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.


CLIENT SCENARIO: Over the winter a client's neighboring property was cleared for construction on a new, two story house, turning the front yard, that had once been a mature oak forest, into a construction job site. The client's reached out to Vineyard Gardens for landscaping help to obtain the same natural privacy that they were once accustomed.  

Before planting new screening

Transplanting giant Arborvitae

SOLUTION: Vineyard Gardens collaborated with Maciel Land and Tree to  bring back the natural privacy barrier. Using their giant 90” diameter tree spade, Maciel Land and Tree transplanted five Vineyard Gardens 20’ Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar) in that void. This newly planted screening looks like the trees have been there for years.

After planting new screening

SCREENING is one of the most requested landscape functions. From the client’s point of view this is a very simple request however from the grower’s perspective it is much more complex.

BUDGET: Everyone needs screening regardless of pay-grade. How much you have to spend directly correlates to the amount of time it will take to achieve your end goal. The bigger the tree, grass or shrub, the more expensive it is and the more work it is to install. Faster growing plants are not an ideal option either. A fast growing plant can be weak wooded, suffering from high winds or winter damage, or the plant could be invasive and outgrow its location. Even very large transplants can take a couple of years to re-set their supporting root systems. The most economical and hardiest solution is to start your screening "vision" with smaller plants that can quickly establish themselves.

ENVIRONMENT: The Island may be small but it is very diverse in terrain and habitats. What would work for a screen in Vineyard Haven will not necessarily work for screening on the north shore in Chilmark. There are many different soils, exposures and pests that can modify your choices. Deer are a big problem up island and poor, sandy soils are a problem in Oak Bluffs. Some areas have clay soils that cause poor drainage that can slowly kill off new plantings. Some have ample available water that can cause problems for plants like Juniper that are adapted to poor, dry soils. It may help to remember that what you see above ground is only half of the plant, what goes on below is perhaps even more important.

Deer defoliated Holly

Clethra under deer damaged Rhodie

TASTE VS. PRACTICALITY: We are often overwhelmed by the number of plants available at the nurseries. It is important to remember that different plants suit different environments. There may be 15 varieties of evergreens available, but, depending on where the plants are going, there may be only 3 or 4 that will thrive in your location. If there is shade, Juniper will languish for years before it dies. If there is full sun and exposure to high winds, Arborvitae will scorch and become irregular. If you have deer, the native American Hollies, Ilex opaca, will be defoliated up to the “browse line” (4’-5’) over one winter, as will Junipers. Therefore, it is important to not only be observant of your growing conditions but to also be flexible in your expectations. If you have a shady spot that you need screening, Hollies may be your best bet. Although, you may have to pair them with an under planting of Clethra or Winterberry, shade tolerant, deer resistant, deciduous shrubs to fill in where the deer will nibble on the lower branches of the Holly. If you are on Island only in the summer, you may have better luck screening with deciduous plants. The Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’) is a beautiful, fast growing deciduous tree that will give a dense, natural looking screening in just a few years from a small plant. They transplant well as larger plants as well so there’s a solution for every pocketbook. The native Beech (Fagus grandifolia) is another dependable tree for screening. They hold their lower branches and once leafed out they provide effective screening. They can also tend to hold on to their dried fall foliage through the winter extending its screening season.

Carpinus as a hedge (at Cronig's up-Island)