August Gardening 2016

by Jane Ahrens

From Mélie’s Garden


I was so delighted to have Jeffrey Edwards, the General Manager of Race Rock Garden Co., agree to be interviewed this month about gardening. Jeff grew up on Fishers Island and graduated from the Fishers Island School. He first got interested in horticulture when at age fifteen he started working for Johnny Chestnut at Grey Gulls during the summer. He said his love of gardening started during that time. Jeff went to SUNY Delhi and majored for two years in landscape architecture. From there he went to SUNY – ESF, the college of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY for an additional two years. After graduating, he managed a large nursery and garden center in Springfield, MA. Jeff moved back to Fishers Island a few years later, after he was married and his first child was on the way. He worked as a caretaker for the Sorensen and Hanley families for a number of years and then joined Race Rock nineteen years ago.

I asked Jeff what was the most challenging thing about growing plants on Fishers Island and without hesitation, he said, “The wind”. He always takes that into consideration when designing a garden here. “I know from past experience, what will do well in different locations on the Island. You can grow certain things better in more protected areas – the more exposed your property has, the tougher the plant material needs to be.” He said he enjoys experimenting with plant combinations and loves doing research on their different care.

Jeff grows many plants from seed. One of his favorite seed sources is The Vermont Wildflower Farm Store in Charlotte, VT. This March, he planted seeds from there with children from the Union Chapel Church School. His son Benjamin was in the group along with Kristin and Anthony Toldo, Maddie Lusker and Bella and Griffin Harris. They planted the native wildflower seeds in March and as the seeds grew in the Race Rock greenhouse, the children kept track of their progress. They made notes on which seeds germinated fastest and how the different varieties grew. The hardened off seedlings were sold at the Union Chapel’s Memorial Day Weekend Fair. Jeff likes to experiment with different plants and seeds that he has read about in the many horticultural magazines he studies throughout the year. He always grows different types of tomatoes and zinnias, which are not usually found in the commercial market, to sell at the Race Rock nursery in the late spring. This year one of the favorite plants he grew was “Tithonia” a Mexican Sunflower.

I asked Jeff if he has suggestions of what to grow in containers and he said he likes to surprise people by planting bulbs in with annuals. He puts small pots together to see how the plant combinations work. If it is pleasing to his eye, he writes down the ideas for planters the following year. He says he often treats Dahlia tubers as annuals, especially if he doesn’t have time to dig them up and store them after the first frost. He said it was surprising how many tubers sometimes survive the winter in the ground and grow the following year. However, each season is different and this year many hardier late flowering plants like hydrangea, crape myrtle, vitex and buddleia have not bloomed and in some cases have even died due to a warm spell this spring. They started to put out buds too early and unfortunately they were killed by an unusually severe cold snap in May. So weather can always be unpredictable for plants.

My next question was about how to deal with garden pests. He answered that rabbits often nibble at new plantings and it doesn’t seem to matter what they are – he has known rabbits to even eat young daylilies. But he has found that if you put fencing around the new plant for the first year or two, the rabbits will leave the plant alone. After it has become established and you can remove the fencing. It also helps to plant nepeta (cat mint) or lavender nearby, “because rabbits really do not like the smell of those plants and they also seem to dislike the taste of sedums”. Luckily, Fishers Island doesn’t have much of a problem with deer. They swim over but don’t seem to stay long to do much damage.

Finally, I asked Jeff what was his favorite gardening tool and he took a small spade out of his truck that is pictured here with him. He says he couldn’t live without it. In parting, I said, “Is there any bit of advice you would like to pass along to other gardeners?” He quickly said, “Don’t be afraid to experiment with plants – the worse that can happen is that it doesn’t live or look good. You can dig it up, get rid of it, and try something else!”

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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