Gardens of Love: Rob Chaunce and Wendi Goldfarb

These two have created a scentious life together.


Rob Chaunce and Wendi Goldfarb eloped in February 2020. They had found one another at an art exhibit in 2015, becoming good friends. It’s best you read their heartwarming story in their own words (see Rob had a design and landscaping business, and especially loves flowers, while Wendi had worked at Middletown Nursery and Oak Leaf Landscape with Roxanne Capitan, specializing in edible gardening, and helping manage an all-organic production nursery for edible plants, among other jobs and experiences. Between the two of them they have more than 30 years of gardening experience, with a focus on connecting people to the land and the food they grow.

Last fall, I visited them at their West Tisbury home and ever-changing garden shared with a dog, two cockatiels, and three cats, beside 30 outdoor chickens. It was the first day they were home after a two-week vacation in the Southwest, and after that nameless nor’easter in late October 2021. Although I had met each of them separately, I also had the pleasure of meeting them as a couple as they were falling in love and started working together, when they attended many monthly Sound Journeys three years ago.

Rob Chaunce moved to the Island in 1991, and to the property where they live in 2011. Before Wendi moved in with Rob three years ago, there were many flowers and shrubs, even fruit trees. But Rob’s garden blossomed with Wendi’s arrival, expanding to five times its original size and becoming much more diverse.

Wendi tells me, “Rob started beekeeping in the spring.” It has been something they wanted to do, and they’ve had a lot of support from Nina Lisa Marie, beekeeper, artist, and Kulture Club MV founder (read about her garden here:, and from Juli Vanderhoop, beekeeper, Orange Peel Bakery founder, selectwoman, and tribal elder. Before the pandemic, Wendi regularly attended Northeast Organic Farmers Association winter conferences and seminars, where she learned “putting flowers with vegetables attracts more pollinators, and you have a higher yield.” Prior to Wendi’s arrival, Rob admitted he hadn’t had “an abundant garden”; now abundance sees them through every season.

As we continued talking, Sheldon, a large basset hound, sauntered over to say hi. I had just met Sheldon a week earlier on Lucy Vincent Beach with his dog sitter. We began our walk around the house first — it was Nov. 9 and 61°, the camelia was blooming. Rob and Wendi explain, “It sometimes blooms in January and looks so pretty in the snow. We have a lot of flowering shrubs, azaleas, roses. We just planted this, a ‘New Dawn’ rose, for our anniversary.”

While they were away, the rose began growing through the windows on one side of the house. “Scent and the look of flowers” are important to them. They hope the ‘New Dawn,’ a fragrant, light-pink, climbing variety, will climb up and over that side of the house. When I mention a book about scent gardens, they have it, and check it for the most scented variety of any flowers that interest them, like their recent narcissus purchase, “the most fragrant variety for our zone.” Also they have a large dahlia collection, which Wendi planned to dig up ASAP, since she could already see stalks withering after one frost in their absence.

Rob has a soft spot for sugar maples; one in the yard is nearly three times its original height since Rob’s dad gave it to him when he moved into the house in 2011. As a teenager, Rob’s first job was weeding and pruning in his Pennsylvania neighborhood. Then he remembers his father beginning to grow roses, one a blaze rose, “a beautiful red cluster rose,” another climber that Rob brought back from his family home to the Island. Wendi grew up in Tenafly, N.J., but says her Bronx-born and -bred parents took her regularly to the city and the Bronx Botanical Garden. Wendi shared the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden with Rob, who wasn’t familiar with formal gardens, and fell for the scents and beauty of a garden that boasts more than 650 varieties of roses. Rob feels strongly they “need more roses in their life.” They’ve been creating a rose garden for two years, always adding new varieties.

Thorns make me a little uncomfortable. Wendi has to work with thorns, and has made peace with them, but explains that Rob has a unique relationship with thorns: “He has a personal relationship with thorns, he’s friends with the thorn, he’ll just go up and touch them.” She adds, “We were just in Arizona in a desert botanical garden, and he’s just going up and touching the cactus, intrigued.”

Although it was late fall on our visit, their property still had a magical garden feel. Wendi says she added lots of plants, including echinacea, ‘Rozanne’ geranium, poppies, indigo, and more perennials. We passed a Rose of Sharon, more roses. They like to leave the rosehip seeds for the birds, and prune back the roses and most other plants in the spring so they can enjoy “the texture and colors.”

We continue around the back of the house, which has rooms created by planted areas. Rob says, “Some of the [plants] I bring home from work when people want to get rid of them or have too many,” like a small crop of goldenrod and beauty bush we pass. New for them is growing mushrooms, and we proceed around to a log stack they inoculated a year ago in the fall, though it was too early, so they did it again in the spring, but said, “You really have to wait for a year for the mycelium to colonize the logs.”

