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)


This has been a week of awakening on Martha's Vineyard. The Cherry and Pear blossoms, the Daffodils, the early Tulips, the Forsythia and the flowering Quince have been drawing all the attention with their showy explosions of floral bounty. On a more subtle note the Elms, the Maples, the Chestnuts and the Lilacs have been offering their pale greens and ruby toned buds, swelling and beginning to burst with tender foliar froth. Oh how this time of year rejuvenates the soul and the senses!

In the Woodland Garden the crane-necked stems of Solomon's Seal extend daily. The Lily of the Valley is starting to set buds signifying “the return of happiness”, in flower language.

The Woodland Garden

Here are some of our favorite plants that are blooming around the island right now.

DOGWOOD: One of the showiest of our spring flowering trees, the Dogwood, has been the victim of a fungal blight called anthracnose that has been causing die off throughout its range. When Dogwoods first open what may be thought of as petals are actually "bracts". The bracts act like the flower’s winter jacket protecting the flower from our harsh winters. Instead of the bracts falling off when the flowers start to swell, they mutate into petaloid structures reminiscent of petals that attract early season pollinators.The issue that is occurring with the North American Dogwood is that the anthracnose causes a circulatory shutdown, killing off the tree branch by branch. Fortunately, there are resistant forms being introduced and available at the Nursery. The best way to prevent the disease is to plant the Dogwood in part day shade and give it additional water in the dry, hot months of summer.  

DOGWOOD, Cornus florida, bracts surrounding central flower

MAGNOLIA SOULANGEANA: This exotic hybrid selection of Magnolia Soulangeana, called “Elizabeth”,  has exceptional, luminous yellow flowers. The Magnolia is practically a living fossil. It was one of the first of the Angiosperms (flowering plants) to evolve. Science knows this because of the spirally arranged flower parts and there are fossils to confirm it.



HORNBEAM: Another old-timer on the evolutionary scale is the Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus. The ‘betulus’ of its name indicates that it is similar to a Birch, seemingly in regards to it's flowers. The catkins are characteristic of wind pollinated trees and shrubs that include a wide range of mostly nut-bearing plants. They serve as examples of the evolutional transition from the earliest plants, Gymnosperms (naked seed, or the cone bearing trees like pines) to the later, more highly evolved, Angiosperms (meaning enclosed seed) or fruit bearing plants.

HORNBEAM, Carpinus betulus

HAZELNUT: Another example of a catkin flowered nut, the Hazelnut, Corylus avellana, “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick”  has its own special decorative character.

HAZELNUT, Corylus avellana, “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick”

REDBUD: Just coming into flower is the decorative beauty Redbud, Cercis canadensis. It will fully play out its flowering cycle before it starts to set its leaves. The leaves are somewhat heart shaped and have a beauty all their own. 

REDBUD, Cercis canadensis

This weeping form of Redbud, may be the variety “Lavender Twist”, but there are several named forms with slightly different leaf and flower color.

REDBUD, Cercis canadensis Pendula “Lavender Twist”

VIBURNUM: Another early spring beauty is Viburnum x burkwoodii which is from a group of Viburnums called Korean Spice or Snowball Viburnum. Burkwood Viburnum grows quite large, under ideal conditions 10’ x 10’, and has an insanely delicious fragrance in late April-early May.

VIBURNUM, Viburnum x burkwoodii

VIBURNUM, Viburnum x burkwoodii

ABELIA MOSANENSIS: Another fantastic fragrant spring bloomer is Abelia mosanensis. It's a relative of the later flowering Abelia grandiflora that we use a lot here on the Island because of its stately form and glossy, nearly evergreen foliage. Unlike A. grandiflora, this plant can get quite large but its easy to keep trimmed if you cut it back just as its finishing its flowering. The fragrance is one you’ll never forget and would serve well for summer screening being nearly carefree and very fast growing.


JAPANESE SNOWBELL: One of our favorite shrubs, or small tree, is Styrax japonicus, the Japanese Snowbell. A carefree plant that quickly grows 10’-15’. The flowers fully open in May and hang downward from every branch producing a brilliant display. It flowers over a long period and as they drop they are reminiscent of freshly fallen snow. A nice place to plant it is near a path so the branches have the potential to create a canopy where passerby's can appreciate it's glory and slightly sweet/woody scent from the delicate flowers.

JAPANESE SNOWBELL, Styrax japonicus

JAPANESE SNOWBELL, Styrax japonicus

JAPANESE TREE LILAC: A plant that is not used nearly enough here on the Vineyard is the Japanese Tree Lilac, Syringa reticulata. It may be over looked in the nursery but it’s far from undistinguished once it gets going. It can become a multi trunked tree up to about 40’ with beautiful, gleaming, polished bark and 12” panicles of fragrant white flowers in the summertime. It's a distant, noble cousin to the common privet and just about as hardy.

JAPANESE TREE LILAC, Syringa reticulata

JAPANESE TREE LILAC, Syringa reticulata

The list could go on and on! Here’s to hoping your spring is just as stimulating and fragrant as ours is here on Martha’s Vineyard!




We have been busy in our greenhouse planting and germinating seeds since the end of February and our cool weather vegetables packs are now ready! You can either sow your own seedlings or you can buy our packs to get a head start. We recommend planting our seedlings first and then planting a row of seeds 6-8 inches away as your second batch.

You can start planting your cool weather crops now through the end of May.  We have a fabulous selection of cool weather crops including broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, mustards, Asian greens, Chinese cabbage, tatsoi, bok choy, spinach, lettuce, arugula, micro greens, mesclun greens. asparagus and strawberries.  Asparagus and strawberries are best planted early.


Vineyard Gardens greenhouse: Our germination process of cool weather crops.