It has been a great year for the gardens on Martha's Vineyard. The winter was cold but not wicked. When spring broke, it didn’t swing back around and hit us again late as it sometimes does. We had some heat in the summer but not brutal nor lasting. And here we are with cool autumn conditions right on schedule. All in all, it’s been a year we can almost count as a control measure for future extremes.

Here are some of the plants that have caught our attention over the past year.


Camellia japonica "April Remembered"

“April Remembered” is a hardy Camellia developed and introduced at the University of North Carolina and Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill, NC. Growing Camellia’s on the Vineyard can be frustrating but when successful, very rewarding. There are many species and selections but most often grown are C. japonica and C. sasanqua.  The “April Series” are C. japonica selections that come in a color range from whites to reds to pinks. The plants themselves are reliably hardy outdoors but because they tend to flower in late winter/early spring the flowers are often burnt by freezing temperatures. This doesn’t seem to daunt those who desire their large, formally structured flowers. The plants can become large in time or easily kept trimmed to a neat, tight shrub.

Camellia sasanqua

Camellia sasanqua

Camellia sasanqua. The flowers on the sasanqua’s tend to be smaller and less formal but are produced in abundance in the late autumn. This works in our favor here on the Island since we tend to have a long, languorous fall season. The sasanqua’s flowers also come in a range of colors from red through pink to white in singles and doubles and have the added advantage of being fragrant. Its not sweet or pungent its more a clean, fresh, woodsy scent that is delightful and unexpected.

Both types are evergreen and somewhat resistant to deer browsing. They prefer a rich, woodsy soil, regular water and some afternoon shade.


Poppies in the mist

The annual or biennial Poppy (Papaver) is a plant we try to encourage people to use in their gardens and get planted in time, so they establish and produce their finest show.

Papaver rhoeas

Papaver somniferum "Lauren's Grape"

There are so many wonderful varieties, especially the big P. somniferum types like, “Lauren’s Grape” or the classic P. rhoeas, the Legionnaire Poppy. Both can be sown in the ground from seed with mixed results, but we start them early at the nursery to help get them started. The important thing is to get them in the ground early so they have a chance to develop strong roots before the warm temperatures. People often come into the nursery in June/July and marvel at the poppies beauty. Unfortunately, at that point it is really too late to plant them for their flowers but they will produce seed that can begin to establish in the garden for the following year.


Clematis "Etoile Violet"

Of all the wonderful Clematis, none performs as well for us here on the Island as Clematis “Étoile Violette”.

Clematis present a real challenge to most gardeners not just the novice. There are about 300 different species of Clematis and hundreds more named varieties. They fall generally into three groups based on habitual flowering time; early, mid-season and late. There are large flowered forms and hybrids and small flowered forms. Some are fragrant, most are not. There are evergreen types but most of them are not hardy here in New England.

The easiest to grow and maintain are the late flowering types like our Clematis paniculata that is festooning the Island with its garlands of fragrant white, starry flowers right now.

The large flowered types are the ones most people want to grow but are also the most challenging and culturally persnickety.

The mid-season types are the easiest to manage in the mixed shrub or flower garden. “Étoile Violette” falls sweetly into this group. It is a selection of C. viticella introduced in 1885. Aside from its beautiful form and color, albeit slightly smaller flowered than others, it is its ease of management that makes it worth growing. It flowers on the top third of its new growth so it can be trimmed back in the spring and allowed to scramble to whatever heights you want. The spring cut back has the advantage of delaying the flowering time to well past the end of June.

There are other C. viticella selections like, “Mme. Julia Corrévon” and “Venosa Violacea” all of which are recommended.