Jeanna Shepard

Ocean Park has been one of Martha’s Vineyard’s most beloved landmarks since the days when side-wheel steamships docked within sight of the iconic bandstand. Today one of the commemorative bricks that encircle the bandstand is engraved with the inscription “Crossland Landscape, Loving Caregivers of Ocean Park 2003 – ” with the end date intentionally left blank.

For nearly 20 years, Mark and Bernie Crossland, with the help of sons Kyle, Keith and Kane Crossland and daughter Zoe Shanor, have kept this important gathering place verdant and flowering. And every year, not long after the park flowerbeds are put to bed, the Crossland Landscape elves get to work installing a sparkling light display, complete with synchronized music, that brings a much-anticipated holiday magic to Ocean Park. This year the light show will kick off on Saturday, Nov. 26, between 12 and 8 p.m. as part of a new town event called Light Up Oak Bluffs.

Q. Before we get to the season at hand, tell me how the company started.

Mark: Actually, it started with an electric mower, a bicycle and my trimmers – they weren’t electric, just scissors – that I kept at a client’s garage.

Q. What was the competitive landscape of the landscaping business in 1975?

M: There were just four of us: me, Mike Donaroma, Rod’s Flower Shop in Vineyard Haven and Tea Lane Nursery.

Q. When did Bernie come on the scene? Where did you meet?

M: We were married in 1988 after we met at church.

Bernie: It was called The Lighthouse. It was a non-denominational group that gathered at Cottagers Corner in Oak Bluffs.

Q. Bernie, did you have a background in gardening?

B: Heck no! I went to college to be an elementary school teacher but I grew up at my grandfather’s house and he was an amazing gardener. Back then I could have killed a spider plant – and that’s hard to do!

M: Really, she married into it. Mahoney’s used to be my nursery, so she worked there.

B: I started doing flower arrangements and worked when nobody else was available, because the buck stopped with me and Mark. Soon enough I was doing everything while raising four small children in a house in the back.

Q. Bernie, tell me about your original vision when you became the caregivers of Ocean Park in 2003.

B: There were good bones in the beds on Ocean Park, such as the big hostas and daylilies. I created the free-flowing look of a cottage garden along the paths. That’s my style.

M: When we took over, there were only four flowerbeds and now there are 16.

Q. No pressure, tending probably the most photographed location on Martha’s Vineyard?!

B: I’ll tell you, those beds became my babies. I designed and placed every single one of those plants. If my employees didn’t plant it where I wanted it, I got pretty upset! On Sunday mornings before church, I’d spend two to three hours deadheading and weeding anything my crew might have missed.

Q. What has been the response to your more recent project on Circuit avenue, landscaping with new trees, flowering buckets and hanging baskets?

M: They love it. It gives a more 3D experience on the avenue.

B: I can tell you there was a bit of controversy about getting rid of the trees, but Mark planted a type of lilac that should be beautiful.

Q. Will you be involved in the next phase, the renovation of Healey Square?

Jeanna Shepard

M: It’s official and our company will start work in January. I have talked to the town and contractors to let me transfer the ornamental trees in post office square that the Friends of Oak Bluffs paid for to other parks around town. It’s a win-win.

Q. Now, onto the big event: Light Up Oak Bluffs. When did you begin doing illuminations?

M: In 2005 we started by stringing up the lampposts, making trees from the lampposts.

B: It was really Mark’s idea. He’s the Christmas buff in the family. He takes Christmas very seriously.

Q. How long does it take to set up?

M: It’s about three weeks with a four-person crew. We have around 74 wire trees we store at my shop. The staff knows where to place the different heights and colors in the park after all these years. It’s about 400 hours when you add in the crew work on evergreens and arbors at the entrances.

Q. In 2005 did the bandstand have enough juice to power the installation?

M: The town electrician put in a larger panel with 400-amp circuit breakers and a lot of plugs. All the trees are wired into a computer for the light and music show. In 2017 after I saw a couple of Christmas specials about synchronized music and light shows I thought, “Hey! I can do that!”

Q. That conjures up images of Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Have you been compared to Clark Griswold?

B: No! (Laughing) Mark is an entity unto himself!

Q. How do you set up the broadcast of the synchronized music and lights?

M: I put each of eight or nine colors on separate circuits and set up for synchronizing around 14 lights at a time. I could do up to 32, but that would make people crazy! I built an antenna – which I can do because I have an FCC license as a ham radio operator – to broadcast on 88.5 FM. You can sit in your car and tune in or you can listen to the P.A. system in the park for an in-person experience.

Q. What’s the biggest challenge once the lights are up?

M: Fixing and checking the wires and checking connections on probably three miles of extension cords. But the biggest challenge is people walking into the trees and breaking the strands.

B: I go nuts!

M: The families walk into the trees to get pictures and they break a strand. And if you break one strand, they all go out.

B: It’s frustrating.

M: But it’s all part of it.

Q. I understand that this year the illumination on the Saturday after Thanksgiving will be an even bigger event.

M: Thanks to Larkin Stallings and the Oak Bluffs Business Association we are teaming up to light the park and the Christmas tree in Healey Square, all on the same day. There are plans in the works for carriage rides, hot cocoa, a Santa visit, a sweater contest and more surprises.

B: We love this town and we want this year to be the merriest of all!

Sissy Biggers is a regular contributor to the Vine and writes frequently for Martha’s Vineyard magazine.