Garden notes: oak trees are the answer


Erin goes Brach! It may be St. Patrick’s Day, but a lot of the greenery is onion grass, not clover. The island fields seem to be wearing camel hair coats. The Mourning Doves have arrived.

large flowers

Dormant plants of clivia and hippeastrum emerged from the basement in early February. Once lit and watered, the flowers dramatically emerge from their embryonic state and become huge umbels.

Many “amaryllis” bulbs are given as gifts, the recipients of which throw them away in frustration at their inability to bloom again. Clivias, not so much: they are less frequently encountered and have fleshy roots instead of bulbs. Clivias are such low-maintenance plants that they become light fixtures, undemanding (although not blooming in dark corners), like furniture. (The plants and flowers themselves are similar, although assigned to different genera in the family Amaryllidaceae.)

Back to the beginning: before the frost, sometimes in the fall, store the plants (pot and all) in a cool, dark basement. Are you running out of basement? Try to store (jar and all) in a cool cupboard or cupboard. Check them and occasionally give small amounts of water. Twist hippeastrum foliage as it turns brown. When the daylight has noticeably strengthened, bring out into the light, as I did in early February.

Take the foliage, let it photosynthesize and mature, forming next year’s flowers. After flowering has passed, usually after Easter, continue feeding a diluted feed every two weeks. With warmer weather, plants (pot and all, again) can go outside. Hippeastrum and clivia prefer to be lightly pot-bound.

Like many other species we keep as houseplants requiring dormancy, including various holiday cacti, the rest period requirement stems from the habitats and conditions in which they have evolved, with intermittent rainy and dry seasons. . Use free-draining mixes and keep the same pot, just removing and replacing soil from the top. Overpotting can lead to moisture buildup and bulb rot.


Nettles are good for plants, good for soil, and good for gardeners, making them fundamental plants for eco-gardens. Used in green manures, compost making, liquid foods, textiles and fiber arts, tea, soup and souffle, and herbal applications, nettles (Urticaria dioica) are among the most most versatile in the temperate garden. Seeds can be hard to find (, but – did you know? — nettles propagate easily from cuttings; root pieces in water like mint.

Oaks are the answer

Oaks support more life than any other tree in North America, and the trees are the best example of perennial crops. Trees, and in particular oaks, are the centers of gravity of the edible food forest. Countless species – invertebrates, birds and mammals – depend on it for food, reproduction and shelter, as Douglas Tallamy wrote in “The Nature of Oaks”.

Far from destroying them, making trees, and especially oaks, the anchors of our gardens put us on the path to strengthening “guilds”. In permaculture, guilds are made up of plants and animals that are good companions in every way (“The Permaculture Way”, Graham Bell). They work to ensure health and productivity. “Trees produce water vapor fluxes that are typically more than 10 times greater than those of herbaceous vegetation per unit land area, exceeding those produced by moist soils or open water.” (

Our island is just a pile of sand at sea! There is no underground river in the White Mountains. These are all surface waters. Land clearing and runoff diminish its ability to attract and retain water. Where an island aquifer exists (not on an island scale), recharge always comes from the sky.

When tree transpiration is removed from the earth, it no longer attracts rain; the water storage effect of the earth also disappears. Because forests are a primary source of rain, their destruction causes drought. (See “How does deforestation affect the water cycle?”

Martha’s Vineyard needs tree planting, not deforestation. Our single-source aquifer needs it. The 150th anniversary of Arbor Day is April 29. Before we experience a future of chronic drought and water scarcity, let’s actively celebrate it.

Martha’s Vineyard is oak country, and we take ecological considerations into account when planting them. Getting started with acorns can be a project in every daycare and preschool on the Island, but maybe this project seems too long?

Seedlings of several species well adapted to Martha’s Vineyard are available from nurseries such as Arbor Day Foundation (, Prairie Moon Nursery ( and Chief River Nursery ( Polly Hill Arboretum’s white, dwarf chinquapin and scarlet oak trees grown from local seed will be available for planting in 2024.

get off topic

Every war shortens the time we have: to stop desertification; regenerate the soil; maintain or restore the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere; to find the way forward, together, towards a livable future.

War energy is a manifestation of pathologically toxic masculine energy, holding us in paralysis as planetary survival is increasingly weighed in the balance. The governments of the world have more critical issues to address than re-imposing neo-imperial, neo-colonial control over its parts.

In the garden

As I wrote in January 2017, quoting John Berger quoting Robert Capa, “When the picture isn’t good enough, get closer.” Go to your garden.

Seedlings: Almost everyone experiences a pile of seedlings as they invade the growing space; stagger the seedlings where you can. Start with cold-tolerant/cool-season crops, which, after hardening off and planting outdoors, free up space.

Prune the clematis now. Group II and III clematis: Remove previous year’s growth down to pairs of large buds about a foot off the ground. Sweet autumn clematis, C. paniculata, flowers on new shoots; cut it down to ground level.

Prune snow damage, revealed when plants come out of dormancy.

Spotted Lantern Fly

The MV Agricultural Society reports that the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) has been found here. The insect is a newly arrived destructive pest that has been a disaster for growers in Pennsylvania. Learn more here:


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