In the garden with Edie Blane

Sat, 06/27/2015 - 7:45am
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The idea of a garden lush with blooms all season long is one that many gardeners aspire too, and yet few actually achieve. For most of us there is a particular stretch of the season when our gardens shine, when they are at their most glorious, when they are most worthy of being shown off. That time is often fleeting, whether because most perennial flowers bloom for but a week or two, or whether Mother Nature simply decides to pummel your peonies with a sudden downpour – bending their blooms to the ground, ripping their petals out and scattering them about as if they were feathers from a ripped-open pillow.

It was within such a window of wonder that I got a call from Edie Blane last week. I simply must come over and see her garden, she said. Besides, she misses our “little chats,” and so do I, so off I went on Saturday, June 20, to see her garden.

What’s the big attraction? Roses in the dooryard, roses along the fence, roses blooming everywhere it seems. Where there aren’t roses there are peonies, equally in their prime. 

Blane seems to know the name of almost every type of rose – and from whence it came. Some of course were planted for the sheer whimsy of it. Some were gifts from others’ gardens, some were gifts in memory of a loved one; others were planted in memory of departed friends. Now in her mid eighties, Blane has a lot of memories, and a lot of roses. (She also doesn’t hesitate to bend over and pull out a pesky nettle with her bare hands.)

There is one old rose at the old homestead off Corn Neck Road that Blane does not know the name of, only that it was planted by a forbear in the 1800s. It spreads widely against the side of the old house, lush and white of bloom, with a thick, thick trunk. 

White is an important color in Blane’s garden, echoed in the lush peonies along the split-rail fence, but the stand-outs are the pink and peach roses that spread their blooms like the ballerina skirts in a Degas painting. 

How does she keep the roses so healthy? She feeds them three times a year with various mixtures of compost, seaweed and other fishy things. Compost she now makes herself, having bought one of those barrel composters with a crank to tumble it about. (I give it a twirl to test it and she tells me I’m turning it “left-handed” even though I’m using my right hand.) Sometimes a bit of banana peels are laid around the base – a good trick for supplying roses with the nutrients they need. It doesn’t hurt that Blane has the “perfect soil of the Neck.” She knows because she’s had it tested.

Wandering around the property I notice many plants that the deer like to eat, especially hostas on the shady sides of the house, so I can’t help asking how she keeps them away. She tells me she sprays her plants with a homemade concoction that her friend Marybeth makes up for her. She starts listing off the ingredients – milk, hot pepper sauce – it sounds like the perfect brine for Southern fried chicken, until she gets to the part about the peppermint oil. 

Some of the roses will bloom all season long, but most won’t, and yet still, Blane will have plenty of blooms to enjoy throughout the season. At the hems of the roses she has planted annuals, including diminutive pansies. (She’s says she can do some serious damage at Goose & Garden, Block Island’s only nursery.) There’s a bed of portulaca that will bloom all season and climbing clematis vines are just waiting in the wings to have their turn at glory. 

When Blane drops me off at my house, an embarrassment at my own gardens takes over. After all there is still the withered-to-yellow foliage of daffodils to be cut back, a remnant of my own yard’s season of spectacularity, with its spring bulbs and flowering shrubs, now long past. 

I spent the afternoon puttering about, planting zinnias my husband grew for me from seed for the butterflies, as the skies darkened overhead. Sure enough it would only be hours before Mother Nature let loose and sent my own white peonies earthbound with sorely needed rain. 

If you have a garden that’s coming into its own, and that you’d like to show off, let us know here at The Block Island Times. We’d love to visit.