One of the best things about gardening on the Cape and Islands is that just when you can’t stand another minute of watering, weeding, fertilizing, and replanting, the first frost comes . . . and your garden goes to sleep. You can put away all your garden tools, roll up those hoses that you’ve been wrestling with all summer long, close the door to that patio garden that just didn’t quite turn out right, and take a long winter nap from gardening.
As one of those obsessive gardeners who gets up two hours before work every morning from April to October to inspect the latest tiny tomato seedling’s health, to see whether that expensive new lily finally blossomed, to bemoan the decades-old hydrangea that got hammered in a thunderstorm the night before, Jack Frost can’t come soon enough for me. When the first snow falls, I feel as if a blanket of calm has fallen and I can crawl back under our down puff every morning, read trashy novels, and have two cups of coffee before I go to work, and not give a single thought to facing slugs, winter moths, and late tomato blight. I don’t know how anyone survives gardening in California where gardens need care all year-round.
Of course, as soon as the first January thaw begins to unlock winter’s icy fingers on Cape Cod, I’m up to my elbows in gardening books, cruising Fine Gardening magazine for ideas, and mooning over spring catalogs. But that’s only because I’ve had a few months off from slogging it out in the garden on a daily basis.
But since I am writing this in mid-summer when my trumpet lilies are in full glorious bloom, the tomatoes are rounding up perfectly, and the hydrangea are still having what has to be the most glorious year in history, I know that September and October will bring a whole different set of gardening tasks. Because before the perennial gardens go to sleep, they must be cleaned out, mulched, and basically prepared for that first marvelous day in late winter when the delicate white blossoms of the Snowdrops appear.
Winter on Cape Cod is just plain capricious—one day its so warm and balmy that golfers sprout up on Olde Barnstable’s wintry greens and the next day the temperature plummets down to single digits. Buds swell sometimes on rhododendron in late autumn above foliage that folds up in frigid temperatures a few days later. This kind of feast or famine environment is very tough on plants, trees, and shrubs. The truth is that winters with deep snow and constant cold are much better for gardens. Like humans, plants want to just lie still under the snowy puff and have a long undisturbed rest before they have to perform again next spring and summer.
I gave Chris Joyce, the owner of Marstons Mills’ well-known Joyce Landscaping, a call recently to ask for some inside info on putting Cape and Island perennial gardens to bed. “As soon as we get that first frost, our gardening staff cut back all the plants and leave a nice clean bed for the winter,” Joyce says. “Some people like to leave plant material there over the winter, but we like to cut everything down and mulch in the bed really well, or you are setting up an environment for plant diseases the next spring.”
Joyce’s crews use several inches of wood mulch on the beds, although he says seaweed can also be used as mulch. Sometime gardeners also use pine boughs, although as Joyce says, it is probably better to lay down a consistently thick layer of mulch to safeguard the plants. “It’s just so much better to keep everything frozen, because if you have a sudden thaw, the plants will start pushing up and you’ll end up having root damage,” he says, noting that moist springs encouraging plant growth too early can also wreak havoc on unmulched gardens.
Joyce says that his crews do not fertilize their customers’ perennial gardens in the fall, preferring to wait until spring to apply Coast of Maine fertilizer, perhaps lightened with vermiculite, depending on the horticultural needs of the individual bed. Still, Joyce says the most important thing to remember when putting your perennial garden to bed is that the plants need a good, long uninterrupted rest. “Basically, you want the garden to stay good and frozen all winter,” says Joyce. Sounds like great advice for all those gardeners who also want to curl up under their puffs and sleep on cold Cape and Islands mornings, come November and December.
For information on Joyce Landscaping, go to www.joycelandscaping.com.
Vivid colors are the first thing that catch your eye. Inside the O’Donnell Art Gallery in New Seabury, paintings and prints of golden beach scenes, fields of bright orange poppies, and striking blue coastal panoramas adorn the walls of the gallery, creating a visual archive of summer life on Cape Cod. Rebecca O’Donnell and her husband, Gene, opened the gallery in an old candy shop in the Popponesset Marketplace. “I’m very lucky that this used to be a candy store. Everyone already came into the place,” O’Donnell says. “Now we just offer them a different type of candy.”
