Garden Notes: Sticking with the locals

Seed-grown, locally collected plants are essential to a diverse ecosystem.

Winter care for roses: Heap with manure or compost once cold weather begins. — Susan Safford

Many are looking forward enthusiastically to the discoveries in 2022 that the Mars rovers may make. Perseverance, the most recently landed Mars rover, has found matter containing organic traces on Mars’ rocky surface. Supposing the probing of Mars discovered past life, maybe even previous civilizations: would it put a pause, or even a halt, to the laying waste to our home planet?

Late 2021 marked the deaths of two influential figures in studies of our home planet’s biological life and systems: E. O. Wilson (“ant man”); and Thomas Lovejoy, the ecologist, who coined the term “biological diversity” now in widespread use. Both received many honors in life. The investigations of these two give the world immeasurably useful information about ‘what keeps it all ticking,’ here on Earth.

Please, students at MVRHS, when you think about your futures, elevate your goals: consider these kinds of life’s-work. Wilson and Lovejoy enriched understanding of life on Earth by theirs. Who from our community will step up to the plate and continue it? Immodest lifestyles and over-consumption will not lead you into a habitable brave new world.

Native Plants and Place      

We have an idea that exotic — what we have not seen before — is special and superior. It oftentimes seems that gardeners are tired of hearing — blah, blah, blah — about native plants: an ennui-d rejection of the supposed underlying philosophy behind celebrating place, a disdain for their supposedly having some kind of a mystical superiority, and boredom caused by the natives’ frequent lack of flash. Man, this is some kind of a stuck record promoted by eco-Nazis….

People who are taken with plants and gardens (I like color and ornament so am no exception) are, and have always been, intrigued by novel or exotic plants, especially those that are colorful or with large flowers, or with economic utility.

Books such as “Green Immigrants,” “The Gardener’s Atlas,” “Around the World in 80 Trees,’’ “The Brother Gardeners,” and more, recount the histories of plant exploration and global dispersal in service to those qualities.

Right now, with land sales and clearing skyrocketing, is the time to take a stern tone in defense of the quiet beauties that are already here, original and well adapted to Island life.

Tractor-trailer loads of full size trees heading for being ‘plugged in’ to a stripped and bulldozed landscape can NOT repair the wanton and mindless destruction made possible by fossil fuel and too much money. Eradicating our thickets and undergrowth in favor of extensive lawns that support very few life-forms is that exercise in futility Michael Pollan was referring to when he quipped,“A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule.”

What is the model being aspired to? Where did the desire for total control, the over-perfecting, of gardens and landscapes come from? The spraying, the cutting, the daily leaf blowing, the over-irrigating? The noise, the disruption, the demolition, the poisoning? The assault on the living landscape, and its life-forms, not to mention the peacefulness, of a small, finite Island? It is a bitter irony if it is an urban/suburban one, from which so many are fleeing.                 

Massachusetts is the birthplace of two societies that form the historical basis for American nature conservation: the Massachusetts Audubon Society (1896) and the New England Wild Flower Society, now Native Plant Trust (1900).

It is an honorable heritage, one that needs to be reinforced constantly in the face of that wanton destruction made possible by fossil fuel, too much money, and the desire for totalitarian control. It is one we in Massachusetts can take pride in and attempt to live up to.          

“Planting a Species or a Cultivar – Will It Make a Difference?” is the title of Native Plant Trust’s

( spring/summer 2021 bulletin, from which I am liberally borrowing. “The connections between plants, insects, and animals forged by nature result from countless generations of evolution.”

The consequence of this process is Lovejoy’s “biological biodiversity,” as measured not only in species richness, but also in genetic richness.

“Inviting that diversity into our gardens begins with choosing a majority of native plants for the garden, specifically the straight species of natives, if available.” Or, alternatively, not clear cutting and bulldozing them to begin with.

Cultivars are billed as improvements over species in terms of their aesthetic performance in the landscape. Selections are chosen from amongst an array of samples of a species, selected for desired qualities. Straight species of plants evolved through natural selection.

Varieties that humans have selected may have certain qualities such as shorter height, longer bloom time, or double flowers, which have no bearing on their place in the ecological scheme of things.

Cultivars make up the majority of natives sold in nurseries, recognizable by the way the name is written: e.g., Clethra alnifolia ‘Hummingbird’, ending in a non-Latin name in single quotes after the italicized species and genus name. They are billed as improvements over the species in terms of their aesthetic performance in the landscape. But what changes take place in the invisible traits of plants, such as nectar and pollen quality?

Locally collected, seed-grown plants are the gold standard in genetic variety. Each seed-grown plant is genetically unique and therefore adds diversity to the population of its species. With conditions in the natural world undergoing some extreme shifts and stressors, especially heat and drought, this diversity becomes like an anchor to windward.

“Your seed-grown plant arrives in your garden with all its evolutionary relationships in place. When you consider that plants are the basis for the planet’s food web, this is significant. Plant relationships with insects are especially crucial, because insects are food for so many different animal species….”

In the Garden

Cut back and mulch roses with manure or compost.


  1. . . . e.g., Clethra alnifolia ‘Hummingbird,’ . . .

    That should be ‘Hummingbird’, . . .

    When used to indicate the name of a horticultural cultivar, the second single quote goes INSIDE the final punctuation or comma, not outside it as in the case of quoted material.

    Another book that makes finding and choosing native plants for Vineyard gardens quite easy is William Cullina’s “Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines” (Houghton Mifflin, 2002). It contains handy detailed lists of specific native plants that perform the same or very similar functions in a garden design as specific non-native shrubs—hence can be substituted for them—and that also provide the ecological advantages of native plantings.

    The Vineyard Haven, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs libraries all have the book in their collections.

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