A Perennial Gardener’s Prayer: Sleep Easy, Sleep Deep

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

Life’s Bittersweet Season

Life October 2010 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.

Happy autumn,

Susan Dewey

This Old Home

We have always lived in old houses. Our first house was built around 1920 in a Philadelphia suburb. It was a stucco Dutch Colonial, built with simple charm and sturdiness by Dutch and German craftsmen.

Our next house was the kind of place you buy in your early 30s, believing you are invincible. Located in Grafton, a Central Massachusetts hilltop town, the house had 14 rooms, none of which had been touched for decades. A handsome Greek Revival built for the town’s Unitarian minister in 1860, the house had an elegant curving center hall staircase, nine-foot tall ceilings, crown moldings, custom-designed built-in bookshelves, and even a solarium. But the wiring was ancient, there was no insulation, and we almost froze the first winter.
The house we live in now can truly be called an old house. Built in 1730 by a Centerville sea captain, it is a classic Cape, built to endure the ebb and flow of life on a narrow, sea-battered peninsula. The main part of the house features five rooms clustered around a huge central chimney. On cold winter nights, we warm ourselves by the original fireplace, which still has hooks for cooking. The stairs to the second floor bedrooms tucked under the eaves are narrow and steep. The house faces south, towards the Atlantic Ocean, and in the backyard there are two ancient apple trees gnarled by the elements and time. For almost 100 years, my husband’s family has called this place home.

Although I love this oldest of our houses, I am starting to dream about making it a little more comfortable, now that we know we are definitely not invincible. In our kitchen, located in a 1912 addition, I imagine bringing in a contractor and an interior designer to help me create a space full of comfort and convenience. Stories such as that of Edie DeHaen (page 50), who took an unremarkable Chatham Cape and transformed it into a charming cottage, inspire me. I look at the photos photographer Dan Cutrona shot of a masterful Hammer Architects redesign of an 1800s Provincetown home (page 42) and think to myself, “We could do that at our house!” As the editor of this publication, an inspirational panorama of Cape Cod Home ideas, visions, and concepts passes through my hands every week.

With the help of this magazine—and all the talented architects, interior designers, and artisans we meet in every issue—I can see how we can add a little lustre, comfort, and ease to our life in this very old house. I hope that Cape Cod Home does the same for you.

Happy Autumn,

Susan Dewey, Associate Publisher & Editor

When Pigs Fly

The realistic coexists with the fantastic on the stoneware created at Flying Pig Pottery in Woods Hole. Using a rare sgraffito technique—carving designs into white clay through a contrastingly colored slip—the Woods Hole company produces a line of plates, bowls, mugs, and more functional items adorned with renderings of maritime icons like mermaids and fish. The company has just released a new line produced by using a warm brown glaze with green highlights over blue slips. On top of their tactile appeal, the pieces are durable and dishwasher safe. For more information, visit, call (508) 548-7482, or visit their headquarters at 410 Woods Hole Road.

A Special Shore Thing

sourcebook If you need an invaluable, one-stop guide to distinctive products created by Cape and Island artisan—everything from custom sinks to hand-woven fabrics on to stone fireplaces and much more—be sure to order this attractively packaged, easy to use architectural and design sourcebook ($39.95) from the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce’s on-line store. Many of the items have been featured on programs like NECN’s “Dream House.”

For information, go to or call (508) 362-8910.

Stellas Shakes it Up

Life October 2010 We found this terrific spice, Mama Stellas, at an Osterville farmers market last summer where it was being sold by Stella’s descendants, who explained that their grandmother arrived in the United States in the late 1800s from the island of Madeira in the Azores. The story is that Stella settled on Martha’s Vineyard and taught her daughter how to combine a tasty mix of natural ingredients, including special kosher salt, garlic, Spanish paprika, and freshly ground black pepper, and the recipe was passed down through the family. “After tasting the difference Mama Stella made in their own cooking, friends and family encouraged me to place it on the market to enable others to improve their culinary skills,” says one of Stella’s grandchildren on the Osterville company’s website. We’ve tried Mama Stella’s on fresh vegetables, fish dishes, and even on deviled eggs. Like it says on the label: “Mama Stellas makes everything taste so much better!”

Buy a three pack for $14.99 by going to

New technologies make outdoor kitchens a hot commodity

Life August 2010 The days when cooking outdoors meant a long, involved process of starting a fire, keeping the fire going while you ran back and forth between your patio and the kitchen inside (always forgetting a grilling tool, condiment, or serving plate in the process) are long gone. Today’s lovers of outdoor entertaining can have everything right at their fingertips—from cocktails to appetizers to full-course meals—with outdoor kitchens that can be customized in every shape and style due to the development of easy-to-design-and-install kitchen components.