Growing up in a family of artists, O’Donnell began painting many years ago. She got her start painting note cards for the Popponesset Marketplace Country Store; when they started selling well and she realized their popularity, she decided to open the gallery in 2004. The gallery is known for the annually changing colors of its walls; this year’s shade, an intense cobalt blue, inspired a series of paintings as well. In one recent work, O’Donnell moved toward a more spare style by depicting a sky with a solid shade of blue—a great contrast to a richly detailed foreground. “This way the viewer can imagine that there is a bird in the sky, or a boat,” O’Donnell says. “People aren’t as involved with what is in the background, and they love it.”
Working primarily with a mix of watercolors, acrylics, pencils, and oil paints, O’Donnell draws her inspiration from her surroundings. “I love this place,” she says. “That’s really my motivation.” Her homegrown paintings document the changes on Cape Cod. For example, authorities recently prohibited boaters from anchoring off of Popponesset Spit, which opens up to Popponesset Bay. One of O’Donnell’s paintings depicts the catamaran-filled waters in a scene that captures memories for those who treasured this place in days gone by. “I love it when people look at my paintings and say things like, ‘Oh, that used to be my house!’ or, ‘I remember that!’” she says.
The gallery does not represent other artists, but O’Donnell does feature other items made by local artists and family members, including a stunning line of pearl and semi-precious jewelry hand-crafted by O’Donnell’s daughter in law. On occasion, the gallery hosts a book signing by a local author, or a show featuring local artists to promote the gallery and the works of others in the local arts scene. “It’s nice to be a part of the community I live in,” says O’Donnell. “I like to get the word out about art events, and promote local arts.” She paints with a group of artists every Monday morning, and this summer the group rented one of the Hyannis Harbor Artists Shanties for a week. The shanties project gives artists who don’t own shops a chance to get used to the feeling of showing up for work, and paint in the company of others. “We’re doing a lot as a group,” says O’Donnell. “We even had a show together this summer.”
O’ Donnell says opening the gallery has contributed to her growth, both as a person and as an artist. It’s been a lifestyle change, but one she doesn’t regret.
“Having the gallery has helped my artistic abilities snowball,” she says, then smiles. “Otherwise, I’d be holed up at my house with a lot of paintings and no one knowing who I am.”
The O’Donnell Art Gallery is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Memorial Day through Labor Day; weekends only Labor Day through Columbus Day.For more information, log on to www.odonnellgallery.com, call (508) 477-8057, or visit the gallery at Popponesset Marketplace in New Seabury.
September and October are two of my favorite months of the year on Cape Cod. There is a certain slant of sunlight then that gilds the ocean and the beaches in this grande finale to summer. The cranberry bogs glow ruby red against skies so blue they don’t look real. Autumn on Cape Cod is like a kaleidoscope, brilliant colors shifting and sliding. It is almost as if nature saves her best show for last to comfort us before winter arrives.
Sometimes I feel like a squirrel gathering acorns, storing up these autumn moments to get me through those November days when it gets dark at 4 p.m. There is a part of me that dreads the coming winter, even though I love Cape winter activities, skating on frozen ponds and brisk walking, especially on winter beaches when the clear light and the sharp wind make you feel lucky to be alive.
Yet, with every passing autumn I discover new joys about Cape life that have nothing to do with sunbathing, parties on the beach, or even flying over Nantucket Sound waves with sails trimmed tight. It used to be that when I thought of Cape cuisine, I thought of clam chowder, lobster, or anything made with cranberries. One of the great joys about living here year-round is that you discover the Cape and Islands are a locavore’s dream. Cape Cod’s ever-bountiful cuisine is spread out before you at the Cape Land and Sea Harvest (CLASH), held this year in Hyannis, the weekend of September 24-26. You can savor seasonal epicurean delights prepared by excellent local chefs, many who come from year-round Cape restaurants, or stock up for hearty winter cuisine with fresh out of the garden fare at a farmers market.
The weekend of October 2 and 3, Falmouth’s Barnstable County Fairgrounds come alive with a fall festival where you can find great homemade items from local growers and artisans-—it’s a terrific place to stock up for holiday entertaining and gift-giving. On Columbus Day weekend, the Yarmouth Seaside Festival offers a craft fair, fireworks, and good music.
