Garden Notes: Pallid foliage? We await warmer weather

And the new bike path seems to be working.


Autumn olive (Eleagnus angustifolia) and grasses are blooming, and add to oak and pine pollen. Odd weather this spring, it seems: cold, drought, and a pollen storm par excellence, until the weekend’s rainfall.

Many flowering shrubs are exhibiting smaller or absent flower budding, due to the freezes and thaws they were subjected to as they were breaking dormancy. Trees too are showing spotty leafing out, for the same reasons — apart from the pathetic dying beeches, apparently in a death spiral due to disease.

Temperature chlorosis

You may have noticed pallid foliage on garden plants such as hydrangea, rose of Sharon, and roses. The spring was hard on them. This could be caused by soil makeup, but is more likely, especially this year, to be caused by something called temperature chlorosis.

Freeze/thaw cycles encourage this when soils are too cold, below 55°F, for proper nutrient uptake to occur. Drastic shifts in air temperature or a sudden increase or decrease in the soil’s moisture level, for example, can lead to chlorosis in hibiscus. Normal coloration resumes with normal temperatures when roots are active.

Along the path  

I was dubious, the way many New Englanders automatically are, about the shared-use bike path under construction between Vineyard Haven, Eastville, and beyond. So much money, so much disruption: To me it had the look of potentially facilitating future highway expansion.

One morning I took some time to look at it. The beach roses are carpeted in bloom, separating the roadway from the path in the older portion, with a powerful rose fragrance that counters the salt air and diesel exhaust.

I looked at the berm planting (much autumn olive, also powerfully fragrant and pollen-laden) along the Lagoon side, and had a chance to observe numerous pedestrians and bicyclists, old and young, taking advantage of its ‘athleisure’ resources, all along into Oak Bluffs. The junipers, autumn olive, bittersweet, and other ragtag plants bind the berm into something that will help it to hold firm against the next fierce weather event.

Plantings are being installed further along the layout to mollify the homeowners affected by the project. Regardless of how this project might have otherwise been designed in an ideal world, I think it is going to be OK. Many people will find it to be an invitation to walk or pedal in relative safety and ease, and that is a win.

Gazette colleague Lynne Irons went out on a limb recently, writing that beach roses (Rosa rugosa) “belong at the beach.” I agree. How they thrive in sand, salt spray, and neglect! In punishing sites where deer mysteriously never demolish the flowers! And how they fail to thrive in many gardens where they receive tons of TLC!

At State Beach, West Basin, the Beach Road Lagoon planting, and many more untended sites around the Island, see them in full bloom-athon. The strongly scented flowers positively reek of roses: divine, and so easy to see why Rosa rugosa finds itself transported to garden settings.

If you are determined: In addition to the straight species, a number of cultivars, both single- and double-flowered, are in the trade. ‘Hansa,’ red double; ‘Belle Poitevine,’ pink double; ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup,’ pale pink; ‘Snow Pavement,’ white double; ‘Thérèse Bugnet,’ pink double; ‘Agnes,’ yellow double.

After pollination, all yield the large, fleshy orange hips that produce conserves and teas high in vitamin C. Plant Rosa rugosa in well-drained sandy to poor soil. Cut the canes back in spring, and prune out spiny rose stem galls.


Nothing takes the place of tulips in May. However, gardeners all around the Island are discovering that it is only possible to have reliably glorious tulip plantings inside a heavily defended bed, or perhaps in in-town streetside gardens, due to deer and rabbit damage. This is discouraging.

Camassias will never take the place of tulips — but do offer their own beauty in May, in shades of blue, pink, and white, overlapping with late narcissus, bleeding heart, lunaria, and lilac. They are bulbous plants native to North America, and are generally left alone in gardens with high deer and rabbit pressure.

There are six native species of camassia, called quamash or kamas by native people, and hybrids thereof developed by bulb breeders, so richness of choice may be bewildering when looking for these fall-planted bulbs to purchase. Not to worry: Planted in sites with sunny, moist soil, all will please. Clumps lowly increase, and also self-sow, as small, grasslike plants. The link is to a good camassia overview.

In the garden

Lift and separate narcissus while ripening foliage is still evident. Prune forsythia and other spring-flowering shrubs. Dig dandelions where they occur; rinsed and stewed, the roots and tops make tea that is a good liver and kidney tonic. Likewise, make nettle, comfrey, or other weed teas for plant fertilizers by placing leaves and roots in a five-gallon bucket and letting them ferment. For more information on weed teas, go to

Beech leaf blight/beech bark disease

Dead and dying beech trees surround me. This grim threat to Island beeches is now present and established here. The outlook is bad, and there appears to be not much to do at this stage. Beeches are estimated to constitute about 10 percent of Massachusetts forest cover.

In the last century and a quarter, we have witnessed the loss of the American chestnut, the American elm, the Eastern hemlock, the native dogwood — and now the American beech, along with countless other species of plant, insect, and animal that once constituted North America’s biodiversity. Think about the coincidences of global events and developments.

In the Holocene era, Earth was largely covered with forests. The forested landmasses enabled the growth and establishment of an incredibly diverse range of life forms, including human beings.

The question is, what happens when growing the economy (industrialization, chasing bucks), wars, and rampant destruction of the natural world finally prevail?