Garden Notes: Right bench, right place

And deer and coyote updates.

Ivy devoid of leaves, thanks to deer feasting. — Susan Safford

Hens have resumed laying, branches and twigs show deeper color, and high up but visible, buds are swelling in treetops. And plenty of snowdrops!

Bench warming

Recall the benches you may have seen, arbitrarily set down somewhere as decorative accents. Are they ever used?

In bygone times, down-Island towns had their regulars, many of them well-known characters. What might today be called idlers were to be seen seated, taking in and witnessing the downtown activity: just watching and passing the time of day. Grocery stores and Post Offices that required genuine errands generated “hustle and bustle,” and that in turn created observable town life.

That town life is past, today, but it is still pleasant to sit outside and bask somewhere sheltered. The weather patterns are changing too, but I have long thought that February is a wonderful winter month, with lots of blue-sky, sunny days, perfect for doing that.

Letting “those who are no longer with us” remain part of the scene has become increasingly frequent through the siting of memorial benches. If you are considering this, you will want to ensure that it is sited so it will be actually used and enjoyed.
The conceptual masterpiece “A Pattern Language: Towns Buildings Construction” (Oxford University Press), section 241, “Seat Spots,” has this header: “Where outdoor seats are set down without regard for view and climate, they will almost certainly be useless.”

The text continues, describing a test of selected benches and listing facts about them. Was it occupied or empty? Did it give a view of current activity, or not? Was it in the sun or not? What was the current wind velocity?

The point is, when you intend to place outdoor seating in your garden or design project, note well: 1) Open to southern exposure for sun during winter months; 2) A wall on the side the winter wind comes from; 3) Look for places facing directly onto pedestrian activity; and 4) Give sun protection and exposure to breezes during summer months.

The coyote

Let’s face it: The talk everywhere on the Island is about the coyote. Reactions range from terrified to, “Oh, I’ll just blow it away if I see it!” In other words, a bunch of extremes and extreme reactions.

I will be among the first to acknowledge that island ecosystems in general are sensitive to unintended additions, and that goes without saying for this Island too. BiodiversityWorks, the fledgling Island conservation entity, exists to expand our knowledge and to research and monitor the wildlife ecology of Martha’s Vineyard. It may have a new project.

A coyote in my neighborhood could negatively affect my way of life. I probably also sound like a smartass if I add, drily, that deer already negatively affect my (gardening) way of life. Learning more about the fluctuations of Island wildlife ecology benefits us all. Vigilance is certainly practiced in mainland communities that already have coyote populations; here we shall have to do likewise. It would be best if this animal could be trapped and returned to the mainland.

Luckily, humans are adaptable, and prone to be infected with common sense: We meet the conditions of daily life as well as we can, they change us, and we change them. Until further resolution, be alert.

BiodiversityWorks is dedicated to the research and monitoring of Island wildlife. The coyote’s presence gives it another assignment and reason for existence. Please support BDW and its capital campaign to purchase a permanent headquarters with your donations, at, or 455 State Road, PMB 179,

Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.

Deer browse

The thaw conditions are a blessing in one respect: Make use of them while they last to erect netting or fencing. Even in-town Vineyard Haven has its deer! Observed by me jokingly: The plants with the best chances seem to be those planted right alongside busy main roads.

Increase in deer population pressure could be a factor, and large predators, like coyotes (or cars), in ecological terms, might seem like a solution. Unhappily, there would be many other downsides to a coyote presence here. Heretofore, protecting animals from domestic dogs, a mostly daytime threat, has been the main threat to livestock.

The shortage of acorns has been the generally accepted explanation for the extreme, ongoing deer browsing that is seen Island-wide. Supposedly deer-resistant species show damage. Ivy, yew, rhododendron, and arborvitae have been hit hard; even cultivated hollies in my area show bald skirts where their lower foliage should be.

However, shortage of habitat and proliferation of houses should also be taken into account. Wildlife, of all descriptions, is losing its habitat here, despite the arrival of the coyote.

Regenerative backyard gardening

During the winter of 2019, Roxanne Kapitan launched the informative winter series on Regenerative Backyard Gardening. She is a natural teacher! The 2020 series of classes, which are underwritten by Oakleaf Landscape, has already begun, but there is time to take advantage of the remainder of it.

Look for the next presentation, “Reduce Your Lawn Footprint,” Feb. 8 at the Edgartown library, and “Creating Regenerative Spring Planting Plans,” March 21 at the Chilmark library. All classes are from 10:30 to 12 noon, and are free. Please contact for more information.

In the garden

I have been pruning the old growth of colorful members of the dogwood family. Pruning is desirable to promote new, young growth, which has the brightest high color.

Winter pruning of all sorts is timely now. Grapevines, fruit trees, roses, damaged, broken, or rubbing branches of garden trees and shrubs — the activity is a great excuse for time outside. Once sap starts to rise in maples, grapevines, stewartias, and other “bleeders,” they will weep after pruning or wounding, so prune now.

But first, take a minute to clean, sharpen, and oil tools.