Get outside

Take advantage of what some travel thousands of miles to see.

Nature composes: Beachgrass and seaside goldenrod grace South Beach dunes with no help from gardeners. —Bill Chaisson

It will be time to leave the flowery summer garden and go indoors soon, but not before tending to planting bulbs, spraying broad-leaved evergreens for scale insects, cover-cropping the vegetable garden, and general garden harvest and housekeeping.

Accuweather predicts that frequent storms across the northeastern U.S. this winter may lead to an above-normal season for snowfall — more and heavier snow events are thought to be heading our way! Wrapping or stopping with twine those evergreens that may be split open by snow load should be considered.

Now abundant acorns dropping on car roofs sound like small gunshots. Making notes and keeping memories of this past growing year: heat and drought stand out; seemingly unchecked growth of weedy vines and growth despite no rain; notable lack of mosquitoes (“every disadvantage has its advantages”).

Tour buses filled with visitors from all over the country and even abroad come here to ooh and aah over what we live with on a mundane daily basis and may take for granted. We too, when we leave off active engagement with our own gardens and work, have an opportunity to actively enjoy the greater garden that is our Island landscape. We do not have to get back on that bus and leave for the mainland — we are so lucky.

The beachgrass and seaside goldenrod (see photo) is but one combination of something simple and lovely that our surroundings offer us. One could find many more by getting out of the car and taking a walk, almost anywhere on the Island.

I particularly think of Fulling Mill Brook Preserve, accessible at either end from South or Middle Road in Chilmark. It contains meadow, many beetlebung trees just reddening now, and shady woodland. Best of all is the brook. I often wonder how many Edgartown-focused people and visitors experience that up-Island landscape? How many children romp there?

We are continually exposed to magazines, films, and television programming that project someone else’s idea or conceit of gardens, plants, and landscape reality. People whose primary exposure to the outdoors may be at golf clubs form a very different idea from those who hunt in Maine.

Most of the time we are looking at designed and intentional plantings, in our own surroundings or in beautified public spaces. Even publicly accessible natural areas of the Island are modified to greater or lesser extent, by goats or brushcutters. A particularly enjoyable experience for a lover of plants (okay, plant geek) is looking at actual plant associations in more natural areas.

This recently came up in connection with the pretty planting at the West Tisbury war monument at the Parsonage Pond intersection. It was conceived as a beautification project, but failed due to practicalities and plant suitability not having been adequately considered. A planting based on principles of observation and “what-will-grow-where?” might have survived and looked good at the same time.

What do plants do when they are placing themselves and growing on their own? How do they manage to survive without watering, weeding, and fertilizing? What looks good (what is that plant?)? Can we duplicate any of it in our domestic landscape?

Back inside

Parts of the Island are in danger of frost already. So are houseplants holidaying outside, especially near the frost pockets of the outwash plain. It seems so early. Midday sunshine is still warm and toasty so that sweaters peel off, but go around to the shady side of the house — and put them back on.

Many years for me it has been a last-minute mad dash to rush plants under cover and indoor safety the very night of the killing frost. However, this year I am practicing a more methodical approach, which includes repotting, because we have an exciting new plant-room space to organize.

After a summer of temperature extremes and lots of watering, container mix may have leached most of its nutrient content and lost much ability to hang onto moisture, so this is a good time to renew it.

I started with the citrus plants. Although in terms of frost tolerance these are more cold-tolerant than some of the other houseplants, they are permanent plants and deserve proper care and attention, not to mention terracotta pots (citrus needs to dry out between waterings), unlike easily replaced annuals or decorative ivies.

The citrus in this collection are ones most easily able to survive low temperatures, making them a good fit in an unheated greenhouse. The kingpin of the collection is a calamondin orange (Citrus mitis) I have grown since the beginning of the Nixon era, thanks to a black thumb my late mother insisted she had. Logee’s Greenhouses and Jardin Mahoney are the sources of a small additional collection of Meyer lemon and mandarins (Citrus reticulata).

They easily force into new growth and bloom after having water withheld, to the point of leaf curl, for several months. This is an ideal time of year to do that; we are losing light daily, and new growth is a nonevent. After the New Year, they can be started up again. The same is true of many plants that are overwintered: Clivia, hibiscus, amaryllis, and the zygocacti (Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). Give them a period of indoor “drought,” and then revive by bringing on the indoor “rainy season.”

My cyclamen plants seem to attract scale: Physical removal or insecticidal soap both work well. Other plants to repot are geraniums and amaryllis, while every other pot that comes inside is probably harboring pill bugs and earwigs in the space around the drain hole. Do the best you can to inspect and clear away insect life and eggs.