There are outdoor kitchens on the market today that offer a limitless array of cooking options—if pizza is your family’s favorite summer dish, you can purchase an honest-to-goodness pizza oven. If your guests love rotisserie chicken, you can have a rotisserie unit built into your outdoor kitchen. Kitchens can be as simple as an open-air grilling center beside a pool or patio, surrounded by porch furniture, or you can ask a contractor to come up with a design that incorporates a complete Caribbean-style oasis with integrated pool-side seating, a swim-up bar, and more. (For a related story, be sure to read how Marston Mills’ Artistic Grounds contractors designed a stunning, Caribbean outdoor kitchen for one North Falmouth family in our Summer issue of Cape Cod HOME, on newsstands now.)

Jason Hogan, head of marketing at Stonewood Products in Harwich and Mashpee, says that the development of high-end, easy-to-move modular components and appliances in stainless steel have made it relatively simple to design and install an outside kitchen—no matter your budget and space limitations.
“The development of modular components has really helped turned the outdoor kitchen market into a growing trend,” says Hogan from the company’s Harwich location. Hogan says that some customers want a relatively small kitchen, with a simple grill, perhaps a sink, and a small refrigerator, and others want the whole works. “Some customers want big gourmet kitchens with all the bells and whistles,” says Hogan, noting that Stonewood had one customer whose fancy outdoor kitchen rang in at close to $70,000. “Some people want really elaborate set-ups, fancy countertops—they want different kinds of stone, or seating for up to 40 people.

Life August 2010 “The lightweight modular units, which are built off-site, are really easy for contractors to work with,” says Hogan, noting that Stonewood offers a full line of outdoor kitchen modular options and stone veneer choices, which can be viewed on the company’s web site (, along with a helpful Do It Yourself video on an actual Cape Cod outdoor kitchen installation.

The modular galvanized steel cabinets housing grills, sinks, refrigerators—even kegerators for those who want their beer cold and on tap—are then covered with cement board, which is surfaced with stone veneer. Stonewood has lots of veneer choices for outdoor kitchen customers. “We recommend the thin stone veneer, which is the natural stone,” says Hogan. “The natural stone has come down a lot in price and can be the same, or even cheaper, than manufactured stone veneer. We have a huge display here where people can pick the stone to match their house or their patio. It can be a mosaic look, a pattern—and if they want something that looks like brick, that’s easy too.”

Building an outdoor kitchen may seem like a costly investment, but as Hogan points out, the cost of remodeling a kitchen can be three times the cost of an entire, brand new outdoor kitchen. “When you consider that you can build a really nice, outdoor kitchen for $10-$12,000 in less than a week’s time—and that the cost of remodeling your interior kitchen can run $25-$30,000—you can see that an outdoor kitchen is a pretty reasonable investment,” says Hogan. “And the other thing is that outdoor kitchens are smart environmental choices. Instead of burning fossil fuels to go out to eat or to travel around the country, you’re dining and vacationing in your own backyard.”

For information on Stonewood Products, go to

Sea Sweet Details

Complementing a home with seaside accents is an exercise in subtlety. Rich Details, a new line of home accessories from the East Sandwich-based company, Embroidery by the Sea, features delightful cotton napkins, tea towels, and fine stone coasters—each created with a delicate maritime charm by founder Pamela Rich Mulhearn. The designs give any home a splash of seaside charm and can enliven any kitchen or dining room. Rich Details also customizes products with burgees, logos, or monograms. Items from the Rich Details line are available at Tale of the Cod in Chatham and Oyster Island Emporium in Osterville. Prices range from $12 to $30. Call (508) 833-6574 or visit for more information.

She Sells Seashells

Michael McLaughlin Susan Black knows all about longing for people and places left behind. Although she lives in Colorado now, part of her heart will always be on Nantucket. “Nantucket is my second home,” says Black, who moved to Boulder year-round several years ago after living there on and off for decades. The 51-year-old explains that a tragedy brought her to Colorado full-time. “I have a niece and nephew there who I love dearly. They are my brother’s children­—he passed away nine years ago,” she says.

It seems appropriate, somehow, that Black’s business­ should be based on a historic longing of travelers for treasured places. She sells Nantucket Sailors’ Valentine kits on-line and in specialty shops. When you type Nantucket Sailors’ Valentines Kits into a Google search, her company,, appears first at the top of the page.

For several years, Black lived on Nantucket, having come to the island for the first time as a twenty-something. Later on in life, she moved to the island year-round and eventually became a substitute teacher at the Cyrus Pierce Middle School.

Black’s first venture in to Nantucket crafts started when she taught herself to make Nantucket baskets. Fascinated by the iconic island craft that is still very much in vogue today, she studied the baskets before diving into the difficult, time-consuming process of creating a basket from scratch. “I taught myself to make the Nantucket baskets and I made a bunch of them for fun,” says Black, who obviously has a talent for focusing in on a project and sticking to it despite setbacks and the occasional failure. “When the baskets were done, I brought them to the island’s Folk Art Fair.”

Life August 2010 An impressed relative commissioned Black to create a 30-inch basket for a coffee table. “It was quite a project,” says Black. “I couldn’t find anyone on the island to make me the mold I wanted and surprisingly, I found someone in Colorado to make me the mold. But I made the basket handles and the rims by myself, finding the wood, soaking it, and bending it into shape.”

