A mutual friend, composer and author Dean Rosenthal, suggested I check out Jannette Vanderhoop’s garden. Many people, myself included, have met Jannette through her booth, Island Naturals MV, a showcase of her contemporary Native American jewelry at the Vineyard Artisans Festival for 16 years, or the Aquinnah holiday markets, or even at her “Treasure Box” exhibitions (think Joseph Cornell meets Betsy Johnson). Also, in the off-season pre-pandemic, we were both regulars at Pathways Arts events in Chilmark. Jannette has worked as a landscape designer and gardener for the past couple of decades. Her own garden is a relatively new work in progress. Janette grew up all over the Island; when she lived in Edgartown during elementary school, they had a wild backyard, where she and her siblings liked to catch snakes, but no one gardened. In high school she attended two years of off-Island boarding school, followed by college in Southern California. She has lived in her tribal housing home for the past six years. Jannette’s “first landscaping job I mowed lawns with a giant 62-inch Lesco, with another young woman, through the Tribal Work Learn Program [an eight-week program]. Then I worked for Oakleaf for a summer,” she says. At this point we are in Jannette’s white truck, heading to the one nearby client whose lawn she mows, because “it’s a postage stamp,” and where the mower had been left. As we drive by the bus shelter, she waves and says, “There’s Rohan, he works for me, he’s my neighbor.”
When Jannette gets to Oakleaf, she explains, “The head gardener was Jen Yeomans.” Jannette worked there one summer, then “ran the tribal summer camp for three years, and didn’t garden.” By then Jen Yeomans had started her own business, and Jannette’s best friend, Nina Violet, was working for her, so she joined them. “I worked for Jen for 10 or 12 years, and she taught me everything I know.” Jen moved off-Island, and Jannette inherited a couple of her properties, so she’s “been on some of the properties for 20 years.” As we drive, Jannette shares, “One of the things I love is driving from Beetlebung Corner all the way up to Aquinnah. You can smell the wild roses and see them right now, hills of roses.”
I didn’t expect to get a peek at one of her client’s gardens. Jannette says one of her clients is responsible for most of her other clients, all of whom she likes. The garden we stop at has a small vegetable garden, something Jannette generally does not do. Her focus is flowers, and the flower beds are stunning.
Jannette has had gardens wherever she’s lived, because working as a gardener meant there were always “refugee plants.” At one home where she lived for two years in Edgartown, she had “an iris collection, lots of different colors and types.” When she moved, she tried to take some to her grandmother’s home. She liked to leave the gardens intact while still taking some plants with her. Her attention was drawn to corners. At her present home, she thought at first only about shrubs around the house to keep life simple, but then she thought, “It’s time to put some roots down — all I have is time. So slowly around each rock I cut a foot-wide circle. First there was a little side bed, then it was the front of the house, then it was around one rock. Then it was around another rock.”
She has been doing a big job in Aquinnah, where they’re tearing down a house with an old, established garden and they wanted to save the garden. She brought her cousin Todd in to help. She counted all the plants so she could make a plan. There were only a few plants she couldn’t identify. She had Todd put in all the shrubs, and she moved all the plants to holding fields, as if they might not get replanted later. The only plant not to survive was one nepeta (catnip). Of course she ends up with “all the little scraps.” In a back corner outside her home, Jannette has a holding garden, where she saves plants from jobs or acquires them through trades. They get planted in this area until she decides what to do with them. Although she planted just off the entry deck, it was the large glacial rocks that called out to her gardening spirit.
Besides the rock beds, Jannette says, “I’m just starting to get aggressive about screening. I’m putting shrubs at the edges to get taller and give me some privacy.” As we walk around her garden, Jannette gets excited to show me a purple poppy that was open in the morning, and had closed by afternoon. Jannette says she just started planting around the rock, but it had all grown in, looking more like an established garden. There’s a climbing rose she points out that was almost dead when she planted it, and now she hopes it will grow over the rock. Already she’d like to cut the bed edge a foot wider from the rock, to add more flowers. There are daisies (three kinds), iris (five kinds, and growing), peonies, ligularia (a hardy, shade-loving perennial with gold summer blooms), lady’s mantle, Queen Ann’s lace, and poppies (both grown from seed), oriental lilies, purple geranium, lemon sorrel, lemongrass, hellebores, beach plums that have never produced a plum, and so many more. A rose of Sharon and the beach plum were the only plants there when Jannette moved in.
There’s a rock under one of the trees that Jannette wants to garden around; however, it’s still a favorite play place for kids. Like with her home, she looks at the corners of this large rock and wonders if they could still play there if she plants just those areas. In the meantime, her daughter has appeared before heading to a neighboring lawn to play with her cousins. What Jannette sees as her former “refugee scraps” can only be seen by an outside eye for their scent, form, color, and texture. When I ask what she first looks for in flowers Jannette tells me, “I like funky flowers.” To manage the deer she uses Bobbex weekly.
Jannette makes flower arrangements regularly for her home. June and July are the best months, and she still needs late summer and fall blooms. There are flowers she’s been cultivating from seed in other gardens that she has brought to her own garden, like the Queen Anne’s lace. She leaves what others consider weeds, like dandelions, which the bees like.
When I ask about whether Jannette visits gardens when she travels, she says she seeks out both gardens and local culture. She tells me, “I love moss gardens.” She enjoys working on one professionally. Although her own daughter is not so interested in helping out in the garden, one of her cousins loves to assist Jannette. She has proved to be an important helper. We finally get to why she doesn’t like vegetable gardens. She explains, “I always say I’d rather grow vegetables rather than flowers for [clients] morally, but the reality is if they don’t produce, then they feel like a failure. I’ll plant it for someone and not go back, only to find it overrun with turnips, or I have to go back every single day and really futz. It’s more like life force rotting on the vine, and it breaks my heart and I don’t want to do it anymore.” Thankfully she has only one vegetable garden to maintain for a client. But back to her own growing garden, Jannette looks forward to “spreading out her garden,” perhaps “even planting the whole hillside, the driveway, more shrubs, more privacy.” Just before leaving I help Jannette lift the lawnmower from the back of her truck, and she calls out to the kids, “Hey, do you want to tighten the screws on the lawnmower?” They come running over with tools, and after they try to tighten the screws, she shows them how to do it and they take over. I look forward to visiting another year to see how Jannette’s garden grows.