May Gardening 2015

by Jane Ahrens
PLATE 1: Tiger Lily, Fishers Island, NY, 1929 by Agnes Blancke Noyes

Mélie’s Gardening Tips

Spring has at long last arrived on Fishers Island! It is wonderful to see the ospreys back in their nests and the buds swelling on the trees. Gardeners on the Island are thrilled to be outside cultivating their soil. I thought it would be fun to talk to someone who has gardened for many years on the Island and I called Ken Edwards.

Ken started gardening over fifty years ago, when he was a student at the Fishers Island School. He first mowed lawns for John Gada during the summers, but soon he got a job working for master gardener Oddie Strunk. Oddie worked for the Tilford family who owned “Treasure Pond House.” When it was sold to William Kirkland, the Kirklands built a greenhouse and Ken assisted Oddie growing a multitude of plants. As a young adult, he worked for many years for the Jansen Noyes family at “White Gables,” where he oversaw three vegetable gardens and an orchard of eighty fruit trees. Mrs. Noyes was an accomplished watercolorist and Ken remembers picking many wild flowers for Mrs. Noyes to paint. Many of the flowers in her beautiful book, “Flowers Painted Where They Grow,” were either picked or grown by Ken. Later he enjoyed taking care of her daughter, Nancy King’s property and Mrs. Van Horn Ely’s garden. Ken says he learned a great deal from those knowledgeable Garden Club of America ladies. Mrs. Ely was particularly fond of tuberous begonias, which she liked to have in containers around the house. Ken would start the begonias in the spring in cold frames and transplant the plants into the containers once the threat of frost was over. Ken added, “The trick with tuberous begonias is to never over water them because they will rot very easily, but they certainly are worth the effort because they are a spectacular container plant.”

PLATE 1: Tiger Lily, Fishers Island, NY, 1929 by Agnes Blancke Noyes

Ken usually starts to plant seeds in his vegetable garden in April, starting with cool weather crops like beets, cabbage, carrots and lettuce. He also plants his favorite string bean varieties, “Tender Green Beans” and “Provider Green Beans” that he orders from Harris Seeds. Ken waits to plant seedlings once the threat of frost is over in late May.  He admitted, “The most challenging thing about growing crops on the Island is the changeable weather and wind.”

I remember the wonderful pumpkins Ken grew along the road near his house. I asked him about them because, as you all know, I have struggled with growing pumpkins. He said that he used to put his grass clippings and leaves in that area each year and the soil got to be quite rich, so he decided to put in a pumpkin patch for his grandchildren. The pumpkins did very well there, especially after he ran drip irrigation up to that area. Ken’s grandchildren are beyond the Jack O’ Lantern stage, so he is no longer growing pumpkins. I did not ask him if he was going to grow them again once he had great grandchildren, but I am sure he will!

Ken’s favorite nursery on the mainland is Holdridge in Ledyard, CT. He enjoys growing many dahlias and successfully winters over the tubers in a crawl space that remains about 40 degrees. He also still loves growing fruit trees, but says it is difficult due to the different diseases that seem to be more prevalent today. In early spring, he sprays the trees with a dormant oil spray and then during the warmer months Ken sprays with a multi-purpose fruit tree spray, but he says, “even that is no guarantee that you will have a good harvest and most trees provide fruit every other year.”  I asked Ken’s advice about dealing with invasive plants on the Island and he said, “I try to pull them out when they are young, but it is a constant battle.”

“Flowers Planted Where They Grow”
Agnes Blancke Noyes
Privately Printed 1967
Copy in the Henry L. Ferguson Museum

Photo Captions: (direct from notes for each)
PLATE 1: Tiger Lily, Fishers Island, NY, 1929 by Agnes Blancke Noyes
“These adorable tiger lilies grow wild in the field 3 to 4 feet high. They seem to be dying out.”

PLATE 46: Agapantha, Capetown, Africa, 1950 by Agnes Blancke Noyes
“Have just seen an advertisement in the New York Times calling this flower the ‘blue liky of the Nile’. It grows 3 to 4 feet high.”

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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