The Vineyard sports fabulous professionally groomed gardens, but there is a treasure trove of gardeners out there who can go unrecognized except by close friends and family who get to enjoy their blooms. Fortunately, this summer, there was a wonderful opportunity for those without professional renown to blossom, when Sharon-Frances Moore originated the first Martha’s Vineyard Garden Competition for those in the community, whether they be seasoned or new to the endeavor.
Moore explains that the idea struck her because of the global pandemic: “I wanted to create something free, fun, and beautiful that would help raise people’s spirits and also showcase some natural beauty. I started to think about the pastimes I enjoyed, and gardening came to mind.”
To start, Moore contacted her friend Liz Cosgrove, who comes from a multigenerational Vineyard family, and loves the outdoors and gardening. Moore says, “In the past, we would take turns inviting each other to our respective homes in early summer for drinks and snacks in order to show off our gardens. Then I talked to David Gray, a commercial airline pilot and military veteran, who is a summer visitor to the Island. Dave and his father Charles, who have turn-of-the-century ties to farming and agriculture, along with a trove of heirloom plants and seeds, hold yearly family garden competitions.”
With Cosgrove and Gray’s help, the competition was born. The trio determined it would be free to enter. Due to COVID concerns, they decided to hold it virtually, with participants sending in photos, and the judging to take place online. The MV Times helped to facilitate the participation, promoting the competition and featuring information about it on the paper’s website.
The team went about recruiting top-notch judges. There was Donna Arold, board member and vice president of communications for the M.V. Garden Club; Suzan Bellincampi, the Island’s director for Mass Audubon; and Marc Fournier, the former arborist/horticulturist at the Trustees of Reservations’ Mytoi Japanese Garden. Each entry was reviewed by the judges, and given points accordingly, with the garden with the most points in each category winning.
They got the word out through Instagram (@mvgardencompetition), put up posters at local nurseries and community gathering spots, and announced the competition in local newsletters and Island online forums. Entries were accepted from June 1 to the end of August.
There were entrants from every town on the Island. In terms of the winners, who receive a blown glass trophy, we have in the flower category Scott Slarsky. He has been gardening since he purchased his Oak Bluffs Campground cottage in 2016, and is attracted to gardening because there is something new every day. The allure for him is “to encourage pollinators, and it’s amazing to watch how much life it attracts.”
For the Container category, the winner is Linda Carnegie. Gardening for 40 years, she says, “I find it relaxing, and being an artist, it’s like painting with plants.” Her inspiration: “I thought it would be nice to show what you can do at Elder Housing using pots.”
Meghan FitzGerald won for Whimsical. She describes herself as a novice gardener for a decade, from a fire escape in the West Village of New York to Aquinnah. FitzGerald finds gifting the produce or flowers she cultivates as her inspiration, this year creating a lavender tincture for friends. Explaining why she decided to participate in the competition, FitzGerald shares, “You had a category for the whimsical novice! My brother Scott and I created a garden from ‘supplies’ (wood, stones, buoys) that washed ashore on Dogfish Bar. Anyone can plant and create their own little green magic in a pot.”
And the Grand Prize goes to Rachel Alpert, who has been gardening for more than 30 years, but has mostly done so in much smaller pocket gardens. She ventured into grand gardens after landscaping her current house in 2008. Alpert says that there is so much joy in gardening, explaining, “I love creating beauty for everyone to enjoy. Gardening is meditative. The flowers are my children; tend them, nourish them, love them, and they will give enjoyment, satisfaction, visual and olfactory pleasures, soothing rhythms of color and style, manyfold.” Why did she enter? Alpert admits, “Acknowledgment, I suppose. We are tucked away here, off the beaten path in Edgartown. It is a thrill to be recognized as the winning Grand Garden on this grand Island!”
Moore is a huge gardening advocate, and wants us to all know the following: “Gardening is good for one’s physical health and mental well-being in three important ways: 1) It builds strength through physical activity, and provides exposure to natural sunlight and thus vitamin D, which, among hundreds of other things, helps to strengthen your bones and immune system. 2) Research has shown that gardening improves moods and lowers stress levels. 3) It is an activity that can be done alone or in a group, by all age groups.”
With the 2023 contest already planned to open next spring, everyone has the fall and winter to start sketching out their creative cultivating plans. And, as Moore points out, “As Liz Cosgrove says, ‘Whether you have a pot or a plot, you can participate in gardening.’”