Garden Notes: Consider Camellias – The Martha’s Vineyard Times


The cold, drying April winds are still blowing, but the flowery month of May is fast approaching. Polly Hill Arboretum’s camellias are a flash of red as you pass State Road; visit now to see them and what else is blooming. An arboretum is an educational museum about trees and other plants, demonstrating the best practices and principles, the “how, what and where” for good plant cultivation.

Redux “Silent Spring”?
Swarms of midges, early spring butterflies, flower flies and bumblebees hatched. Insects at ground level and in the air constitute the first global trophic level, the main base of the planet’s food chain.

When widespread and widespread spraying of island properties becomes the norm, it has a terrible impact. Please, before looking for sprays or hiring someone else to spray, think about the songbirds, to which we are so strongly connected: what do they fortify themselves with to reproduce and to feed their new -born? The answer is insect protein.

Far too many trucks with large tanks on board circulate on the island. Should we imagine that they all contain harmless compost tea?

In the garden
Soil temperature: 56°F, in a sunny location. Heavier soils, with a higher percentage of clay and silt, are colder, take longer to warm up and retain more moisture. The lighter the soil in the garden, the faster it drains and warms up. Raised beds and planters are even quicker to heat up, one reason they are made.

Recycled plastic dahlia tubers grow; plant only when danger of frost has passed.

Slugs and cutworms are present in cool soil conditions. If you’ve laid boards in the aisles between rows to prevent soil compaction, look below to harvest any lurking slugs. Ducks are said to like slugs; the hens here are not interested – too inactive and not restless enough, perhaps?

Paul Jackson
Paul Jackson, the well-known island gardener, left this land for more ethereal gardens; condolences to his family.

For many years, visitors have admired Jackson’s entries and displays at the agricultural fair, and local media features interviews with Jackson for insight into his favorite gardening modus operandi. The beautiful photojournalism of Eli Dagostino at is one of the best ways to study Jackson’s methods, which include the extensive incorporation of all types of “blood and guts” soil foods into his garden, encouraging his underground, unseen life.

My vegetable garden is different from that, exemplary, of Paul Jackson. In season, I am mostly away from home, and I lack time. I try to minimize soil disturbance, which brings weed seeds to the surface. I forego mulch when in season because I have found it creates heaven for earwigs and slugs. I don’t rototil. I’m composting, but not to Jackson’s scale. I cultivate, but superficially. When the plants are overgrown, I cut them off, leaving the roots to rot in place.

I’m trying to develop a system where the garden can sustain itself and still produce, whenever possible. This includes allowing self-sowers to sprout in place and then editing them. Growing only what doesn’t self-sow, like peas and later warm season annual vegetables, saves me time and effort.

At the moment, this is what grows effortlessly: coriander, lettuce, lamb’s lettuce and dill seedlings, annual poppies and calendula, radicchio biennials, feverfew, verbena bonariensis, foxglove, gloriosa daisies and cardoon. Several different cabbages grow from the base of the stems (climate change). These are plants I would have to start from seed, if I rototilized. Undesirable plants that should be dug up include onion grass, after first checking that they are not leek seedlings (round leaves, as opposed to crinkle). Flowering annuals are pretty, but mostly provide a place for early pollinators to feed.

Think of camellias
As gardeners and homeowners know, a spring garden, where the emphasis is on ending winter and welcoming spring, is a magical lure. However, autumn is also coming. Everything you see at the nursery now heightens the vision of spring and, like a mermaid, beckons you with its color, flowers and foliage. Think about what your garden will also be like during the long, mild autumn in the vineyard.

It is impossible for a person infected with lust for plants to go to the garden center now and not be seized with uncontrollable desires for something in lovely bloom. Cherry and crabapple blossoms, rhododendrons and azaleas (also Rhododendron, by the way), pieris, and much more are all lures waiting to be planted in your garden.

This year, however, I recommend thinking about camellias. In the past I have mentioned hybridization work with camellias which can thrive in our hardiness zone, 7a. With current warming trends, this is no longer a requirement.

Look for camellias that include “April”, “Winter” or “Arctic” in the cultivar name, for some cold hardiness. (Or risk a less hardy camellia that you like and plan to overbaby it.) For best results, follow pot label recommendations for planting and location tips. You may also see Camellia sasanqua cultivars offered; these augment the fall garden and make lovely, sturdy additions to it.

Patience and perseverance
Due to a wide range of factors beyond our control, sticker shock is hitting everywhere, without exception in garden centers. The improvement of know-how and multiplication techniques could become essential alternatives.

Sowing from seed and dividing perennials are fundamental ways to get more plants for less, and now is the time to do it.

Additional propagation skills, sometimes with the help of plant hormones, include grafting, propagating softwood, semi-ripe and hardwood cuttings, but the essential ingredients are patience and perseverance. Several leads: Go to your library and check what books on plant propagation are available; YouTube has step-by-step videos on many procedures and accessories.

arbor day
Trees are the answer, and April 29 is Arbor Day. Be inspired to plant a tree this year, the year after, then the year after.

Tick ​​check every night!


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