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

By Logan Ward
April 01, 2004
Brian Vanden Brink

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

For inspiration, Kris and Daniel looked to the property's late19th-century Victorian home. "As someone raised in Los Angeles,what I find particularly striking about New England is the sense ofhistory that is rooted in the architecture and land," says Kris,whose firm has offices on Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard. "TheVictorian era tended to be fun and playful." So she and Danielemphasized the casual and whimsical on this windswept bluff.

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

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

As is often the case with oceanside properties, especially thosein the rugged Northeast, this one didn't offer much protection fromthe elements. When they laid out the plan, Kris and Daniel tookadvantage of existing oak trees and mature lilac and privet hedges.They added another stone wall to this sheltered side of the houseand created a shade garden. Buffered from onshore breezes, tenderlady'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 realchallenge," Kris says. "In addition to the wind, salt air, anddroughty soil, the season is short―around four months. We hadto choose plants that seemingly know how to bloom on cue."

For this site, Kris and Daniel selected a palette of pastelsthat appear to have evolved expressly for Cape Cod's crisp blueskies and the home's weathered shingles. Clumps of lavender sproutfrom cutouts on the stone terrace, blue hydrangeas flourish againstthe house, and the pink roses provide additional color. To lightenup shady spots, the landscape architects mixed in subtle shades ofsilvery gray―Russian sage, lamb's ear, and thyme.

Because most of the plantings are seasonal, ornamental grassesbecame essential for year-round interest. Pennisetum,"a low grasswith a bottlebrush flower head, and miscanthus, which is taller andhas more of a plume, sway happily in ocean breezes. "Grasses areanimated plants that respond well to the wind," says Kris. "Theycome 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 prominentlyin the cutting garden. Rumored to be a cupola that blew off thehouse during a hurricane, the dilapidated structure had just enoughsupports left to transform it into something useful. Though itwould have been easier and less expensive to build a potting shedfrom scratch, the designers liked the shack's sense of history andplayfulness. To convert it, they stripped away a couple oftacked-on additions, repaired damaged wood, and painted the trimpink. "It's a fun little building," Kris says. "You see the shedand this sweet little garden, and it makes you smile."

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