Wendi, a purple lover, particularly likes ‘Rozanne’ geraniums, one of the longest-blooming flowers, from early spring through late fall or early winter. We stop so Wendi can feed the fish at a wonderful koi pond Rob built. He points out an area above where stonework has begun to add a higher water element that will flow down into the existing pond.

We continued walking by the hen house and its enclosed area, constructed after their having had a bit too much freedom while Wendi and Rob were away. We passed under a crabapple tree and a couple of cherry trees, with yellow cherries. I ask when Wendi was introduced to gardening and farming, and she says, “I was 22 and lived with a family on a coconut farm in Thailand for a year, and then stayed another two years to work on the farm.” She continued her garden education when she moved to the Island.

It turns out Rob’s parents lived in Boston when he was born, so he started coming to the Vineyard at age 1, while Wendi’s family bought a place and she began spending summers in a condo on Lake Tashmoo from the age of 3. Her parents bought land in Vineyard Haven, and they built a house when she was 15 years old. Her connection to food changed when she spent a semester abroad at John Cabot University in Rome, tasting the difference that comes with eating “fresh food” for the first time.

Wendi and Rob try to grow most of their food themselves, and Wendy adds, “We do a lot of pickling, canning, preserving, and freezing fruit and tomatoes” they don’t have the time to prepare until the winter. The addition of a separate freezer has only increased their ability to feed themselves. Rob expanded the fenced-in garden area for Wendi, and even though there are still lots of flowers like roses, dahlias, and zinnias, Wendi has added garlic among the flowers. There’s a compost area along one border, a few apple trees, lavender, a valerian seedling, and established valerian Wendi has grown from seed for the past four years. They have a medicinal herb area that includes motherwort, nettles (they make pesto from it), and more.

Before leaving on their trip, Wendi cover-cropped the garden beds after pulling out all the potatoes; she put down pea seed, hairy vetch, and clover to maintain and improve the soil over the winter, while “competing out the weeds.” Wendi gave up cardboarding the beds with seaweed on top after three years, and then tried “cover-cropping in the spring in one planting area with peas and oats”; the results made her much happier. There are still peppers, tomatillos, and marigolds, even after the first frost.

Where their garden is planted was once all sand; besides having dirt brought in by some friends over the years, they agree, cover-cropping and adding chicken droppings, beside the diversity of planting, has turned the soil around, creating healthy dirt. Wendi loves Rob’s bamboo-and-string rigging for tomatoes that creates a tomato alley one can walk through, especially since it can be moved and set up anywhere. Every season there’s a different planting scheme. One can still see stalks from morning glories, moonflowers, and ‘Grandpa Otts.’ There’s only one sunflower stalk left, with most of the seeds already eaten. I loved being introduced to a red and orange strawflower that “blooms with the dryness,” making it perfect for dried flower arrangements.

One reason for not only enlarging the garden but doubling the hoop house growing area is that Wendi grows everything for their garden, as well as her clients’, from seed. By the middle of February, Wendi is busy in the hoop house planting seeds for her onions and peppers, as well as her perennials. She likes the High Mowing catalog for its New England organic seeds, or Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which developed a kind of ginger that grows well in Zone 6. Rob has built hoop houses for clients as well. It turns out if you’re using plastic tubing, paint is required, so he uses a rainbow design, each hoop a different color, further brightening the indoor space. There’s plenty of arugula, a giant purple mustard plant (very spicy leaves), flat-leaf parsley, kale, and some lettuce, since they prefer spicy greens. They grow tomatoes and watermelons during the summer in the hoop house. They mostly eat greens all winter; Rob adds he learned some tips gleaned by Solviva, where Rob worked when he first moved back to the Island, even living in a bus on Anna Edey’s property that first winter.

Wendi was happy to see their passionflower made it through the freeze, and put that on her list to bring inside. There’s a large peach tree Rob grew from a pit that gave them more peaches than they needed. Their cilantro has turned to coriander. They had a couple of artichoke plants, but still no artichokes yet; “because it’s so robust [they’re] hoping for artichokes next year.” They still had red-veined sorrel that “tastes lemony.” They have lots of currents. One plan for next year is a netted berry room. The chickens enjoy the plethora of wineberries. There are Brussels sprouts, a few apple trees, mixed green plums, Asian pear trees, and more spread around the garden and house. Even though it is November when I visit, their garden feels lush and abundant, particularly inside the toasty hoop houses. Rob is reverent and Wendi moves between a deep intellectual understanding and complete joy they both share in their home gardens and their work. They invited me to visit in the spring, and I will definitely take them up on their offer.

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  1. Thanks, Valerie, for this – very inspirational. A question: Do New Dawn roses require a trellis?

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