For a lot more ways to savor your Cape autumn, turn to page 48 and peruse “Festivals, Feasts, and Fun,” our feature on autumn’s highlights. And if the winter days close in too soon, you can always spend a day on Main Street, Hyannis where Puritan Cape Cod’s resourceful owners have partnered with Solstice Spa and the Naked Oyster restaurant- (see our story on page 54) to offer fine shopping, personalized spa services, and tasty cuisine-—all in one convenient indoor location. Wear a pair of flip-flops and you can pretend that summer never left.
Standing in the center courtyard of the Henry T. Wing School in Sandwich, landscape designer Paul Miskovsky is taking in the scent of flowers and herbs and the sight of butterflies flitting from one beautiful blossom to another. Miskovsky is recalling a very different time and place, though: In 1975, when he was a student here, this building was the town’s high school and the courtyard served as the smoking area for students and faculty. Then, it was little more than slabs of concrete pierced with weeds here and there, the air heavy with the smell of cigarettes.
A stroll through the Wellfleet Community Garden yields an array of sights. Mark Gabriel’s smiling Buddha, surrounded by pink and orange portulacas, seems to bless a barrel of herbs. Across the hay-strewn aisle, a tuba overflows with purple petunias. Across the way, a bit further up, horticultural therapist Bodil Drescher has planted raised beds constructed by her daughter, Nette. Maura Condrick opted for planting her crops in geometric patterns, with a bright red chair against the fence as a focal point. “We’ve been surprised at the creativity of the gardeners,” Wellfleetian Celeste Makely says. “People are expressing themselves in their own way. It’s kind of quirky. It’s Wellfleet.”
Makely, the garden’s project director, envisioned creating a community garden in Wellfleet where people from all walks of life could gather to grow vegetables and make friends. As she had her husband, John, spread the word, they found themselves surrounded by a circle of hands, all eager to dig into the soil of the football-field sized garden in front of the Council on Aging on Old Kings Highway. The garden is a fun place to be, full of imaginative decorations and 32 cleverly designed plots. The individual gardens are as varied as the folks who tend them. “When I garden, I garden with my ancestors, and when I cook, I cook with my mother,” says Makely, who began gardening with her father in a World War II Victory Garden. “It’s a nice feeling.”
Wellfleet’s first community garden in 50 years came to fruition when the town’s board of selectmen approved the Makelys’ proposal to use land in front of the Council on Aging facility for that purpose. “We started with a half-acre of scrub pines,” says Makely, whose enthusiasm and drive have steered this year-long effort. She was assisted by several local businesses: Dennis Murphy of Murphy-Nickerson, Inc. cleared land; Bartlett Tree conducted soil testing; Capello Well Drilling drilled a well; and many others donated their services to make the project a reality. “This is a community effort,” Makely says. “A lot of people donated their time, tools, and money to make this happen.”
The 32 gardeners lease their plots; a 20-by-20-foot plot is $30 a year, 10-by-20-foot plots are $15. One plot is set aside for seniors who want to garden from throughout the community and from the Council on Aging (COA). Gardeners planted blueberry bushes so those inside the COA building facing the garden have a pleasant view; soon gooseberry bushes will be planted. All of the available plots filled up immediately, and now there is a waiting list. The group is largely self-governed; five gardeners called the “Cabbage Heads” mediate disputes that arise. Some gardeners supplement their income with the vegetables they’ve grown. Others donate their surplus to the Mustard Seed Kitchen, the Wellfleet Food Bank, and the COA’s Iris’s Café.
Some plots have traditional rows while others plant in geometric patterns. One gardener sculpted a raised flower with petals that soon will bloom. Cedar and Ennie Cole, created a meandering path of log steps surrounded by sedum with driftwood adding vertical interest. Their scarecrow with a mannequin’s head stands guard with outstretched arms.
