Gardens among friends

Collaboration is a way of life on the Island.


Collaboration makes the Family2Family’s huge holiday food giveaways run smoothly, according to organizer Betty Burton. Three times a year, this Vineyard Committee on Hunger program gives away all the makings of a celebratory dinner, including turkey or ham, depending on the season. The crowds are large, and the amount of food moved through the Baptist Parish Hall impressive. Helpers from a variety of Vineyard groups — including the high school football team — work together to make it happen. 

Collaboration was recently evident in the community garden on the Woodside Village campus of Island Elderly Housing (IEH) in Oak Bluffs on a Sunday afternoon as MV Grower, members of the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club, and IEH tenants came together for an afternoon of planting and camaraderie that one tenant called “the best party ever.”

The group was brought together last year by an article in The MV Times about the decades-old community garden built and maintained by Island generosity ( The feature on the front page of the Community section of The Times caught the attention of members of the community, including M.V. Garden Club members and the MV Grower, the Vineyard Haven greenhouse owner and Island institution, who has for years preferred to remain anonymous as she seeks to teach Vineyarders to eat healthier and cheaper by growing their own. The anonymous woman took the Woodside garden under her wing, enticing seed companies to donate to the garden ( and promising to raise in her greenhouse plants specifically for Woodside gardeners. True to her word, she showed up on a Sunday afternoon with the promised plants: buckets of tomato plants, basil, cucumbers, and cilantro grown specifically for Woodside gardeners. Sticks, string, and growing instructions were also among her gifts.

The Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club has long been recognized for its Islandwide collaborative efforts. Among those touched by the work of garden club volunteers have been the Rose Styron Poetry Garden at the M.V. Museum, Harbor Homes of Martha’s Vineyard, the Mytoi Garden on Chappaquiddick, and Windemere, where volunteers assist interested residents in projects related to plants and participate in floral design activities.

Recently added to that list of garden club beneficiaries is the Woodside Community Garden, where club members now make regular visits to tidy the garden, ready the raised beds for new growth in spring, divide plants in fall, and share growing expertise. Among the club members on hand recently were club president Susan Hobart, along with Karen Huff, Jackie Hokanson, Ty Johnston, and Donna Arold.

Jackie Hokanson enjoys “seeing community gardens and talking to people who have garden plots. I love being outside, gardening, and talking to other gardeners while working. It’s a healthy activity, and hopefully provides healthy food.” She also volunteers with the gleaning program at Island Grown Initiative. For Donna Arold, it’s “part of my Master Gardener commitment,” and she finds it “personally rewarding to work with the residents and share my plant knowledge.” Garden Club volunteer Ty Johnston shows up for the company: “Usually my own work in the garden is totally solitary. Volunteering helps me share my love of gardening with others who need it, and who love the beauty of plants. I also love making new friends and deepening old friendships over a shared passion.”

Among the Woodside gardeners benefiting from the MV Growers’ plant contributions were Eileen M. Lauinger and Peter Pfluger.

Eileen Lauinger’s fondness for flowers is evident at the front desk of the YMCA, where she works the morning shift three days a week. Unless it’s the dead of winter, fresh flowers greet early morning exercisers — some from Eileen’s Woodside garden, some from her sister’s garden. This season, the MV Grower enticed Eileen to expand into vegetables. Now growing among the flowers in Eileen’s shell-decorated flower bed at Woodside are one Celebrity tomato plant and a Baxter cherry.

Peter Pfluger’s raised bed in the Woodside garden stands out. And not just because it is built with logs hauled from the surrounding woodland. Peter’s garden has the look of a person who knows what they’re doing — an experienced gardener. The healthy-looking garden plot is filled with seaweed, as he busied himself planting tomatoes on their side instead of straight up, obviously the work of an experienced gardener. This trenching method, he explains, takes advantage of a tomato plant’s ability to grow roots along its stem, giving the plant a bigger root mass. The benefits of seaweed use in gardens are legion. Often used as mulch, seaweed contains useful nutrients, including nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, and magnesium. While most gardeners spend money buying dried seaweed or seaweed extract at garden centers, Peter finds his for free at Tashmoo, in what he describes as “the perfect spot,” high up on the beach, already dried out, with the salt leached out by long exposure to rain.

Also collaborating in the betterment of the Woodside garden is the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation. Thanks to its recent grant, now underway at Woodside are expanded opportunities for gardeners with disabilities. Stay tuned to next month’s 55-Plus for pictures of the finished project.