Garden variety

Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard is in full bloom.


“June is bustin’ out all over,” in the words of the hit “Carousel” tune, and hardly anywhere is it more lush than at the Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard. The community-based Oak Bluffs greenhouse is in full bloom, decked out for its annual plant sale that began Mother’s Day weekend. The sale that has long been the organization’s main fundraiser continues well into June, “or until all the plants are gone,” according to Greenhouse manager Diane Sylvia of Oak Bluffs.

The sunny greenhouse is overflowing with healthy plants, organically grown from seed and garden-ready. Home vegetable gardeners will find squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and more. Zinnia, cosmos, and marigold seedlings promise mid-summer bouquets. Blooming petunias will bring a burst of color to decks and window boxes. Flowering fuchsias and geraniums trail from hanging pots everywhere, adding a festive look.

Outdoors, low benches hold seedlings from tomatoes and eggplant, a variety of herbs, annual flowers, and popular perennials — iris, yarrow, purple coneflower, sweet William.

Since its founding some 35 years ago by a group of conservation-minded Islanders headed by the late Linc Hanson, the greenhouse has been dedicated to growing and eating local, expanding the gardening season, and Island sustainability. Originally the Community Solar Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard (COMSOG for short), the building was envisioned to rely on the sun’s energy. Later heating was installed to enable year-round growing.

Organization president Thalia Scanlan of West Tisbury has seen progress and changes since taking on the role nearly 20 years ago. A retired advertising professional with a passion for gardening, Scanlan trained to become a Master Gardener. When she and her husband moved to the Vineyard in 2002, she was thrilled to discover the greenhouse where she could put her horticulture skills and passions to work.

During Scanlan’s watch, the sale expanded from its early focus on tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant to today’s large array of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. But the organization’s mission has remained constant, she said: “We emphasize growing both outside and inside for healthy food for your family.”

“Our goal is to feed people and teach!” echoed Sylvia.

A retired math teacher, Sylvia became an active member 10 years ago. Manager since 2013, she stays busy year-round with all aspects of greenhouse operations.

Having grown up on a farm, Sylvia feels at home with plants, and understands the constant work needed to keep them flourishing. She is introducing members to lesser-known varieties, unusual salad greens and herbs.

Sylvia’s blog on the colorful website features gardening ideas, resources, and tempting recipes using local crops. Volunteers maintain a Facebook page with updates and eye-catching photos.

The organization does outreach projects with Island seniors and Girl Scouts, and frequently donates produce or flowers to church and charitable efforts.

With its catchy motto “Grow With Us” and about 150 members, the greenhouse thrives on volunteer power. A $40 annual sign-up fee welcomes members to work when they wish, and lets them reap benefits like buying produce at bargain prices and learning gardening skills.

Members come to plant seeds or tend plants. Others visit to pick greens or herbs. Groups gather for chore days and planting parties. Experienced gardeners share tips, and all enjoy a soup or salad lunch together.

Last Wednesday the greenhouse was bustling. Concentrating on chores, members transplanted, watered, rearranged displays, pruned, and weeded. But there was easy conversation and companionable laughter, too.

“You come in February, everything is in bloom, all kinds of greens — it’s very heartening!” said Muriel O’Rourke of Oak Bluffs.

“I’m learning a ton!” said new member Kathy O’Loughlin of Edgartown, who delights in the fresh winter produce.

A new and exciting addition is a permaculture program that will revitalize and transform the outdoor garden while providing educational opportunities.

The program is directed by Dani de Ruyter of Oak Bluffs, who was trained and certified in permaculture methods in California, began a consulting company, then established a farm on her family’s Cape Cod acreage

“Permaculture brings organic gardening up a notch,” said De Ruyter.

She explained it is based on a set of principles offering guidelines for choosing and placing plants and utilizing natural resources to best advantage. It entails observing and adapting to the existing landscape and environment, and making the most of elements like wind, sun, and rain to benefit the entire ecosystem.

Currently enriching the soil, De Ruyter will gradually incorporate new plants and techniques. She described a thriving permaculture garden as “an edible food forest,” several layers of plants from trees down to bushes, ground covers, and roots.

She plans workshops for home gardeners on topics like Making a New Garden Bed, Medicinal Teas and Tinctures, Plant Propagation, and Natural Pest Control.

“The sky’s the limit,” said De Ruyter. “There’s tons of potential!”

Greenhouse of Martha’s Vineyard, 114 New York Ave., Oak Bluffs. 508-693-2019,