Further up the path, a gaggle of plastic dinosaurs circle Rich Sobol’s herbs. Sharyn Lindsay and her son, Caleb Potter, have built an elaborate driftwood arbor leading to a rustic bench surrounded by begonias and foxglove. A landscape designer, Sharon’s garden is a mix of flowers, lettuces, cabbages, tomatoes, and herbs. A Grecian urn filled with nasturtium and purple salvia flanks the bench while a stone birdbath beckons feathered visitors.
Claudia and Bruce Drucker have made a planter from a clam rake filled with moss, green beans, and thyme. Their garden has a criss-cross pattern with 48 varieties of plants. “I try to plant unusual varieties and different colors of plants,” said Claudia. She has yellow and purple peppers and tomatoes, golden beets, candy-striped radishes, and purple carrots. All the flowers are edible including nasturtium, calendula, pansies, and corn flowers. Claudia also has lovage, a perennial that she says “tastes like celery and smells beautiful.”
Gardening is an activity that benefits people of all interests and abilities. For more than 45 years, former horticultural therapist Bodil Drescher has helped the physically and mentally disabled garden. “Anybody can garden, you just need the right tools,” says Bodil. Her garden paths are wider for better accessibility and she has constructed special tools to accommodate the disabilities of her gardeners, She hopes to establish gardening programs at the senior centers in Wellfleet and Eastham.
This beautiful garden is generating a lot of interest in the community. The Makelys have given tours to people from all over who are interested in community gardening. The gardeners partnered with Wellfleet Preservation Hall for its June garden tour. As a master gardener, Celeste and other experienced gardeners are available to help beginners.
Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the Wellfleet Community Garden for the Makelys has been the good friends they’ve made along the way. “This is a people place,” said Celeste. “You walk down that aisle and people are happy. Gardeners are nice people.”
When you step into Sally Faith Steinmann’s studio, you know instantly that an artist is at work. Poster decorated walls, depicting everything from landscape paintings to Bob Dylan, lead you through a second-story Harwich apartment. The entire studio is shelved with stacks of multi-colored fabric. Amidst the organized chaos are . . . hats. Hats, glorious hats, in all shapes, styles, and sizes.
From the corner, Billie Holiday’s voice crackles out of a stereo. Sunshine flows in. Sally fits in perfectly with the room, which seems to reverberate with creative energy. The artist behind Maggie Mae Designs Custom Millinery®, Sally has long had a passion for the rare art of hat making. “I have found my inspiration over a lifetime,” she says. As a child, she fashioned tiny hats for her stuffed animals. After graduating from Wellesley College with degrees in women’s studies and psychology, Sally yearned for creative inspiration. That year, on a whim her mother presented her with a large yarn hat that she shrank in the washing machine with the idea of creating a smaller felt hat. Sally was intrigued, thinking, “This is a hat that needs something to make it sparkle, something to make it special.” She did just that, made a few more, and in 1998, began to sell designs to Chatham’s The Artful Hand Gallery. When she saw how popular the hats were, she realized that she had found her calling.
“Maps are artifacts of their time, and, as such, they are windows, not only on the world of the past that they represent, but on the worldview or the mind of the time that produced them.”—Robert Finch, The 1858 Map of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket
Robert Finch’s commentary, “Two Windows,” which appears in The 1858 Map of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, & Nantucket, tells us about the two views the map presents. One is “a wide-angle or macroview of its time,” he writes, while the other is a closer look at the people who lived then, including their individual stories. The broader view gives us town borders and bodies of water, village centers and back roads. The deeper, more penetrating look reveals, for example, that many of the listed heads of household in Truro Village—no fewer than 17—begin with “Mrs.”, which denotes a widow. “The explanation lies in the tragic gale of October 3, 1841,” Finch writes in his commentary, “in which the lives of fifty-seven Truro men were lost at sea.” Read more…
The invitation was unexpected and intriguing: Did I want to spend the night in a dune shack just yards away from the Atlantic in Provincetown?
