It was still winter when I visited green-living visionary and author Anna Edey in her new home in Vineyard Haven. After nearly 40 years on her 10-acre farm Solviva in West Tisbury, Edey, at 80, downsized last year to one acre. The closing of her farm happened the day after my visit.
The home Edey lives in now is just temporary in her mind, even as she brings it into its most sustainable, with least environmental impact. Her home is bright, and she hopes she’ll have heat as soon as the propane is delivered. The windows in the living room are obscured by floor-to-ceiling plants on rolling wire shelving.
“The first thing I had to figure out was where the good plant windows were,” Edey said. “I was worried about big overhangs [blocking light].”
Many plants were moved from Edey’s former indoor solar garden. “I didn’t know how I was going to do this, and then I found these amazing shelves. Only $39 apiece with castors. You can’t even buy lumber for that price,” she said.
I asked about the age of some of her plants.
“Ancient, like the geraniums, which grow, and then I cut back, they grow, and then I cut back, year after year after year,” Edey said. There were gorgeous begonias as well. “I spend just a couple minutes a day removing stuff from the plants,” she said.
The potted plants sat on boot trays surrounded by soil, for more humidity. Edey also added four seven-watt lights on a track that shine up from the floor to make her plants happy, she said.
“This is a garden of love,” Edey said. “This is the first thing I do every day. Very peaceful. A little bit here, or a little bit there.” There are also cyclamens and maidenhair ferns that made their way from Solviva.
I usually write about an existing garden, but Edey’s is being created. It calls for a 16-foot by 16-foot greenhouse attached to the living room, which will provide edible greens, lots of herbs, and a place to sit in the sun. She expects the greenhouse to be done by winter’s end. Edey is also planning a 12-foot-wide pergola, like a grape arbor, running along the back of the house for 60 feet. She said she will grow grapes. She’s also installing a photovoltaic array, which will give her the power she needs for the entire house, as well as an outdoor living room. I asked her what kind of battery she’ll use.
Edey smiled: “I just read about the latest Tesla battery. The price has gone way down, and the power has gone way up. I’ll have at least one — maybe two. No more worries about late deliveries, gas, or propane. Just mini-splits.”
She brought me back to the pergola. Edey envisions all kinds of beans and peas climbing up the posts. She will start her seeds when the greenhouse is ready, enabling her to get back to year-round gardening.
I was curious about Edey’s outdoor garden plans.
“I will be mixing landscape and food production,” she said.“My whole one acre will be sustainable and nonpolluting.” She continued, “I made the beds up front, where there was a low, broken stone wall, to create a better buffer from the street. I grew potatoes there [last season]. Some will be survivors through the winter.”
I asked about the soil. “There is excellent soil here,” she said. “[Former homeowner] Lee Fiero put a lot of love into the landscaping. I brought tons of compost from my sheep and chickens.” She said she’ll add some rain barrels to help with watering.
Edey loves the idea of mixing her plants. “There will be a tomato plant, there’s roses, lots of different kinds of flowers,” she said, and then closed her eyes. “Fragrance. I love fragrance. Lilies, roses, I always go for the fragrance. Honeysuckle is right outside my bedroom window on a trellis, asleep for the winter.”
Edey described a small wedge-shaped 8- by 12-foot room connecting her greenhouse to the house. She calls this space her painting studio. “Now that I’m 80, I want to start painting again,” she said.
There is encaustic work hanging on the walls. She showed me one piece she completed at Kara Taylor’s encaustic workshop, before last summer.
I asked if she retained any seeds from Solviva plants. She told me not many, but she has stevia and butterfly weed, plus a few others.
Edey brought over another fragrant delight — a jasmine plant.
“Every window will have plants in it,” she said. “I will try not to overdo it, because you become the caretaker of the plants. You essentially become their slave. So far, this has been my life — to have these relationships with plants. I’ve been very lucky.”
Edey grew up in Göteborg, a Swedish city, but went to the country with her family for summers. She learned indoor gardening from her mother, who also kept plants in all of her windows. She learned outdoor gardening from her father’s mother, whom she’d stay with for one week every summer in their summer cottage.
“That garden was unbelievable,” she said. “Every fruit tree you can imagine. Twelve different kinds of apples, 12 different kinds of cherry trees, 12 different kinds of plum trees. She had all different kinds of berries. Of course, rhubarb, asparagus, and flowers in among everything.”
I enjoyed the sweet scent of jasmine and my hot tea before leaving. Edey mentioned another green house project she’s working on with designer Paul Lazes for the Tisbury School. Edey talked about a future dream to create an elder community that would be “like living on a garden and a farm.” She wants to prove that a life without fossil fuels works, and plans to be at near zero at her new home.
In the meantime, she looks forward to family visiting, and helping her work in the garden. I look forward to returning in the summer, and seeing Edey’s plans in action.