Coastal Green Space

Brian Vanden Brink
A new Cape Cod waterfront garden gives two former city dwellers room to grow.

As retirees from Boston, the owners of this Bourne, Massachusetts, home didn't want a formal garden. They wanted a place where they could find solace from the sun, pick herbs for soups and salads, and cut flowers to brighten their seaside rooms. That's what husband-and-wife landscape architects Daniel Solien and Kris Horiuchi gave them―a garden to remind them every day why they left the city.

For inspiration, Kris and Daniel looked to the property's late 19th-century Victorian home. "As someone raised in Los Angeles, what I find particularly striking about New England is the sense of history that is rooted in the architecture and land," says Kris, whose firm has offices on Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. "The Victorian era tended to be fun and playful." So she and Daniel emphasized the casual and whimsical on this windswept bluff.

Their first order of business, however, was more practical. Atop a hill that slopes gradually down to the sheltered waters of Buzzards Bay, the home towers three and a half stories on the ocean side. "The house seemed to teeter," recalls Kris. "It cried out for some kind of solid connection to the ground."

The solution was to build a terrace, paved with bluestone and framed by an 18-inch-high wall that doubles as a bench. The sun-soaked area frequently distracts the homeowners from weed duty with its views of the harbor dotted with bobbing sailboats and tree-covered island tufts. Below, pink and white roses cascade from the bench down to the neatly manicured lawn.

As is often the case with oceanside properties, especially those in the rugged Northeast, this one didn't offer much protection from the elements. When they laid out the plan, Kris and Daniel took advantage of existing oak trees and mature lilac and privet hedges. They added another stone wall to this sheltered side of the house and created a shade garden. Buffered from onshore breezes, tender lady's mantle, astilbe, and gaura thrive beside the clients' vintage bench and a small pool and fountain.

"Designing gardens along the New England coast is a real challenge," Kris says. "In addition to the wind, salt air, and droughty soil, the season is short―around four months. We had to choose plants that seemingly know how to bloom on cue."

For this site, Kris and Daniel selected a palette of pastels that appear to have evolved expressly for Cape Cod's crisp blue skies and the home's weathered shingles. Clumps of lavender sprout from cutouts on the stone terrace, blue hydrangeas flourish against the house, and the pink roses provide additional color. To lighten up shady spots, the landscape architects mixed in subtle shades of silvery gray―Russian sage, lamb's ear, and thyme.

Because most of the plantings are seasonal, ornamental grasses became essential for year-round interest. Pennisetum,"a low grass with a bottlebrush flower head, and miscanthus, which is taller and has more of a plume, sway happily in ocean breezes. "Grasses are animated plants that respond well to the wind," says Kris. "They come up lovely and green in spring, sprout green flowers in summer, and turn a wonderful brown in fall and winter."

The most steadfast ornament, the garden shed, stands prominently in the cutting garden. Rumored to be a cupola that blew off the house during a hurricane, the dilapidated structure had just enough supports left to transform it into something useful. Though it would have been easier and less expensive to build a potting shed from scratch, the designers liked the shack's sense of history and playfulness. To convert it, they stripped away a couple of tacked-on additions, repaired damaged wood, and painted the trim pink. "It's a fun little building," Kris says. "You see the shed and this sweet little garden, and it makes you smile."

Outlined by a cedar picket fence, the 20- by 50-foot cutting garden is a riot of vegetables, herbs, and annuals tamed by a grid of raised beds and crushed-stone paths. A weathered wooden arbor, overcome with climbing roses and clematis, shades a rustic bench and frames a postcard view of the harbor. Tucked alongside the lawn, the space offers a pleasing bundle of contradictions: exposed and sheltered, functional and fantastical, expansive yet intimate. Kris says, "It's the heart and soul of our clients' outdoor life"―and a constant reminder that they've left city life behind.

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