The Choreography of Gardening

A professional gardener’s home provides a stage for exploring varieties of plants and native materials throughout the season.

You may know Peggy Schwier as the president of Sail Martha’s Vineyard, or perhaps she looks familiar from the Island Community Chorus. Or maybe you took a class she was teaching at Vineyard Dance. It’s probably less likely that you know her as a small business owner. Her gardening and landscaping business doesn’t even have a definitive name – but let’s call it Peggy Schwier Gardens.

“I love that we are the invisible garden company,” she says. With five or six summer employees and a small side yard at her home to work out of, Peggy attends to twenty-eight clients, about half of which are a major focus. And that’s enough work to keep her hands dirty. She’s not looking for new customers.

Peggy started learning about plants after she and her husband Bob finished building their West Tisbury home in 1983. “The gardens began with the first
rocks that Bob would bring back with him from the dump,” Peggy says. Now a low, stone retaining wall edges the garden, which runs across the backyard.
“I don’t feel I have a particular ‘signature,’ other than the fact that I’d like to think that my gardens look like they belong on the Vineyard and belong to
the person who owns them,” Peggy says. “I think it’s important to have a garden look natural.”

Peggy’s own garden exhibits this style, so we visited from spring to late summer to more fully appreciate the beauty – and glean some tips for other Island gardens. Her original perennial border was an identification garden of sorts, where she’d experiment with plants and seeds to see how they’d grow and flower.

Most of her plants are common sights around the Vineyard and at nurseries, but Peggy notes that home gardeners often buy plants that are in bloom, so unless people shop throughout the season, they may not have blossoms in late summer. In her garden, she’s grouped plants that flower at different times of the season.

“It’s perfect because something’s blooming, but two weeks later something else is blooming,” says Peggy, who also arranges plants by color – one area
has more pinks, while another is home to more yellows. The garden comprises sections – wide swaths across the yard – with mowed grass pathways in
between, to make the garden inviting as well as low-maintenance.

Peggy says, “My own garden is a do-it-yourselfer.”

Fragrant Dianthus (top left) blooms from late May into June, and Peggy has grown lavender (top right) from seed. The main garden is behind the house, with the best views from the kitchen and dining areas, and a fenced-in kitchen garden is home to many annuals, including dahlias, Cosmos, zinnias, tender salvias, ‘Italian White’ sunflowers, and climbing nasturtium ‘Fordhook Favorites’.

Paths draw you into the garden, add dimension, and make maintenance easier. This June shot (top) features lamb’s ears, orange poppies, and the blues of Baptisia and Campanula. In early June (bottom), white Paeonia lactiflora ‘Festiva Maxima’, on either side of the blue crystal ball, are in full bloom. They were a wedding gift in 1983, and the garden began with them.

A wide collection of Campanula, including these blues (top left), bloom through most of the season. This late June photo (top right) shows bees on the Echinops ‘Taplow Blue’ (globe thistle), in front of annual Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susans) and Monarda ‘Gardenview Scarlet’ (bee balm). Oriental poppies (bottom) blossom among new buds and spent flowers in early summer. “It’s one of the first things I bought,” Peggy says. “Their stunning, papery blooms – you can’t resist.”

Astilbe ‘Peach Blossom’ dominates the foreground of this late summer photo of the left side of the garden (top), which is home to many pinks and blues.
A perennial black-eyed Susan (bottom), called Rudbeckia var. fulgida, and Shasta daisies shine.

You can tell it’s August from the inflorescences (or blooms) on the grass – Pennisetum orientale ‘Karley Rose’ – and the golden stalks of Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ shining in the background, in front of the beech tree (top). The Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Ayesha’ is an unusual blue hydrangea. “Its florets are really interesting,” says Peggy. A pot of dahlias in the foreground accents the late summer garden. Fuchsia, white, and pink shades of Phlox paniculata color the late summer border (bottom).