A host of golden daffodils

And some magnificent magnolias.

Mini-daffs: Narcissi ‘Topolino,’ foreground, and ‘Tête-à-Tête,’ rear, are miniatures of full-size daffodils, thriving in sunny, well-drained locations. - Susan Safford

Gardens with sandy soil warm up fast; they are currently about 55° daytime soil temperature, with overnight soil temps dropping to the low 40s. Plant only the cold-hardiest crops — onions and leeks, peas, cole crops and greens, lettuce, celery, and potatoes. Harden off transplants.

Soils and vegetation are damp; a good thing, as my fire department neighbor reminds me, unlike many years when the risk of brush fire is high. During the week after April 1, we received almost 5 inches of rainfall. Keep fire risk in mind while pursuing the outdoor activities we welcome back into our lives with spring. Deer ticks, their nymphs, and minute larvae are numerous now.

I observe my Edgeworthia chrysantha with bated breath, as it has successfully dodged frost and is opening numerous fragrant, golden flower clusters.

Spring ahoy!

It is exciting as gardens awaken; it will soon be full-on daffodil and magnolia time, two great pleasures for gardeners. The National Garden Bureau has designated 2017 the Year of the Daffodil, the fall bulb catalogues of suppliers are landing in mailboxes, and it is a good time to make decisions about expanding narcissus plantings. And when Island magnolias begin to bloom, you too will want one.

It is likely that for many, their first daffodil planting consisted of something generic: big, early, and a cheerful yellow — maybe ‘Carlton’ or ‘Dutch Master.’ However, as seasons in the garden pass, horizons expand: Cultivars exist with other color combinations, along with mid- to late- to very-late-season extenders. And then there is also a wide variable in size: large, intermediate, and miniature.

The American Daffodil Society website, daffodilusa.org, contains a great deal of information. ADS has branches for different regions of the country; by joining, members have access to breeders’ show-winning stocks that are not available to general bulb merchants and suppliers.

After the thrill of large comes the captivation of little: ‘Dutch Master’ can top out at about 20 inches, the miniature trumpet ‘Topolino,’ pictured, at about 10. Even smaller are all-yellow ‘Midget’ and ‘Small Talk,’ at about four inches. Perfect for rock gardens, and for viewing up close (or maybe under a magnifying glass), the miniatures class of teeny-tinies includes both cultivars and species, which are supplied by quality bulb merchants.

Daffodils (all are actually genus Narcissus) thrive in locations with an ample supply of moisture, such as the bulb fields of the Netherlands. The double all-white heirloom, N. albus plenus odoratus, seems to bloom best on Martha’s Vineyard in almost wetland conditions.

Plant narcissi in unirrigated locations, however, so that foliage can ripen and dry off naturally without risk of rot. Some species originate in harsher habitats of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco; these are the ones suited to well-drained, sunny locations where they can bake after blooming, making good rock garden subjects.


Here is a new garden magnolia reference, “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Magnolias” (Timber Press, 2016) by Andrew Bunting, an acknowledged expert and frequent presenter at Polly Hill Arboretum. It appears as magnolia season commences, just in time to satisfy gardeners’ appetites for more information about them.

But why magnolias? As the back cover flatly states, “magnolias are the most magnificent flowering woody plants for temperate gardens and landscapes.” We have no better tree for four-season interest in the Island garden. Admittedly, I am favorably predisposed to the book (published in association with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) because it cites all 10 examples of my small magnolia collection; moreover, the numerous beautiful color photographs on every page make it bona fide eye candy, even without Bunting’s knowledgeable text.

The chapter “Designing with Magnolias” contains 14 very good lists to help the gardener with specific situations and requirements. The heart of the guide is, of course, the descriptive chapter, “146 Magnolias for the Garden,” but there is more: “Growing and Propagation,” and “Where to See.”

In the Island past, with harder winters, magnolias were uncommon. I recall two large soulangeana-type specimens in Vineyard Haven, one of which, on Franklin Street, still exists. The other was in the yard of a house that was pulled down to make a parking lot, adjacent to where the town watering trough used to be. The tree’s fate soon followed that of the house.

I surmise that greater awareness of magnolias was prompted by more Islanders seeing them in flower in Boston’s Beacon Hill and Back Bay, and as gardening became more worldly in general, followed by Polly Hill’s efforts, and by Island garden centers’ expanded outlooks. Now anyone wishing to add a magnolia to an Island garden has outstanding cultivars and specimens to choose from, and in consultation with Bunting’s “Magnolias,” has the tool to match plant, situation, and garden.

Roadside trash

Who are these people who spread trash around the Island? Directly or indirectly, almost all of us who live here make our living based on the beauty and attractiveness of the Island of Martha’s Vineyard. “When you enhance your environment, you enhance your economy!” Who in their right mind would take actions that visually blight conspicuous areas, resulting in their looking like a third-rate slum?

There are plenty of coffee cups, water bottles, and cigarette butts. But not all of it; some of this debris — plastic pots, plastic bagging from horticultural and lawn product, raggedy-ass tarps — blows from gardeners’ and landscapers’ trucks. To my colleagues: Please take the extra minute to check and secure loads.

Polly Hill Arboretum

Join PHA horticulturist and arborist Ian Jochems on April 15 from 1 to 4 pm for “The Finest Cut: Taking the Fear Out of Pruning.” Class covers techniques such as directional pruning, shrub rejuvenation, and the three-cut method, as well as tool maintenance. Please call to preregister at 508-693-9426.