corner with its green, then ivory flower balls — sometimes they’re green for a little bit, then ivory, then green for the last of the season.
Jennie Slossberg, Owner, Garden Angels, Chilmark
Love of gardening: I love several aspects of my job, such as creating outdoor rooms with color, texture, height, and fragrance. I’m a sculptor at heart. Horticulture is my medium. I love teaching and learning with my crew. Lastly I love creating healthy environments for birds, butterflies, and other beneficial creatures, including people and pets, to thrive in.
The rigors of maintenance: Upkeep for my two commercial accounts — the Harbor View Hotel and the Kelly House — is actually pretty meticulous, because these two specific hotels host continuous events, so we always approach our weekly maintenance in a very detailed manner. I have residential accounts where we are required to remove every single yellow or brown leaf, while at others we just keep things tidy. It can really depend on the frequency of your visits and budget of clients.
Gardener’s garden: At home in my own garden I’m enjoying the Siberian iris in bloom beside my budding peonies and colorful Salix integra ‘Hakuro nishiki,’ as well as my oriental poppies, salvia, and amsonia.
Favorite lesser-known shrub: My signature shrub is the beautyberry [callicarpa], because it’s a showstopper, unique and extremely easy to care for.
Rob Chaunce, Owner, Evergreen Landscape, West Tisbury
Plant love, late spring, and abused hydrangeas: I love plants. I enjoy being outdoors and working with them — watching and encouraging them as they grow and change through the seasons. I really don’t like to see them butchered. I’ve seen a lot of hydrangeas and roses butchered this year by impatient homeowners. It was a tough winter and a short spring. It took a long time for the snow to melt. That set everybody back a month. There was a lot of dead wood this year, but you can’t tell that without waiting. You have to be patient. The plants woke up late, so I waited longer than usual to prune. Some hydrangea did surprise me and gave me a little more growth in places I didn’t think they were going to get it — but not the butchered ones.
Favorite lesser-known shrub: That would have to be a Franklinia, a deciduous shrub (or small tree) usually growing 15 to 25 feet. In late summer/early fall, just as its leaves are turning shades of red and orange, it blooms with white flowers. The flowers smell something like bubble gum. You can’t beat the extra color and flowering it gives to the three-season garden.
Carly Look, Owner, Carly Look Design, West Tisbury
On drawings: My drawings tend to be very sketchlike as I work through various ideas. They will become more and more refined as a way to organize spaces, know numbers, locations, and types of plants for softscape drawings and stonework particulars for hardscape drawings. But I also like to stay open to how things might shift once we start to lay things out on the site, and then let the existing givens of a site impact the design in ways that can maybe improve the initial idea. It becomes a shared creative effort between me, the various landscape subcontractors, and the site.
It takes a daughter and a team: So much is happening so fast I couldn’t make all the decisions alone! Samantha [daughter] is both designing with me in the office as well as out in the gardens. Rachael Curtin and Laurel Wilkinson are in the field designing aspects of the existing gardens, and there is a strong and creative crew of helpers. It takes all of us to make all this happen!
Cobbler with no shoes: I love plants, particularly flowers. I’d say I am a flower collector, and can’t go to a garden center without coming home with something that caught my fancy. But my own gardens have become neglected these days, as so much energy goes into the gardens we maintain for the clients I have designed landscapes for over the years.
Favorite lesser-known shrub: My current favorite is viburnum ‘Summer Snowflake.’ This is a cultivar of the popular doublefile viburnum. But it is not as wide-spreading; it is taller than wide. And it has the beautiful white doublefile blooms, heavily this time of year, but also has a less heavy blooming throughout the summer. It has all the multiseason attributes of the wonderful viburnum family, with the summer blooms.
Mary Wirtz, Owner, Wild Violets, West Tisbury
Neighborly influence: When I was really young, 5 or 6, my next-door neighbor had a beautiful garden, and she used to let me come over and pick strawberries and cut flowers — I just loved the way that felt. I’ve gardened ever since then.
Magic of the mind’s eye: I’m not schooled in gardening, and I’m not a landscape architect — pretty much everything’s just in my head. I can go to a property and just visualize what it has the potential to be. And I can execute it just out of my head. I love to create all sorts of gardens, including vegetable gardens, but I love cottage gardens in particular. Nothing gives you more freedom in color, texture, and shape than the lovely cottage garden.
Mother-and-son operation: My son Josh runs the business with me. He has a really good eye for landscaping. It’s pretty cool to have your son want to work with you. We have a lot of fun together. We laugh a lot.
Favorite lesser-known shrub: Callicarpa. It’s got these beautiful purple little berries that form on it in the fall. It’s really a graceful plant. I love it.