Garden Notes: Summer is on

The poppy season can be extended.

Poppies and baptisia mingle happily in a sunny, gravelly spot. —Susan Safford

Summer: wind-rippled fields of daisy and velvet grass, studded with fireflies; the Glorious Fourth; honeysuckle and rose on the air. The season is on.

In the garden

Side-dress roses with two cups organic, low-number soil food (fertilizer) per plant, per month, while roses are in active growth. (Chemical fertilizers are like the nuclear option, and deplete soil health. Low-number organic fertilizer, unlike chemical fertilizer, feeds the soil, not the plant.) Deadhead them and clean up shed rose petals and leaf drop, if any. Provide one inch of water per week.

The pollen storm appears to be tapering off.

Now that warm weather seems to be here, make 10- to 12-foot-long sowings of bush beans every few weeks, to keep vigorous new plants coming. ‘Maxibel’ is the variety I prefer, a productive filet type; there are many other wonderful haricots verts types. Some family members prefer flat-podded types such as ‘Romano,’ so we try to include them as well. Inoculate with a bean inoculant for best results, and invite pollinators into the garden for full pods.

Warm weather means shifting over to heat-tolerant lettuces and other greens, which really do prefer the cooler weather of spring and fall. As with the beans, make small, frequent sowings, as bolting happens fast in warm weather.

Consider mulching with large sheets of plain cardboard in alleys between rows, if you are planting in-ground, as we do. Many garden experts consider plain cardboard to be “earthworm hotels.” Weeds, such as you will have, may be tossed right on top of the cardboard, along with some soil, to compost in place. The cardboard is digested surprisingly rapidly.

Check tomato plants frequently to see that they do not escape their supports; tie in and prune, if using that system. Scape garlic now; while tender, the scapes may be used in a variety of recipes. Last year’s leeks are also beginning to bud up, although they do not form a curly scape as the garlic does. Leave at least a few to bloom, for self-seeding next year’s crop, and for the pollinators, which truly love the large, spherical, nectar-filled flowerheads. They make a not-bad cut flower, by the way.

Speaking of productive, it has been a banner spring for “Irish moss” growing in spaces between bricks and hardscaping. Sprays can of course control it, but it is so ridiculously easy to pull this, and other tiny seedlings of crabgrass and other weeds while they are small, that if you are a home gardener taking care only of your own place, I recommend trying the weeding approach instead of buying some kind of moss-out or using a bleach solution.

Cut back spring perennials that have already bloomed; some may be divided and replanted now, giving you your money’s worth many times over. Bleeding-heart and Siberian iris are two examples. They seem to do well on the Vineyard; deadhead and divide them now.

An exception is the Oriental poppy group; for them it is recommended to propagate more plants by taking root cuttings, instead of digging the entire plant. When finished blooming, these poppies’ leaves look unattractive for a while. Let them fully dry, and then twist off. Fresh new basal foliage reappears shortly, which remains in place the rest of the season.

Deadhead lilac, azalea, fothergilla, and rhododendron now, and tighten up their structure with a little post-bloom pruning.

Vitex, caryopteris, and buddleia were affected badly by the erratic spring weather. Many have lost great chunks of growth, or apparently died completely. Do the green-scrape test to assess whether the plant is living or dead.


Oriental poppies usher in the poppy season. There are more to come. The poppy family, the Papaveraceae, is actually far more extensive than our primary focus on the flamboyant Oriental Group would make it seem. Many of these are annual or short-lived perennials, indicated by their profligate seeding. It is common for gardeners to allow all poppies to grow where they seed themselves, since they too, like the Orientals, resent disturbance.

I sow seed of annual poppies as soon as I acquire it, usually February or early March. I sprinkle where I think the seed will take, and try not to disturb the location. They almost never survive even the most careful moving. I just leave them where they germinate.

  1. atlanticum, P. nudicaule, P. rupifragum, and P. somniferum are short-lived forms that will be with you through self-sowing once you introduce them into your garden. The closely allied family members, Stylophorum diphyllum (the celandine poppy) and Glaucium flavum (the horned or beach poppy) will also persist in gardens if given a location they like. All are best in gravelly or free-draining soil that is nonetheless fertile, and with the exception of the woodlander celandine poppy, like sunny spots. They extend poppy season beyond the opening Oriental poppy act.

Introduced rodents

Double gardeners’ curses upon the stupid woman who brought chipmunks to Martha’s Vineyard, thinking that the Island’s stone walls “needed” to be enhanced by their cuteness. Another rodent species? Really? Needed?

They have spread around the Island, and are now spotted everywhere. They undermine retaining walls and terraces, and wreak damage on gardens wherever they go. When the cat brings one in (dead), do not mourn. Since I live near the locus of their introduction, their excavating, tunneling, and eating habits — and more — plague and infuriate me.

Polly Hill Arboretum

Trees are some of earth’s most awesome life forms. It is safe to say that most of humanity is unaware of how intimately connected our well-being is to that of trees and forests.

Do not miss “Great and Ancient Trees,” the talk given by the Morris Arboretum’s Paul Meyer, 5:30, July 11, admission $10/$5 PHA members.