Garden Notes: Bring pollinators to your garden

And maybe some quality shade trees as well.

Easily grown filipendula and verbena tempt a passing monarch butterfly. — Susan Safford

The gardener says: “When you bring flowers into your vegetable patch, be prepared for good things to happen.”  –Lisa Mason Ziegler in the book “The Gardener Says,” Princeton Architectural Press

Pollinator gardens

If pollinator-friendly gardening is your goal, but you are not sure how to get good results, here are some observations. To start with, you may have better results than you think, since many pollinators are small and insignificant; only a small percentage are vibrant butterflies and hummingbirds. The rest are often beneath notice.

Take a ride to West Tisbury and walk the meadow paths at Polly Hill Arboretum. There you observe an environment that does not look “gardenesque,” but which is, in fact, a densely populated pollinator garden. You notice that its habitat is open, sunny, with little shade. With sunlight, the warming air encourages the flight and activity that send insects from plant to plant, and from flower to flower.

Then too you notice predator insects: dragonflies and darning needles overhead, spiders and spiderwebs, quietly crouching assassin bugs perhaps, and some of the large and fearsome-looking wasps that predate caterpillars and spiders. Worse, you observe “weeds”: “that awful invasive goldenrod,” various milkweeds, dewberry, sumac, wild asters.

To some, the idea of pollinator-friendly gardens not looking “gardenesque” — indeed, looking more like a tousled, abandoned hayfield — may be too much, and unacceptable.

OK, think about the following, and see if any of it is acceptable: Overseed your lawn with white clover, and watch bees arrive. Mow less of it, and less often. While retaining the forms of gardenesque design, choose plants with long flowering seasons and lots of pollen-rich flowers. Go to to be inspired about a pollinator garden and meadow under renovation.

If you employ landscapers or gardeners, ask them to leave your garden and premises free of herbicide, pesticide, and fungicide, and explain why this is important.

Add both early-spring and late-fall flowering plants. Anything from the Compositae (daisy flowered) or Lamiaceae (Mint) family of plants is excellent, such as echinacea, salvia, and nepeta. Take the Gardener Says advice (above), and invite flowers into the vegetable garden. Acquire a floral wardrobe of annual and biennial flowering plants that reseed themselves.

For example, leave all volunteer cilantro, Verbena bonariensis, dill, annual poppy, foxglove, lychnis, radicchio, leek, and arugula plants where they germinate; destroy only if in the way of planted vegetables, and after they have gone over, save seedheads. Annual sunflowers, cosmos, and zinnias, and biennial feverfew, are four easy-to-grow plants that offer cut-flower bonanzas and pollen.

Anyone lucky enough to have a garden can transform it into a home for flora and fauna. The increasing concern about pollinators is both touching and testimony to human awareness of the interconnectedness of life, all life.

Shade trees, heat waves

Now, when tree planting has once again become critical, both municipally and globally, “The Tree Book,” by Michael Dirr and Keith Warren (Timber Press, 2019) arrives right on target. This mammoth book’s subtitle is “Superior Selections for Landscapes, Streetscapes, and Gardens,” and indicates the authors’ purpose in writing it. Too few tax dollars are budgeted for tree planting already, so the few resources available must be spent on choosing the very best trees and cultivars.

I cannot stress what a contribution it is to our communities to plant enduring shade trees. It is miraculous to have the luxury of air conditioning, although running it costs money, stresses electricity generation, and adds to ambient temperatures overall. The Vineyard, along with the entire Northeast, is getting hotter. Somehow though, tree planting, this longtime virtuous civic solution, has receded in importance to us.

The heat waves of today are blistering, but so too were the enervating ones of the early 20th century, when much depended upon living horsepower. Worse than a broken-down tractor-trailer choking a roadway, probably few misfortunes were more wrenching, and less convenient, than a collapsed or foundering team blocking a town street. Shady towns and streets, plus public watering troughs, became synonymous with civic pride.

Asphalt streets without trees are oven-hot, barren, and stark. While many Islanders enjoy the benefits that the tourist economy brings, there is a strange reluctance to invest in the one universal factor that enhances the tourist experience here, of disembarking in Island ports and visiting: shady, tree-lined public spaces. Alcoholic beverages? Yes. Shade trees? No.

Many “junk trees” pervade the green industry; trees that have been bred for fast growth, or hyped beyond sane planting policy, and some, such as Norway maple, far too commonly planted on the Vineyard. Never has it been more important to plant trees, quality trees, and for those tasked with choosing them, “The Tree Book” is the new definitive reference. A copy should stand in every Martha’s Vineyard Commission, town planning board, and tree warden office.

In the garden

Make your selections for the MVAS Agricultural Fair, August 15, 16, 17, and 18. Premium books and entry blanks are on the porch at Agricultural Hall, or go to

The calls of birds — crows from the woods, and the male towhee in my garden — are piercing and incessant. Is Mr. Towhee reminding me that the water in the birdbaths evaporates twice as fast in heat?

Crabgrass sprints in the current conditions. Cultivate around and under garden plants; crabgrass loves heat and flourishes in walkways, lawn edges, and beds, where it mugs the intended plants. It is the vivid green currently seen alongside Island roads.

The recent heavy rains evaporate under our noses. Now would be the time to mulch for moisture retention and to reduce soil temperatures. Anything recently planted needs daily watering. With the dog days’ approach, more heat is forecast.