It’s Easter weekend, so I thought that I would write about something that was in-line with the holiday feeling. I could certainly write about bunnies—the island is lousy with them. Unfortunately, I haven’t spent enough time stalking them to get some really good bunny photos. I plan to do that this summer (my Mum is a big bunny fan). Even if I had lots of wonderful photos of Martha’s Vineyard bunnies, stretching it into a thousand words might be just that—a stretch. Then I thought, “Flowers!” I love flowers. The flowers of Martha’s Vineyard always take my breath away. They’re a big part of the island’s presence. You will find that my mystery novels are full of flowers, especially hydrangeas. Most of us immediately think hydrangeas, but there is a lot more to it than that.
To start with, The Vineyard is sprinkled with patches of wildflowers along almost every road. Among the pine and the scrub oak, there are smatterings of daisies on Chappaquiddick. There are also wild roses along the beaches, as there are on Martha’s Vineyard. All of which probably came from Wampanoag and pioneer planting and seeding in the centuries past.
When you are walking along East Chop Drive, the road is trimmed with sunny coreopsis. I love yellow flowers. They’re so happy. East Chop Drive is a beautifully bucolic walk on a sunny day already, but the wildflowers add an emphasis to my smile that otherwise might not be there. These too, I’m sure of it, have spread out of someone’s garden, under a split rail fence, or over a stone wall. Regardless of how they got there, I’m grateful for them.
Here and There
The towns themselves put a lot of effort into the flowers each season. Can you imagine Edgartown without its hanging baskets or hydrangeas? Those are just the obvious examples. The magnolia trees of Edgartown give away just how early in the season they filmed JAWS! What about the flowers of Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs? I can spend all afternoon in Ocean Park watching the kids fly kites with their parents, people chase their dogs, and just sit with a coffee and think. It’s amazing to think how welcoming the park is simply because it has flowers. The hydrangeas alone make me breathe just a little bit deeper. That’s the other thing—how much of the sweet Vineyard air is due to the abundance of flowers? I have been to other seaside towns but none of them smell quite as beautiful as Martha’s Vineyard. Is it salt of the ocean mixed with the freshness of hydrangeas? I’m sitting in front of a pot of hydrangeas—pink and green—while I write this, and their unmistakable, clean scent is intoxicating.
The cool, gentle hydrangeas of Ocean Park are balanced out by the fiery daylilies. The gardeners of Oak Bluffs put a lot of thought into their flowers. Gardens don’t just happen, but they’re one of those things that are often taken for granted. It’s like housekeeping in a hotel—it’s only noticed when it’s not done.
Keeping Up Appearances
Each and every store retailer puts in a lot of effort, if they have the space. Whether they have purchased a half barrel to plant some hydrangeas like Vineyard Vines always does, or hung window boxes full of petunias and marigolds, like some of the storefronts, every little bit helps. Some establishments have large gardens available, and they always make full use of them. The Seafood Shanty has a lot of available space and I believe that Edgartown Harbor would lose a good chunk of its charm if they didn’t maintain their colourful display. Now, I must admit, I’m not entirely sure who is responsible for its maintenance. I believe that The Shanty and The Edgartown Board of Trade hire Donaroma’s Nursery to plant and maintain the public spaces. Each of the townships have a nursery, and they all do a wonderful job.
I have already mentioned the half-barrels of hydrangeas outside Vineyard Vines, but there are other businesses along Water Street, like The Sydney Hotel, that have front lawns filled with coreopsis (an apparent island favourite) and dahlias among others. Truly, flowers are a big part of the island’s character and the efforts of the islanders play a big part in its development. Gardens and flowers are a lot of work. Putting that amount of effort into anything shows a certain pride in who a person is and where they live. Like a sailor who works hard on his catboat all winter to ensure that she is gleaming come Memorial Day Weekend, a shopkeeper who plants flowers and grooms their storefront shows a pride in what they do and in this case, a pride in their island home.
Rhododendrons & Hydrangeas
Martha’s Vineyard is known far and wide for its hydrangeas. In fact, I already wrote a blog post about the Hydrangeas of Martha’s Vineyard; however, while hydrangeas might be the main event, there is definitely a significant opening act—the rhododendron.
The rhododendrons don’t take over with quite the same force that the hydrangeas do, but they come in a little earlier and they come on strong. Like the hydrangeas, the rhododendrons, grow on large bushes, almost trees really, and they come in a variety of colours. A lot of people like the deep fuchsia, but I prefer the white with crimson spots. I think they stand out as just a little different. Their deep green leaves and large puffy flowers really do set the stage beautifully for the hydrangeas that start just before the rhododendrons disappear.
When it comes to The Flowers of Martha’s Vineyard, the queen really is the hydrangea. The bushes are massive and their colours are at once gentle and inviting, but proud and exciting. “Edgartown Blue” is a term you will hear being thrown around quite a bit, and I have to admit, the blue hydrangeas in front of The Kelley House couldn’t be more beautiful if they were painted by Claude Monet. I’m not going to dwell on hydrangeas, even though they are by far my favourite flower, as I have already dedicated an entire post to them. I hope you will click over and enjoy that post when you are done here.
Stop and Smell The Flowers
I cannot stress enough how important it is to walk down streets that you haven’t been down. Turn corners that you haven’t turned. Their are flowers of every colour and type around every colour in the high season. Enjoy them. There are a lot of residents of Edgartown Village who put a great deal of effort into their roses. Yellow roses are my favourites, but there are some stunning red ones too.
No matter on which end of the island you find yourself, there will be flowers. They are on the beaches of Aquinnah and Edgartown, in the hills of Menemsha, along South Road in Chilmark, and in the park in Oak Bluffs. There are incredible private gardens in Vineyard Haven. Some of them are on private lawns and some are in front of bed and breakfasts like 1720 House. At some point, no matter how far back, all of the flowers on Martha’s Vineyard probably started with someone planting bulbs and seeds with love and pride. When I walk the Vineyard, cloaked in the warmth of the sun, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, I’ll inhale the scent of sea air and catch the sweetness of wild rose, hydrangea, and daisies, and I’ll be very grateful.