For those unversed in Cape Cod lore, the dune shacks are the bare-bones dwellings that run along a two-mile stretch of dune ridges and valleys between Race Point in Provincetown and High Head in North Truro. The earliest shacks housed sailors who shipwrecked during the 19th century on the treacherous Peaked Hill Bars just off the beach. Others were constructed to provide a getaway from nearby bustling Provincetown center. Today, 19 rough-hewn shacks remain, and like the rest of the Provincetown community, they are steeped in history, culture, stories, and legend. Read more…
There’s a Cape Cod myth that says Labor Day is the end of things. Come September 6, the cottages empty, shops are shuttered, the water turns cold, the weather becomes harsh, tourists leave for good, and Cape Codders withdraw into an off-season of silence.But nothing could be further from the truth. Autumn on Cape Cod means the once traffic-heavy roads open up for a sun-drenched cruise underneath the foliage. Shop doors are mostly wide open; you might even catch an end-of-season sale or two. Dinner and room reservations are much easier to book. And right through September, the water is often warmer than it is in June. Villages from Falmouth to Provincetown—the Islands, too—are buzzing with activity, a full season of events blooming under the changing colors of the leaves. Whatever your interest—a scenic marathon run through Falmouth, an exciting Vineyard competition to catch the biggest fish, or a weekend in Wellfleet dedicated to delicious fresh oysters—there’s plenty of attractions after Labor Day. It’s a familiar refrain to year-rounders, and it’s one worth repeating: Autumn is the best time to visit the Cape and Islands. Read more…
Antiques shops are spread far and wide over the country, but there may be no other spot more gilt-edged for antiquing than Cape Cod’s Route 6A. The road itself—also called the Old King’s Highway—is a treasure, lined with historic houses, ancient cemeteries, stone walls, views of salt marshes—and antique shops. Almost all of these shops are open year-round, but particularly in the off-season, it’s wise to call ahead.
Your day starts in Sagamore at Just Like Home Antiques & Gifts (Route 6A and Westdale Park, 508-888-2033), where owner Peg Wilson has filled her charming shop with collections of antiques and gifts with a vintage look, such as a line of Emma Bridgewater tableware. In a back room is a stunning example of Wilson’s specialty, vintage beds in brass and iron: a lovely 1920s restored iron bed ($600), made up with vintage linens.
Traveling east, Route 6A reveals more of classic Cape Cod, including a historic graveyard and grand houses. As you enter Sandwich, turn left on Tupper Road for the Sandwich Auction House (15 Tupper Road, 508-888-1926, www.sandwichauction.com). Sandwich Auction House holds several auctions a month; the monthly oriental rug auction is a highlight. One summer auction featured a stunning Tabriz carpet measuring just over 8 feet by 12 feet. Owner Duncan Gray opens the house for viewing.
Route 6A through Sandwich is a beautiful drive even if antiques aren’t on your mind. Watch for a glimpse of Sandy Neck Beach as you meander through this stretch of Cape Cod’s oldest town, founded in 1639. At Seaside Antiques (124 Route 6A, 508-888-1912), owner Sandra Tompkins considers her wares—antiques and treasures that are not old enough for the antique label—as one way to go green. Why buy a new blanket chest when you can purchase a gorgeous 1800s lift-top chest ($450)? Amble by the back door, where you’ll see a pretty view of two white church steeples rising above the treetops.
Further into Sandwich is the multifaceted Sandwich Antiques Center (131 Route 6A, 508-833-3600, www.sandwichantiquescenter.com). With 110 dealers represented, the goods here cover a wide swath of culture and history. Customers often ask to see the primitive furniture and Sandwich glass. But owner Peter Smith has charming décor items as well, including a charming 1800s portrait of a plump baby ($875). If you’re there on the hour, you’ll be treated to a chorus of chimes from the more than 50 grandfather clocks spread throughout the shop.
Further down the road in Sandwich is Maypop Antiques (161 Route 6A, 508-888-1230). Owner Paul Opacki has operated this shop—a converted gas station washed in white, plumped with banks of flowers, and worth a look on its own merits—for 25 years. Opacki’s spacious store is lined with tables of glass, china, jewelry, and furniture, including a late-18th century two-drawer tavern table in gorgeous cherry ($1,800).
Sandwich is the perfect home for a lovely shop operated by Toni Rencricca, her husband Nicholas, and daughter Nicole, who started out as collectors. Today they operate Antoinette’s Antiques & Collectibles in East Sandwich (350 Route 6A, 774-413-9799), which features several elegant rooms full of items, including ephemera, glass, jewelry, and coins. Many people stop in to see their collection of cameos, some carved from shell ($40-$850). One entire room is devoted to books and paper.
