Garden Notes: ‘The Island is our garden’

Plant some trees for it, and divide your snowdrops while you’re at it.


Saluting the longtime motto of the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club (est. 1926), “The Island is our garden”: Whether as a declaration or as a goal, it suits this Island we cherish.

It is the Ides of March. Daylight saving time. Grass, not yet kelly green, is greening. Hollies could be either female or male — nary a berry to be seen, thanks to returning birds. Shells of pignut hickory and acorn husks litter an aging stump, as squirrels emerge from their dreys, finding the nuts they stashed last fall. Apparently it can be a real head scratcher, which fortuitously is one of the ways we get oaks. However, in West Tisbury, human volunteers are needed for tree planting.

West Tisbury tree planting

The W.T. tree advisory committee is recruiting volunteers for a tree planting event on Saturday, April 27, Arbor Day, from 9 am to noon.

The tree committee welcomes volunteers to plant trees acquired by the committee to beautify the town’s Historic District. Volunteers will be paired with professional arborists, and will receive training. Refreshments will be provided. To sign up, go to

Late winter garden

Be prepared to dig and divide snowdrops “in the green” (with some visible green growth from the bulbs). Care in removing leaves and debris preserves fragile buds and shoots of emerging spring bulbs and perennials. I scattered carefully saved annual poppy seed while beds were still snow-covered, so I could see where it fell. Snowmelt carries the dustlike seed to where it can germinate and become the deer-resistant early color and support of pollinators.

Arugula, second-season parsley (a biennial), seedling cilantro, leeks, mâche, and kales are out there in the winter garden, supplying nutritious homegrown green vegetables.

Composting or fertilizing rhubarb and asparagus beds is an early spring job. I sowed seed of asparagus ‘Erasmus,’ a purple, male-predominant variety. Weighing the timetable of seeding versus purchased crowns: Tomorrow always comes, often sooner than we expect.

Sow inside: sweet peas; peas; leeks, brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower, kales, and broccoli; petunias, and snapdragon seeds. Wait until the end of March or early April to sow peas inground (which many Island gardeners no longer do, due to rot and bird losses).

Minimum soil temps: spinach, parsnips, onions: 32°F; radish, carrots, beets, cabbage, peas: 40°F; corn, asparagus, tomatoes: 50°F; squash, cucumbers, beans, peppers, melons: 60°F.


Do you know the little salad green known as mâche, corn salad, or lamb’s lettuce? Many do not (

This is a pity, for it is tasty, pest-free, grows all winter long, self-sows, and can handle the degree of cold that is now typical of an Island winter. Its small rosettes are also suitable for pot and window box culture.

Valerianella locusta, a member of the Caprifoliaceae honeysuckle family, occurs as a weed of crops in lands around the Mediterranean basin, where people acquired a taste for it. The small plants prefer cool weather and consistently moist, fertile soils.

The mache pictured is ‘Vit,’ from Johnny’s, and is also available from Pinetree Garden Seeds and Territorial Seed. This plant is popular in France and in Italy, where it is known as valeriana. E.U.-oriented seed companies, such as Seeds from Italy, may offer other cultivars.

Purge plastic

Native Plant Trust reminds us that plastics contribute to air pollution and climate change from their manufacture (from fossil fuels) to the incineration of plastic waste (think SEMASS). Here is a link to Massachusetts waste incinerator locations:, including a map.

We are often downwind from SEMASS. Deleting all plastic from daily life is nearly impossible, but you can greatly reduce your use of it. Skip single-use plastic items, from razors to coffee pods to cutlery. Don’t buy bottled water. Swap cling film for wax wrap, and glass or steel containers. Buy storable foods in bulk.

Good news!

Gardeners have been eagerly waiting to hear about Gayle Gardens, the successor to Heather Gardens, on State Road, in West Tisbury.

There will be much of the same stock, with some additions for annuals and perennials, stocking as many native plants as possible — something they’re building toward over the coming years. There will certainly be the beloved six-packs! And they are aiming to be open for Palm Sunday.

International Dark Skies Week

April 2 – 8 is International Dark Skies Week, culminating in the solar eclipse on April 8. It is a worldwide celebration of the dark and natural night.

Light pollution goes far beyond not being able to view the beauty of the night sky. It affects migratory bird movement and human endocrine systems, and circadian cycles of health and functioning. Light pollution affects one’s health through sleep deprivation, which is why prisons subject prisoners to it. It disrupts proper functioning of animals, plants, and invertebrate life alike.

This is the text of proposed Massachusetts legislation concerning light pollution:

While it is clear that Island-wide building inspectors are overloaded under the crush of development, I urge that they enforce what town light pollution regulations are actually already on the books — whether H3164 is passed or not.


What does it mean to be a good gardener? A good landscaper? Does it mean bending nature to one’s will? Does it mean an entirely intuitive approach? Lots of different opinions exist about what makes a place such as the Island of Martha’s Vineyard desirable, and in turn, able to support us. This desirability enables many different groups to live and thrive here.

Are we hacking Poor Martha, the cash cow, to death? How can we get everyone onboard with protecting the amenities that enable so many to live and thrive here? “The Island is our garden” requires good gardeners.