Elaine Peterson is a gardener, an astrologer and the president of the Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons. She spoke about some upcoming events and discussed her experiences gardening on the East End.
It clearly isn’t prime gardening season, but is there anything green thumbs can do this time of year to get their gardens ready for spring?
I’d let things be at this time of year. Plan. It’s a good time for planning. Occasionally I do some pruning this time of year, I always prune on a new moon. I’m an astrologer so I garden by the moon and the planets. So always prune around the new moon, because that’s when the energy in the plants is most down in the roots, rather than up in the tips. The other thing that’s terribly important that no one really talks about, is that old farmers in Europe would never water or fertilize during the waxing of the moon, only in the waning of the moon between full moon and new moon. And that way the water sinks, and the fertilizer and whatever that is going into the ground does go into the ground instead of washing away. So the timing of those applications is very important. We’re constantly reinventing the wheel, but if you go back and look at how people used to farm before we had all these modern techniques, they were very much more in touch with the earth and the climate.
Water quality is one of the main concerns on any island. We hear a lot about nitrogen run-off from fertilizers causing all sorts of problems in local waterways. How can gardeners keep their plants healthy without causing harm to water?
Vincent Simeone, director of the Planting Fields Arboretum here on Long Island, spoke to us on Sunday about his new book “Grow More With Less: Sustainable Garden Methods”. But one of the most concerning things about sustainable garden methods is that we reduce or eliminate the amount of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, everything unnatural, that we put on the ground because it will come back into the water at some point. I don’t use pesticides or herbicides at all in my gardening, I’ve never had to. I don’t believe in it, I don’t think it’s good, but I also don’t see the need for it. Compost is pretty much all I use. I use some organic supplement sometimes but I’m very careful—I live on the lake! I have some weeds on my lawn, but I’m perfectly happy with them, I don’t want to live on a golf course.
We all know that the East End is home to an enormous deer population. What are some ways for gardeners to deal with the hungry herbivores?
We’ve been serious gardeners for some time, and we’ve dealt with the deer issue forever. In the 19th century and the 20th century we killed off all the animals, and then we decided that wasn’t such a good idea, so we brought them back and now they’re here. So we all got wise and said, this isn’t right, and of course the whole economical and social scene changed. Gradually, wild animals have come back, and they are here and they’re coming back more and more. And it’s just something we have to adjust to. As a gardener, I’ve learned to live with all of the animals, and if you want to grow things animals are going to be interested in, you’re just going to have to take precautions to protect them. Which means a lot more fencing, walled gardens; in some ways, we have to go back to the way it was in the Middle Ages, where if you wanted to grow something for food or for pleasure you had to protect it. So that’s what I have come around to realizing I have to do for everything—there are many plants that won’t be touched by deer but they adapt, the things that they didn’t used to eat, they now eat.
The Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons is holding a roundtable discussion on planting a fragrant garden from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, January 17, at the Bridgehampton Community House, 2357 Montauk Highway, Bridgehampton. For more information about the organization, call (631) 537-2223.