Garden Notes: First light

And let’s protect our trees; they do so much for us.


Late January. Along the path, buds and new growth are revealed. Peeping out from wet oak leaves, the hellebore seedlings trail parent plants and hardy cyclamen. The first crow calls just a little after 5:30 am. The rest of its inky cohort answers, and morning comes.

Bird life revives. It enlivens the early hours: the cawing crows; the flock of early-returning robins snacking in the holly tree; the male cardinal, missing since winter’s start, reappearing on a swaying branchlet. They all appreciate the birdbath and ice-free water.

Another festival

If you have one drop of Irish blood  — or even if you do not  — praise the Irish for their festival Brigid 1500, or St. Brigid’s Day.

Celebrating an iconic Irish female saint, who represents healing, feeding the hungry, earth wisdom, and rescuing the weak from violence, it is an innovative first. Brigid 1500 also celebrates peace, ancient pre-Christian Imbolc, and spring (

An abbess in Kildare, St. Brigid is the matron saint of Ireland. She was an early, sanctified Irish cleric, whose convent was associated with oaks, and whose namesake was an earlier, Celtic deity.

Pre-Christian Brigid was associated with water and springs; her worship celebrated poetry, healing and metal crafting, nature, fertility, and fire. She was honored on the midwinter holy day of Imbolc, still commemorated on Feb. 1, which morphed into St. Brigid’s Day. In the U.S., St. Brigid’s Day transformed into Groundhog Day, which is tomorrow.


Befitting Brigid’s symbolism is paying attention to water. Very sad to read that Falmouth’s Ashumet Pond is the worst in the commonwealth for PFAS and other pollution (

“Water seeks its own level” refers to all water on earth. Water always goes down to sea level. What happens at Five Corners is the end result of an intersection of ocean tides “downstream” with an “upstream” landform.

There are murmurings about public works for Five Corners. That is a project that would cost millions, and afflict Beach Road traffic flow for an unknown time. Meanwhile the flooding continues.

Are there other options? How about asking the town of Tisbury to implement, through public works, zoning, and planning regulations, limits to upstream impermeable paving and hardscaping? Again, per Brigid’s symbolism, pay attention to water.

Runoff can at least be ameliorated and slowed, even if not totally prevented; the configuration of all the Tisbury streets causes a chutelike watercourse that speeds downhill to the harbor.

Anyone can observe this. Starting with the first raindrops, the rivulets race streaming downhill to Five Corners, starting at Pine Tree Street, and Martin Road; then downhill to Edgartown Road and Look Street tributaries, augmented by numerous private paved driveways that lack diversions. Spring Street, Center Street, and Church Street add to the flow.

Can town regulations encourage permeable hardscape paving in this watershed? Are roofs properly guttered and downspouted into catch basins and soakaways ( Can individuals look to their own places, with beneficial practices in mind?

It benefits everyone to have water soak in and percolate down; sideways movement of water is a no-no. Looking constructively (no pun intended) at all the lots in this watershed, and developing guidelines for hardscape and landscaping could help with the town’s, and the entire Island’s, persistent problems with Five Corners.

Our tree elders

Trees need protection. There is global protection for the lives of human beings, although it is widely flouted. Universal and international human rights standards exist, even though we know that who and where you are determine how effective they are, and how well they protect.

On the other hand, however, unlike human rights, the globe’s trees, forests, and woodlands have no rights, and appear to be in peril. There is no formal agreed protection for them, only spot regulation.

Environmentally valuable trees, that is to say, almost all trees, have lifespans far longer than most humans. Therefore, one way of looking at it: “The time to nurture or plant the trees that nurture us now is already long in the past.”

Stands of oaks and pitch pine, beetlebung groves, sassafras pouring out onto former pastureland, shade-tree-lined streets, stricken beeches. The Island’s trees and woodlands appear defenseless and imperiled, judging by air quality and the rate of removal, clearing, and excavation taking place.

(Without our protection, with the unprecedented development poor Martha is undergoing, we must ask: What is the endgame here, on the Island? An overheated, barren, eroded, overbuilt, and urbanized landscape?)

Trees’ replacements must be planted. Trees make terrain livable. They transform carbon and make rain. Trees make life, and they need protection, now.


Signs of new growth, buds, and inevitably, some pests, occur on houseplants with increasing light. It is also when houseplants can benefit from pruning or cutting back, a feed, or repotting. Water cyclamen, amaryllis, and more plants from the bottom; guard against fungus gnats by letting soil surfaces dry between waterings.

I found the white, somewhat fleshy roots of a spider plant tightly circling in the pot. Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are favorites of both humans and cats. The latter eat grass and spider plant leaves for digestion; the leaves also produce a reaction similar to catnip. Mine, having been heavily pruned by cat nibbling, responded with lots of new growth, necessitating repotting.

Camellia flowering, such a holiday treat, is coming to an end; this is an opportunity to shape them and create a compact frame for next year’s flowers. The RHS Garden advises cutting back to just above a bud, to the size you require. Likewise with citrus, such as Meyer lemons; prune to shape, and repot or replace soil as necessary.

Leaving peat in the ground

The Royal Horticultural Society Garden publication is advising on going peat-free, which in the RHS gardens will come about by the end of 2025, and which, for all gardeners, everywhere, should be the goal (

Peat is formed at the rate of about 1 mm per year; it can take 1,000 years for approximately a meter to form. This, in addition to the tremendous amount of methane released by mining it, makes its use globally, ecologically, and environmentally unsustainable.