Garden Notes: Thinking globally

And a call to local action.


Let us quiet down awhile and let winter take its course. The blizzard and dawn in the white world are the means to see another landscape, Emerson’s “frolic architecture of the snow.”

Citrus indoors

Potted citrus come into their own now, with all of them showing differing levels of bud and flower development. Indoors, new growth is emerging due to their natural growth cycles and response to stronger February light.

Citrus have always been quite special to me, probably arising from early childhood when a fragrant crate of Christmas oranges and kumquats, packed in excelsior, was shipped to us in West Tisbury by our great-aunt in Florida.

The scent of orange blossom is the soothing antidote to winter and cabin fever! My collection shares the habit of flowering profusely in nubby bunches of rounded buds close to the stem. They are Key lime, ‘Meyer’ lemon, ‘Cara Cara’ navel orange, ‘Seedless Kishu’ mandarin, ‘Gold Nugget’ mandarin, and calamondin, all good subjects for home culture.

Once flowering starts up, there will be some inevitable blossom drop. To help them set and keep fruit, one step recommended by some experts is misting the blossoms.

Despite new growth, it is advised to grow these plants dry, and avoid overwatering, which is associated with leaf loss and yellowing foliage, according to the Garden (RHS publication). Many experts recommend a dilute weekly feed, and I also use chelated iron, a product called Ferti-lome, to maintain dark green leaf color.

Citrus plants are susceptible to root rot, and should never be left standing in water-filled saucers; for these same reasons, terracotta pots that breathe are often recommended over plastic. Sooner or later, almost everyone growing container citrus experiences infestations of their typical pests: scale insects (including mealybugs) or aphids. I hang yellow sticky traps from the plants, which usually alert me to pests’ presence, and then regularly spray either horticultural oil or insecticidal soap to control them.

Local and lovely

I recently shared a pleasant chat with lifelong West Tisbury friend Arnie Fischer about work and constraints we perform under as gardeners and landscapers. We agreed that much is really just irrelevant window-dressing — nature is fine without us.

Because she writes about this articulately, I quote from C.L. Fornari’s “A Garden Lover’s Martha’s Vineyard.” (Disclosure: Fornari used some of my work, along with that of other fine Island gardeners, in the 2008 book.)

“People have gotten in the habit of choosing plants based on what they’re familiar with, or what strikes them as pretty, and these plants are grouped according to what we like to see instead of what would make sense environmentally. Compounding the problem is the overuse of garden chemicals. For years gardeners have been trained to think that there is an easy solution-in-a-bottle for any problem, and this has dulled an appreciation for using the perfect plant for a given location. But if plants are given the conditions they prefer, there are fewer problems, or an acceptable level of damage, and much less need for human — or chemical — intervention.

“Gardeners tend to forget that plants grow in communities in the wild, and these habitats support a wide range of organisms that live and work together. We have become so accustomed to choosing plants for the look of the foliage or color of the flowers that we fail to remember that native habitats function as a system where soil, plants, insects, animals, and microorganisms are interdependent.”

The foregoing is a good reminder that, as C.L. emailed me, “It’s funny, but in reading this, 14 years after I wrote it, I’m struck that we haven’t yet ‘gotten it.’ That so many still forget that basic first rule of ecology: Everything is connected to everything else.”

Think globally, act locally

Conservation is world work, in the sense of “thinking globally,” but it is our work here in the sense of “acting locally.” It is not only what they/them do, but also what we/us do.

Many have become aware of the destruction of tropical rainforests for nonfood, industrial commodity production, such as soy and palm oil. This matters because these formerly vast forested areas have been called the lungs of the planet. Tropical rainforests are calculated to produce enormous percentage-amounts of the oxygen and water that the world we know depends on. In close-up terms, the water that a single tree transpires daily has a cooling effect equivalent to two domestic air conditioners for a day.

By taking a quick look into the global hydrology and carbon cycle (, it is clear that forests — all forests, not only tropical rainforests — are the engines that make Earth a habitable planet for large segments of life, and especially the so-called higher life forms: us.

Trees are the answer

Forests’ upper-atmosphere effects on rainfall patterns mean destruction in rainforests is causing far-flung severe droughts in Argentina, encroaching desertification across central Africa, and the neo–Dust Bowl drought in the middle of the U.S., according to research cited in the link above.

The seriousness of deforestation globally is extremely disturbing, especially in the global South, where vast rainforests have been cleared and destroyed by global corporate interests that represent industrial commodity production ( 

Some of us may even unwittingly own shares in funds that, at several removes, are invested with those interests. But the point is, it is not only decimation of distant rainforests; it is decimation of our own forests right here on the Island.

Study the global carbon and hydrology cycle: Destruction of forests everywhere results in less carbon uptake, less oxygen, and less rain, everywhere, globally. We cannot continue to say, “Save the rainforests,” when we permit the decimation of Island woods right here. It all adds up, bit by bit, surely, and not so slowly anymore. Everything is connected to everything else.