Edythe Davinis has set up her shop, Edythe & Co. Antiques (433 Route 6A, 508-888-8843) in stylish vignettes, so that customers can better picture how her pieces will fit in their own homes. She loves decorative goods and garden antiques with a little quirkiness. One show-stopper is a shell-encrusted art deco table with a floral design she found at a Paris flea market ($1,950). The store has a sister shop, Trade Secret Antiques, in Osterville.
Look carefully, or you may miss Horsefeathers Antiques (454 Route 6A, 508-888-5298; call first), and that would be a shame. Owner Jeanne Gresham’s confection is filled with antique and vintage baby clothing and handkerchiefs. One adorable example is a peach-colored cotton netting dress with stunning embroidery, circa 1930s ($110). Parents and grandparents will be utterly charmed.
The towns along Route 6A slip from one to the next and before you know it, you’re in West Barnstable. West Barnstable Antiques (625 Route 6A, 508-362-2047) is operated by Walter Munday, a font of knowledge for his fascinating collection of antiques. The eye goes immediately to shelves of navigation and surveying instruments. Before you leave, be sure to ask Walter to demonstrate the Polyphon Euphonion, a German-made music box that is almost four feet high and plays music in outstanding fashion.
At famous West Barnstable Table, just of Route 6A on Meetinghouse Way, the work of more than 14 craftspersons is represented in galleries full of newly crafted antique-style furniture and folk art items, housed in a large barn and an antique cranberry sorting building. This Cape Cod gem (2454 Meetinghouse Way, 508-362-2676) of a shop has been in business since 1970, providing custom order, beautifully designed tables, chairs, and other furniture that are sure to become treasured antiques for generations.
Route 6A takes a jog left at the intersection with Route 132 and continues its stretch of historic homes, bed-and-breakfast inns, and galleries. It’s the perfect time to pause, because the center of Barnstable Village is just ahead, an excellent place to stop for lunch or coffee. When you continue on your way east, notice the flower-banked stone walls, many of them pieces of Cape Cod history.
At Route 149, turn right for a one-of-a-kind antiques shop. The Barnstable Stove Shop (2481 Route 149, 508-362-9913), situated between the ancient cemetery and the old train depot, is owner Doug Pacheco’s incredible collection of stoves. Among the stoves are other antiques for sale, including tools, tiles, and stained glass windows. His must-see collection of restored antique kitchen ranges and parlor stoves includes a restored 1891 coal/wood stove embellished with a figurine of a Greco-Roman woman, angel heads, cherubs, and serpents, and set on a nickel claw-foot base stand ($8,500).
Eldred’s Auction House (1483 Route 6A, East Dennis, 508-385-3116, www.eldreds.com), set behind an antique sea captain’s house, is a Cape Cod tradition operated for over 60 years by the Eldred family. Almost all the art auctions feature antique artworks. Josh Eldred mentioned an auction last summer that featured a Ralph Cahoon painting, “A Shocking Incident at The Boston Public Garden” (total price: $207,000), which set a world record auction price for Cahoon’s work. Auction items may be previewed the day before every auction.
East Dennis Antiques (1514 Route 6A, 508-385-7651, www.eastdennisantiques.com) is situated in one of the many antique homes that line Route 6A. The shop is filled with fine furniture, paintings, and specialties such as antique frames and nautical items. One beauty is a “sailor’s silk,” a Japanese embroidered silk piece that commemorates a young sailor’s tour with the U.S. Navy ($2,500).
Set in a 1780s half-Cape, Spyglass Antiques (2257 Main Street, Brewster, 508-896-4423), focuses on 18th and 19th century maritime antiques and nautical instruments, such as antique barometers, telescopes, sailor-made folk art, and early American furniture and paintings. One item near and dear to owner Brad Finch is a turn-of- the-century ship’s figurehead of a mermaid set on a custom-made base ($10,500). As one of the oldest nautical shops on the Cape, Spyglass is a perfect place to cap your day.