Last fall, you may remember, we received a gift that allowed us to work with our landscaper on re-doing the garden on Vestal Street in front of the Maria Mitchell Vestal Street Observatory. I wrote a blog about it and then filled you in this spring on some of the planting.
Well, it needs some more work – onion grass is a BEAST to pull out – but we are getting there! I’m happy to say that the mallow transplanted well, as did the Joe Pye Weed, and the Milkweed is popping up in all its random places. I have also weeded out and planted some natives along the accessibility ramp at Hinchman House Natural Science Museum. One will find regular garden plants mixed in – they are nice to still have and offer food to some of the visiting animals. And along Mitchell House, I focus on heirloom plants, what was in William Mitchell’s garden and the other Mitchell family members who inhabited the House, and plants that were found in gardens in the nineteenth century.
I have installed plant tags to help identify the plants and I have two bigger garden signs that I created and are currently being fabricated (ah, the Internet). They will be very small, printed signs on bamboo plaques but they will note why our gardens look a little messy.
We do want the milkweed – it’s a happy host to milkweed beetles and even more importantly to monarchs which are fast losing their habitat – in fact it’s gone in many places. We used to have thousands of monarchs every year on Vestal – not anymore. We are lucky if we see a few dozen. So, a wildflower and native species garden – as it has been for decades and decades in that same spot – is very important for the bird, insect, and mammalian life that needs it and also supports the MMA’s mission – just look to our Hinchman House Natural Science Museum and Department and you understand.
So come take a look, and cheer on some of our teeny, tiny seedlings as they grow. Feel free to pull the onion grass – but leave everything else! But oh – you can chase the bunnies away – they are back and eating everything including all my Morning Glories and they have just about taken down two gallon-sized cardinal flower plants!
A few weeks back, I noticed these growing over a picket fence and it just looked like candy to me. I little dewy. A bit of a blossom’s “fur” for lack of a better word – all reminded me of the dusting of powdered sugar over old fashioned sourballs. It is actually clematis – which is now fully in bloom – gorgeous pink flowers!
Or at least the tulips and daffodils have! I planted these in the fall and while tulips do not seem to have been in William Mitchell’s list of garden plants – I think he may have had them. The list, which I have mentioned before, was written in summer by John Quincy Adams – the season after that of daffodils and tulips. I am particularly fond of the ones I planted this fall – “Beauty of Spring.” While not a historic variety, tulips are an incredibly old bulb. Are you familiar with the Dutch craze for tulips in the 1600s? At its high point, some tulip bulbs sold for more than some people earned in a year! There are numerous books written about the history of the tulip, including some fictional accounts for children, and it’s an incredible tale. Tulips were supposedly first cultivated in the Ottoman Empire in the tenth century. By the 1600s, during the “craze,” some of the bulbs were used as money until the craze crashed later in the 1630s. Today, tulips are still synonymous with Holland.
Daffodils are ancient flower – older than the tulip. My favorite variety which I have planted in the past at Mitchell House is “Poeticus” or Pheasant’s Eye – it is white with a dark ring at the very center – sort of looking like an eye – and it has the most wonderful scent of any daffodil. They come out later in May or early June. But this year, I opted to add in some of the big bright yellow daffodils that everyone thinks of. Why? Because William Mitchell, though a Quaker, loved bright colors and I think he would love to see this shocking yellow on Vestal Street.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the morning glories and nasturtiums in the Mitchell House front garden were still going. Well, they still are!
Granted the morning glory blossoms are small but the nasturtiums are still happy. Yes, fewer buds but they keep on trucking along happy with the warmth and sunshine they get from the south and the protection of Mitchell House.
I have to admit though, the morning glories vines and leaves were sad and wind whipped so I finally pulled them on November 18. We still have not had a hard frost – or much frost at all for that matter – so once that comes along then they will be slime. I will leave the nasturtiums and see how long they get. I actually picked a bunch for my desk!
Here on Vestal Street in the wildflower garden in front of the Maria Mitchell Observatory, the Rose Mallow is in full bloom. It is such a tropical looking plant. It is in the Hibiscus family but is native to Nantucket. I remember as a child walking up the what then seemed to be a huge hill at the Black Water Tower Beach and looking out over the pond and seeing it all in bloom like a sea of pink. Today, you don’t just see it in the wild as, happily, people more and more are bringing native species into their gardens. So come take a look at the mallow here on Vestal Street and keep your eyes peeled as you venture in wet, sunny (near the ponds and marshes) areas where you can find it on island.
