Paul Mahoney, a nurseryman for 30 years and the owner of Jardin Mahoney in Oak Bluffs, spoke at a recent meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club on the topic of Sustainable Plants in the Landscape.
Mr. Mahoney explained that the word sustainable, when used in gardening, has an open definition, but he bases it on three general concepts: a growing public enthusiasm for native plants, conservation of wildlife habitat, and a movement away from the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides.
He emphasized the phrase “the right plant in the right place,” and recommended publications from the Cape Cod Cooperative extension and the University of Massachusetts Extension as excellent resources for the selection and maintenance of plants for our region.
In discussing the use of native plants in the landscape, Mr. Mahoney also stressed the importance of the hybrids, or cultivars, derived from them, giving several examples.
Ilex Glabra (inkberry), which grows to six feet by six feet, has several useful cultivars, such as Ilex Glabra compacta, whose smaller size may make it more useful in the home landscape. The native viburnums, “really nice plants,” have cultivars such as viburnum carlesii (Korean spice viburnum), a very fragrant early spring bloomer, and viburnum tomentosum (double file viburnum) a showy plant that also blooms in the spring.
The native swamp azalea (rhododendron viscosum) is complemented by the hybrid Korean azalea (rhododendron mucrulatum Cornell pink), one of the earliest blooming azaleas.
Another feature that makes some hybrids attractive is their resistance to pests and fungi. For instance, the native dogwood, cornus Florida, is susceptible to anthracnose, a fungus, but the Rutgers hybrids, developed by Elwin Orton of Rutgers University, are resistant to dogwood anthracnose.
The microclimates of the Vineyard, along with a wide range of soil types and weather conditions, make for varied and interesting gardens. Mr. Mahoney advises gardeners to “take your time when you’re picking a plant.”
An understanding of a plant’s requirements for soil type, light and moisture, as well as its ultimate size, will help us to choose the right plant for the right place. Natives and hybrids used to complement each other can greatly enhance our home landscapes and the enjoyment of our gardens.