How’s your garden?

The vineyard boasts fabulous professionally maintained gardens, but there is a treasure trove of gardeners who may go unrecognized except by close friends and family who enjoy their flowers. Fortunately, this summer there was a wonderful opportunity for those without professional fame to flourish, when Sharon-Frances Moore launched the first Martha’s Vineyard Garden competition for members of the community, whether experienced or new to the business.

Moore explains that the idea struck her because of the global pandemic: “I wanted to create something free, fun and beautiful that would help lift people’s spirits and also showcase some natural beauty. I started thinking about hobbies that I loved, and gardening came to mind.

To get started, Moore reached out to her friend Liz Cosgrove, who comes from a multi-generational Vineyard family and loves the outdoors and gardening. Moore says, “In the past, we would take turns inviting each other to our respective homes in early summer for drinks and snacks to show off our gardens. Next, I spoke to David Gray, a commercial airline pilot and military veteran, who is a summer visitor to the island. Dave and his father Charles, who have ties to farming and farming at the turn of the century, as well as a treasure trove of heirloom plants and seeds, hold annual home garden competitions.

With the help of Cosgrove and Gray, the competition was born. The trio determined they would be free to enter. Due to COVID concerns, they decided to hold it virtually, with participants sending in photos and judging to take place online. The MV Times helped facilitate entry, promoting the competition and featuring information about it on the newspaper’s website.

The team worked hard to recruit top-notch judges. There was Donna Arold, board member and vice president of communications for the MV Garden Club; Suzan Bellincampi, Island Director for Mass Audubon; and Marc Fournier, former arborist/horticulturist at the Trustees of Reservations’ Mytoi Japanese Garden. Each entry was reviewed by the judges and awarded points accordingly, with the garden with the most points in each category winning.

They spread the word via Instagram (@mvgardencompetition), posted posters at local nurseries and community gathering places, and advertised the competition in local newsletters and online forums across the island. Registrations were accepted from June 1 to the end of August.

There were participants from all the cities of the island. As for the winners, who receive a blown glass trophy, we have in the flower category Scott Slarsky. He’s been gardening since he bought his cabin at Oak Bluffs Campground in 2016 and is drawn to gardening because there’s something new every day. The appeal for him is “to encourage pollinators, and it’s amazing how much that attracts life.”

For the Container category, the winner is Linda Carnegie. Gardening for 40 years, she says, “I find it relaxing, and being an artist is like painting with plants. His inspiration: “I thought it would be nice to show Elder Housing what you can do using jars.”

Meghan FitzGerald won for Lunatique. She describes herself as a novice gardener for a decade, from a fire escape in New York’s West Village to Aquinnah. FitzGerald finds inspiration in donating the produce or flowers she grows, this year creating a lavender tincture for her friends. Explaining why she decided to enter the contest, FitzGerald shares, “You had a category for the fancy newbie! My brother Scott and I created a garden out of “supplies” (wood, rocks, buoys) that washed up on Dogfish Bar. Anyone can plant and create their own little green magic in a pot.

And the grand prize goes to Rachel Alpert, who has been gardening for over 30 years, but has mostly done so in much smaller pocket gardens. She ventured into large gardens after decorating her current home in 2008. Alpert says there is so much joy in gardening, explaining, “I love creating beauty for everyone to enjoy. Gardening is meditative. The flowers are my children; care for them, feed them, love them, and they will give you pleasure, satisfaction, visual and olfactory pleasures, soothing rhythms of color and style, multiple. Why did she come in? Alpert admits: “Recognition, I guess. We’re tucked away here, off the beaten path in Edgartown. It is a pleasure to be recognized as the Grand Jardin winner on this great island!”

Moore is a big advocate for gardening and wants us all to know the following: “Gardening is good for physical health and mental well-being in three important ways: 1) It builds strength through physical activity and provides exposure to natural sunlight and thus vitamin D, which, among hundreds of other things, helps strengthen your bones and your immune system. 2) Research has shown that gardening improves mood and reduces stress levels. 3) It is an activity that can be done alone or in a group, by all age groups.

With the 2023 contest opening already scheduled for next spring, everyone has fall and winter to start sketching out their creative grow plans. And, as Moore points out, “As Liz Cosgrove says, ‘Whether you have a pot or a plot, you can participate in gardening.'”