And the breezes are moving through the Mitchell House. We have flung open the doors and fresh air is better circulating through the House as it moves from the front and 1825 Kitchen doors and breezes up through to the third floor and out the roofwalk hatch as it did in the Mitchells day. We are dusted, and cleaned, and scrubbed. The tall case clock is again ticking, as is the chronometer. Both these artifacts really make the Mitchell House feel as though it is alive and that you might spy one of the Mitchells – William or Maria in particular – bent over the chronometer getting ready to rate the chronometer of a sea captain.
Our summer intern, Claire Payne, who will be a senior at Oberlin College, is already hard at work learning the finer points of cleaning a historic house museum and its artifacts, planning for some exciting Junior Historian classes for the summer, and she has just completed the development of a fun “Seek and Find” scavenger hunt for the younger set when they visit the House with their families.
The garden is blooming – you should see the foxglove – they are enormous! – and William would be overjoyed at the colors. Many of the plants were once found in his own garden here at 1 Vestal Street. I have planted Morning Glories and Nasturtiums again, as well as Sweet Peas. We also have a Tunbergia vine which William could have had at some point. Such a plant was also found in Thomas Jefferson’s garden, so it’s been “kicking” around in gardens for centuries. Many of us also know it by the name Black-eyed Susan Vine. Lupines are out and I am hoping that the Hollyhocks flower this year – they are biennials so not sure if they will flower this year.
So, come take a look and join us for a tour – make it an annual pilgrimage to learn what is new, say hello, meet this year’s summer intern, and hear what we were up to all winter.
The Lily of the Valley at Mitchell House is in full bloom. It is just about the earliest Lily of the Valley to make its appearance on island and at Mitchell House it lives in full, blazing sun which is fairly unusual. When you walk into the rear yard, it is all you smell. It is calming and sweet and the air is full of it. I look forward to being greeted by this heady scent and to picking tiny little bouquets of it. I am not sure how old it is – I would say at least the 1930s when the cottage was added but it could date back to the nineteenth century – at least that is what I would like to believe!
Lily of the Valley was found outside the porch of my childhood home, transplanted there by my Mother I think from the home of a close family friend. This friend – more like a great aunt to me as she was my Nana’s best friend from about the age of 10 – also had French and white lilacs blooming in her yard so our home always had big bouquets of lilacs at this time of the year – one of my favorite scents. We also had two lilac bushes in our yard – the lighter purple color. One of them was extremely tall – reaching all the way to the middle of the second floor right outside the bathroom. So, when it was blooming, you could smell it through the open window but also, my Mother would simply open the screen and lean out with her clippers to cut the blooms.
My mother-in-law’s favorite flower was Lily of the Valley. She had a bit of it along the side of the garage. She and my father in law also had a very large, old Bleeding Heart plant in the backyard alongside the fence. It was beautiful. When the house sold, my husband dug it up and brought it from upstate New York all the way to Nantucket. We were nervous that the trip and transplantation of it would bring it to an end. Supposedly, Bleeding Heart plants don’t like to be transplanted. But I am happy to report, a year later it is in full bloom and makes us happy and sad to look at it. I think it may have actually been transplanted before – from the farm where my mother-in-law grew up. Unfortunately, we will never know. I have other Bleeding Heart plants in the yard at home but the New York one is much heartier – I think given its age and because the strain is more pure.
I also grew up with Bleeding Heart plants in the yard. And one we had was also a transplant. It was given to my Mother by a woman who worked at the butcher shop she used to shop at when we were young. It’s amazing how simple things, even a plant, can bring up so many happy memories of people, events, places, and seasons.
Or maybe I should call this the “Woes of a Gardener.”
What you are looking at is an absolutely adorable baby bunny who (yes, “who” – because we call him Mister Baby Bunny – although the Mitchell House intern thinks he should be named Peleg) is now twice his size after just a few short weeks. I am firmly convinced that baby bunnies eat 400 times their weight – each day! I battle rabbits and deer in my own garden but it has not been until recently that I had to battle them on Vestal Street. Since trying to restore plants that William Mitchell once had in his garden, I have scoured high and low to find the right plants. I do add some that were not necessarily on the list made by John Quincy Adams when he visited the Mitchell home in the 1830s but when I do, I try to find plants that were available in those days. This baby bunny made great hay (pun intended) munching away on my heirloom Heavenly Blue Morning Glories. As soon as they twisted up from the earth, he was upon them − and before I knew it! In one night in early June, he had a wonderful salad of approximately 350 seedlings – I planted 400. Last year, there was a wonderful display of Morning Glories on the front fence of Mitchell House, this year, we may have four. Oh well, I guess we contributed to his quick growth.