Most local gardeners would never let anyone visit in late March, but Cynthia Bloomquist and Thaw Malin III could not have been more welcoming at their West Tisbury home and garden, Esidarap (paradise spelled backwards). Bloomquist has lived on the property since 1981, though not always year-round. She’s always considered the Island her real home, as has Thaw since first setting foot here in the 1950s. Seeing the garden’s bones made the experience of learning how these two veteran gardeners approach their work-in-progress, a life-long endeavor despite how much they’ve already accomplished. Bloomquist and Malin have been together a mere five years, but their deep love and appreciation of each other’s strengths make them not only compatible as husband and wife, but as respectful co-planners, co-orchestrators, and co-gardeners on their 2-acre plot.
Thaw grew up outside Morristown, N.J., along with four brothers who all helped their father with gardening projects, including a formal rose garden with cobblestone pathways, terraced stone walls, and a fruit garden. Though he admits hating the work as a child, today he and his brothers share a deep love of gardening. Cynthia considers her grandparent’s two-room camp in Jamestown, R.I., her heart home, where she learned “to love being in nature.”
At her own first home, in Lexington, Mass., Cynthia had a vegetable garden for 10 years, but then moved to a pine forest — not ideal for gardening — so she focused on her Vineyard property, the same one I’m visiting. Not wanting to leave water running when she wasn’t on-Island, her garden of mostly tomatoes and strawberries died off. A friend convinced her to try perennial gardening, and Cynthia began digging out the sub-soil and mixing in topsoil. Believing a garden must provide food, she started a vegetable garden in 2012 and now she has come around to appreciating the beauty of it. That said, Cynthia’s seedlings of Swiss chard and beets look ready for the ground, though she’s having a hard time telling them apart. They start in the house and soon will move to the three-season screened deck before getting rolled to their awaiting plots. Cynthia offhandedly mentions she’s volunteered at Polly Hill since 2010 and has been a member for 20 years, a place where she has learned many lessons she applies at home.
Esidarap encompasses all sides of the house. Cynthia and Malin are great scroungers and repurposers. Whether it is a couple of bowed fence posts incorporated to create an Asian accent fence dividing garden rooms or using a series of concrete septic tanks as raised planting beds, these two search out and utilize a vast array of local finds. They also happily dig up plants no longer wanted in friends’ gardens. All the garden beds in one area, made by Cynthia from salvaged wood, are lined. Although Cynthia was doing “a little crop rotation,” she adds, “Simon Athearn says not to worry about it as long as you put in fertilizer.” Catnip is growing in many areas; they have scallions transplanted as a gift from Thomas Hodgson years ago. Thaw likes that Cynthia lets arugula self-seed, as well as other plants. They compost in two large raised barrels to avoid rodents.
The centerpiece of the garden was a gaping hole when Thaw arrived on the scene; Cynthia was planning a “swimmable natural pond,” that completed is 35’x34’x8′ deep, with a mini dock reached by a meandering boardwalk from the house. Cynthia wanted “a water view, to hear water, bring in birds, and more planting opportunity.” The pond is rubber lined and to give it a more natural feel they used gravel for edging, making it more beach-like. Not only did they oversee the addition of the pond, Cynthia went underwater to help set the mammoth stones used. She also built the retaining wall running along one side of the pond. The rock comes from Goodale’s. The pump and electrical works for the pond looks like a hobbit house built into the backside of the far fountain area. The solar arrays on their home and barn provide more electricity then they can use, though it goes into the grid and comes back to them.
As we continue our walk, Cynthia points out garlic growing, which she planted after she let the carrots go to seed. There are figs outside as well as two indoors, and they planted all the tall grasses as accents. They have nectarines, European elderberry, franklinia alatamaha, blueberry bushes, raspberries, strawberries, kale, three cherry trees, leeks, some rhubarb coming up, goji berries, and a little grove of plum trees. They’ve moved trees and plants like columbine, lilacs, day lilies, peonies and Rose of Sharon from family properties such as Cynthia’s grandmother’s yard in Seekonk, Mass. They also brought small millstones collected by Cynthia’s father, which Thaw incorporated into the walking paths. All the stone edging along the path was purchased by the pound from Goodale’s pit. Cynthia built a stone retaining wall that runs along the front of the house and creates a fantastic planted bed.
They admit there are more areas in the front of their home that need future attention, but are still focused on completing their rear garden rooms, including a sunken stone room that will be shaded by grape vines. Thaw oversees the development and addition of berms used to create varying scales and garden rooms throughout the property, as well as adding meandering walking trails that will stretch around the entire property. I look forward to visiting again when I can see the fruits of their labor in bloom.