It is obvious that this is a craftsperson with a logical, business-like head on her shoulders. When she is asked if she considers herself a talented person with artistic ability, she laughs. “I’m kind of middle-of-the-road crafty,” says Black. “But I get into something and just kind of do it all the way.”

In 2005, Black was on Nantucket with a friend visiting her two sisters who still live on the island year-round. While showing the friend some of the island’s attractions, including the Nantucket Historical Association’s (NHA) Whaling Museum, Black became enamored of Sailors’ Valentines.

“We went to the NHA’s whaling museum shop,” says Black. “We saw an octagonal cloth covered object and we thought­—gosh, I wonder if this a kit where you can make your own sailors valentines!” The pair quickly realized that they were looking at a book by avid sailors’ valentine collector, John Fondas. Still, the chance encounter sparked an idea for a new business. “I turned to Donna and said with your art background and my business and art background ­—why don’t we start a sailors’ valentines kit business?”

After a month of careful research, including learning about the sizes and sources for shells around the world, the best wood and size for a glass-fronted box, the intricacies of packaging and shipping the kits, and the designs that have endured since homesick sailors first crafted valentines for their loved ones, Nantucket Sailors’ Valentines Kits was born.

Black explains there are a handful of traditional sailors’ valentines themes usually seen at such places as the Sanibel, Florida annual Shell Fair, where elaborate sailors’ valentines are on display. “The designs really haven’t changed all that much,” says Black. “There is usually an all-white valentine as well as ones with a star theme, a heart theme, one with a pink rosette in the center; these are your traditional sailors valentines’ themes. Also, many valentines have a photo at the center, or a piece of scrimshaw.”

Michael McLaughlin Working with her friend who is a graphic artist, Black created the designs, composed an easy-to-follow instruction book, ordered shells from around the world, and at the end of 2005, launched her kits at the Nantucket Christmas Stroll Craft Fair. She quickly realized that although each of her kits contains dozens of carefully separated shells, a beautiful hand-crafted octagonal wooden shadow box with a glass front (8 3/4 inches) and brass hinges, two carefully written instruction books, glue, and more, the price tag was a little high for off-the-street customers.

“It’s true that the kits are a little pricey—$125.00 each,” says Black. “We realized that we probably weren’t going to sell many at craft fairs­. So we turned to one or two high-end shops—and the Internet.” It was on the Internet that Nantucket Sailors’ Valentines Kits began to take off in the company’s second year of business—and since then, sales have doubled every single year. “I think that’s pretty encouraging for the kind of business we are in—a really specialized business,” says Black, who notes that since 2006, she has been the sole owner of the business.

Over the years, Black has refined her product carefully, evaluating what works and what doesn’t and encouraging customers to give her honest feedback. On her easy-to-navigate web-site, quotes from happy customers from around the world are testament to the company’s success. The kits are also sold at the Leslie Linsley shops on Nantucket and on Charles Street in Boston. Black is also introducing a line of classy, yet reasonably-priced paperweights ($20) with nautical themes in 2010.
When she is asked what her ultimate wish is for her company, Black laughs. “Well, to be honest, when I started this business my true goal was to build something like this—and then sell it,” says Black. “But you know, I am having such fun with this that I’m just going to keep going. I’m just enjoying running this great home-based business, where I count seashells for a living in the Rocky Mountains.”

For information on Nantucket Sailors’ Valentines, go to or call 508 292-3502.

Cape and Islands’ sources for Nantucket Sailors Valentines

Gayle Condit,, 508 896-6194. Gayle Condit is an award-winning Cape artisan whose sailors valentines can be purchased at European Traditions Antiques, Nantucket, Chatham Art Gallery, Chatham, Edgartown Scrimshaw Gallery, Edgartown, and Kindred’s, Osterville.

,, 845 Main Street, Osterville, 508 420-7390. Kindreds carries sailors valentines by Gayle Condit as well as a wide range of arts and crafts by Cape and Islands’ artisans.

Theresa Labrecque,, 774-323-0333. Theresa Labrecque is a talented artist and painter who also designs and sells Nantucket Sailors Valentines. Her work was featured in the 2010 ART of the Cape & Islands, a Cape Cod Life Publication.

Sandy Moran,, 508 362-8410. Sandy Moran, of Yarmouthport, has won numerous awards around the country for her sailors’ valentines, which are sold on Cape Cod and the Islands, including at Osterville’s Oak and Ivory. Moran’s valentines have been featured on PBS and in many national and regional magazines.

Scrimshander Gallery
,, 38 Centre Street, Nantucket, 508- 228-1004. The Scrimshander Gallery is owned by professional scrimshander and artist, Michael Vienneau, who sells completed sailors valentines and also handcrafts scrimshaw centerpieces for sailors valentine construction. The shop also carries model ships, ivory displays and basket tops.

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