Garden Notes: On into the winter

Some recommendations on what worked this fall.


Beets and indeterminate tomato varieties are a good bet because they prolong the harvest in our warm, extended autumn weather pattern.

Conversely, the determinate tomatoes are those that bloom and set fruit in an all-at-once pattern, and then halt production. Their convenience and opportunity to harvest and process a large amount of fruit all at once make determinate varieties very useful; after that, the plants are removed and successional crops, such as lettuce and various cold-hardy greens, are planted in their place.

This year, the indeterminate ‘Black Krim,’ ‘Early Girl,’ ‘Lemon Boy,’ and ‘San Marzano’ varieties continued to produce and ripen fruit until just weeks before Thanksgiving, something indeed to be thankful for. Beets planted mid-August continue to grow, and are welcome fall root crops.

New USDA zones

The new USDA hardiness zones map has been updated and released ( The rambler roses in bloom say what most gardeners here already know: Our climate is changing, and some aspects of garden knowledge have become unreliable. We must develop and rely more upon our own powers of observation, and senses.

As gardeners we can endorse “Beauty for today, hope for tomorrow, and a desire to create something for those who come after — all of which find an echo in the best of politics.”  –Gaby Hinsliff, reviewing “Orwell’s Roses,” by Rebecca Solnit

Which is what gardening means to gardeners everywhere, and what they have always done. Paul Jackson, quoted in the M.V. Agricultural Society’s newsletter: “I was always interested in nature, and interested in what you could do … I had to learn from my own mistakes.” Care of the soil and returning everything, guts and all, to it became a cornerstone of Jackson’s success.

What has gone wrong?

And what are we doing here on the Vineyard?

Filling wetland; cutting other people’s trees/view clearing; acres of fumigated, fungicided, herbicided, mown, irrigated, and fertilized lawn; tree, undergrowth, and biomass removal …

Island soil is mere sand, with a thin bioactive layer. Two-cycle motors snarling, the removal of oak leaves (pictured), especially in a rural setting such as North Tisbury, is but one example of high-impact landscaping practice that has no value.

Unlike Paul Jackson, who compulsively returned everything he could to his soil, these practices deprive the underlying ground; deprive smaller and unseen life forms places to incubate; deprive the sand of enrichment into an actual moisture-holding soil, with fungal and mycorrhizal webs.

Is there the will to push back against the high-impact gardening and high-impact landscaping — “lookism” — that are serious threats to the Island environment?

It is an unregulated business, whose numbers increase annually, requiring an ever-increasing but mostly undocumented workforce, who in turn do whatever they are ordered to do to keep the owner happy, and keep the account.

Yes, I get it that people need to make a living. Their employment depends upon it, whether it is environmentally destructive or ill-considered, or even necessary. Investors and owners meanwhile, mistaking the way “a property” should look, exhibit the compulsion to become a “frenetic park keeper” — a quote from “The Country Garden,” by John Brooks, the British landscape designer: “Conversely, the pollution of the countryside is not only a matter of nitrates and [agricultural] effluent, of urban sprawl and brightly lit petrol stations; a far more subtle contamination comes from tidiness. The obsessive and contagious mania for suburban conformity reaches out into rural habitats. Mown verges, white chains, and swinging name-boards are sweeping down the lanes. Plants acquired by the car-load … are placed with the precision of pieces on a chessboard.

“What people seek in the countryside, its serenity and its unchanging visual allure … is being eroded before our eyes. And it is done by the very people who have come to live amongst it. What has gone wrong? At what point does the motivation to live in an unspoiled country become a compulsion to turn frenetic park keeper?”


Three worthwhile New Yorker pieces and two websites; your public library should have these back issues:

Jill Lepore’s “What We Owe Our Trees” May 29, 2023, with solid bibliography for further reading (

Sam Knight’s beekeeping piece, “Hive Mind,” August 28, 2023 (, covering natural beekeeping in the U.K. and elsewhere, plus more. To support natural American beekeeping, visit

Yiyun Li’s piece about what gardening offered her after grief, “If Not Now, Later,” personal history, Oct. 30, 2023.

Homegrown National Park’s ( mission is to generate biodiversity and ecosystem function, because every human being on this planet needs diverse, highly productive ecosystems to survive: “In the past, we have asked one thing of our gardens: that they be pretty. Now they have to support life, sequester carbon, feed pollinators, and manage water.”

In the garden

Winter moths are flying. Gardens with resident populations of birds, and the thickets and undergrowth they require, may fare better when the moths’ eggs hatch. Observe small species such as nuthatches seemingly grooming tree trunks of something (caterpillars, moth egg clusters?), and know trees benefit.

Take good care of summer bedding plants, such as geraniums, brought indoors, the bright spots of color so cheering. Let potting soil dry out between waterings, and withhold feeding until after New Year’s.

Prune dogwoods, maples, stewartias, and other trees that bleed sap now, as soon as they have become dormant. As February approaches, with uneven weather and temperatures, winterlong dormancy cannot be assumed. Defer pruning all magnolias, however, until they are in active growth.

Very desirable is to have material in home gardens and foundation plantings to make wreaths and decorations for holiday tables. Boxwood plucking done at this time supplies lots of pieces just right for a door wreath or Scandinavian-style candle wreaths.

“Don’t think about the entire planet’s problems — you’ll get depressed. Instead, focus on the piece of the earth you can influence.” –Homegrown National Park