Garden Notes: Oh, July!

It’s a marvel year for growth and beauty.


The Fourth of July Island garden of 50 years ago was a limited palette of tawny daylilies, rambler roses ‘Excelsa’ and ‘Dorothy Perkins,’ honeysuckle, and privet. Oakleaf hydrangeas make superb hedges and backdrops, and bloom for the Fourth, hiding everything from gas tanks to trash barrels. In addition to the large flowerheads, oakleafs make brilliant fall colors.

As summer wears on, gardeners stand back and assess their work and its results. Many of us note that this has been a marvel of a year for growth and beauty, whether from our own efforts, or from a higher power. The regal lilies bloom with extravagant fragrance. A juvenile catbird hops and flaps behind a fluttery cabbage white butterfly, inexpertly trying and failing to nab it. Every year in gardens teaches something.

However, there is always an aspect where improvement is possible. For me, it is soil improvement. The below links to good information from U.K.’s Charles Dowding about soil creation and improvement:

My garden could use more compost and organic matter than it has, having been created from sandy yellow subsoil. It has pluperfect drainage, and lacks the richness and heft of other Island soil profiles, despite the addition of lots of organic matter.

I still “fertilize” (not often) with organic soil food. I gave away the Troy-Bilt years ago, and practice no-dig growing as much as possible. I cut off spent plants instead of pulling them, leaving their roots in place. There are weeds, but not many, bar spring chickweed; interestingly, weediness occurs in the vicinity of tunnels of voles and chipmunks (the warm-blooded “weeds” of the plot).

All annuals such as dill, cilantro, poppies, gloriosa daisies, etc. are allowed to remain unless growing where I want to plant something. What is the joy of new potatoes without fresh dill (and parsley and butter) to go with? Flowering plants are welcome, since nectar and pollen are essentials for pollinator insects. Sounds like paradise when written about this way, but this is an imperfect garden, much as I love and enjoy it.


The late Roberta Lea Hutchison, who designed many beautiful Island plantings and gardens, is quoted in her obituary with the clarity of vision shared by many with terminal illness: “Go plant a tree. Any kind. Anywhere.”

Hutchison’s request (also to support the Silent Spring Institute, Newton) has truth and palpable poignancy. Planting a tree connects us who perform the act with places and memories.

Speaking of trees, summer’s heat has not yet hit the Island, but it will, and then shade trees, in public space, any space, will become coveted, to park both cars and people under. Let’s urge all towns’ Park and Recs, ConComs, and planners, to plan, budget, and do due diligence in installing quality shade trees that will enhance and beautify our environs for many years to come.

While intending to enhance the likely economic prospects of public spaces, these town entities will be unwittingly performing an ecological service and heeding Roberta Lea Hutchison.

Still a garden

The lone potted geranium in a window could be an austere Edward Hopper image. Better one than none; it is still a garden. What about windowsills, balconies, decks, roof gardens, and terraces? Maybe I focus too much on the soil and in-ground aspects of gardening? Not all gardeners have access to this.

The first plant I owned was a fuchsia. I was about 5, and my father had brought me along with him to Louis Greene’s greenhouses in North Tisbury: for me an alluring destination, with the parrot, the goldfish, the smell of plants. Small pots of fuchsias were being propagated on the bench, blue and red and captivating, and my father bought me one.

That fuchsia did not last long in the care of a small child. My having a long-lived one in a pot today is probably significant and telling. They are truly rewarding houseplants. Find one that suits the conditions of your home in winter and bring it outdoors, if possible, in summer. It will be beautiful and at its height now.

According to the RHS at, tender fuchsias are moderately easy to grow and will flower through to frost. They flower best in full sun, but will do well in part shade. Feed them regularly, and pinch the growing tips for bushy growth.

The pollinated flowers of the fuchsia pictured produce berries, which are edible, although I have not eaten them. Hummingbirds love it and visit daily. Any berry toxicity results only from what might be sprayed on them. (See

I return the plant inside for the winter, where — regrettably — it attracts whitefly and aphids. However, these are controllable with insecticidal soap and horticultural oil. Softwood cuttings root easily, and are therefore a good way to propagate fuchsias.

In the garden

Deadhead plants such as salvias, centranthus, and annuals; roses too. They are flowering profusely, which means cleanup of petal drop and leaves. Cutting back, lots of sun, two cups of organic soil food (fertilizer) monthly, and an inch of rain/irrigation weekly are the ingredients for most roses to thrive.

Clean out spring vegetable beds to make room for fall crops. Plant carrots, beets, winter squash, leeks, etc. in these spaces. Train tomato vines.

I harvested fall-planted shallots. These are the French gray, ‘Griselle,’ shallot, bought from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They grew very well in this garden, and when the rest are ready for harvest (tops fall over), it will be a good crop. As with imminent garlic harvest, shallots are cured for storage. Dry on the ground after digging, and then cure in a well-ventilated place until the skins are papery. Tops may be braided.