“I grew up spending summers in a little Cape cottage my parents bought in 1956,” says Sue Sargent. Her mother, an avid gardener, planted perennials the family could enjoy during their Orleans vacation days. “My mother always gardened, she was a very natural gardener, and a great fan of Rachel Carson’s,” says Sargent, referring to the early environmentalist and author of Silent Spring. “I would watch her work. Later, when I married, I would come to visit the Cape with my husband and our daughters. After my parents died, my family continued to come to the cottage and in 1999, a fabulous gardener friend of ours designed and helped in planting the first meadow garden along our driveway.”
Today, the original cottage’s meadow garden is filled to overflowing with huge grasses—Miscanthus “Adagio” and Pennisetum “Hameln.” “I’ve divided them an awful lot over the years, I’ve even had to take some out,” says Sargent. She has under planted the grasses with multiple layers of Sedum “Autumn Joy” and Sedum “Matrona.” The Sedums’ succulent erect stems and fleshy leaves provide a great contrast to the billowing mounds and linear spikes of the ornamental grasses. When the Sedum come into bloom, the meadow is transformed with flushes of pink.
Pink accents show up again in a stunning Marsh Mallow (Hibiscus) with large ornamental flowers, planted near the house. “I love Marsh Mallows, they remind me of my mother; in fact, two of her Mallows survive to this day,” says Sargent. Her mother’s Mallows sit on a rise above the home Sue and her husband, John, built in 2001 on the same site as the original cottage. “John and I knew we wanted to retire here and realized our summer home, filled with memories, was not sufficient to meet our year-round needs,” Sargent explains. “We couldn’t bear the thought of tearing the house down and were fortunate to find someone willing to take the cottage and move it. For awhile we had what we called Tippy Village, a shanty town in our backyard—our old summer home cut into quarters—waiting for the movers to take it to a new site in North Eastham.”
Before the original cottage was moved from its foundation, Sargent dug up her mother’s garden and healed in roses, Hydrangeas, Phlox, and “Black-Eyed Susan” (Rudbeckia) in a safe place far from the construction. The plants have all found their way into the many beds and borders surrounding the new home. Soft pink “Fairy” roses her mother had planted now edge a pull-in place off the crushed shell driveway. “After the house was built, meadow number two was planted and then I kept expanding,” says Sargent.
Meadow “two” lines the other side of the drive. Birds flutter in and out of the grasses—Panicum “Shenandoah”, the reed grass Calamagrostis “Karl Foerster,” and the graceful Japanese silver grass Miscanthus sinensis “Morning Light.” She added a punch of color to the mix when she replanted original red “Knockout” shrub roses.
Both meadows are anchored by a blue spruce, adding structure and color. There are also blueberry bushes and colorful butterfly bushes. Sargent has planted various coneflowers (Echinacea) a great meadow plant; also, native goldenrod has snuck in and been allowed to stay. “Russian Sage” (Perovskia) adds dashes of purple as does the Nepeta “Six Hills Giant” (catmint). Adding a whimsical touch, Gaura lindheimeri “Belleza” weaves its way through grasses with small dancing blossoms, brightened by yellow splashes of “Black-eyed Susan.” A Kousa dogwood adds grace when four-petaled, white blossoms open out in late spring. “May Queen” Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum) bounce in the breeze. American native “Joe Pye” (Eupatorium purpurea) has done very well and is a little too happy, says Sargent, who has no qualms about ripping out any plants that become invasive.
“I have lots of ‘Stella d’ Oro’ daylilies (Hemerocallis) and I like another daylily called ‘Hemero Pink,’” Sargent notes. When she needs new plants, she never buys just one—rarely three—but usually five to seven of the same variety—the bigger the pot size, the better. “I’m impatient and I’m what I’d call a frothing gardener,” says Sargent. “There are very few empty spaces, the plants run into each other. It is very informal. I like a natural look.”
Spring is spent tidying up the garden as most plants are left for winter interest. “We leave the leaves in the garden as a winter mulch,” Sargent explains. “In the spring, John weed-whacks the meadow gardens back almost to the ground.” The Sargents do bring in outside help when getting the gardens ready in the spring for a day of weeding, edging the garden, moving John’s cuttings to the compost heap, and laying down 20 yards of mulch.
“Our biggest work time is in April, May, and June,” says Sargent. “I spend a lot of time in the garden, certainly every day, sometimes for five hours, sometimes for two. Then it eases off. In the hot weather, I’m not totally anxious to be out there, but will head out a couple times a week to deadhead.”
Beyond the meadow gardens, graceful borders swing round the house. Sargent has filled the beds with pink “Gumpo” Azalea, the compact Japanese holly Ilex crenata, various Rhododendron, blue Ageratum, autumn-bright Leucothoe fontanesiana shrubs, “Cranesbill” perennial geranium, delicate “Lace Cap” Hydrangea, more Sedum, and lots of “Lady’s Mantle” (Alchemilla mollis) that Sargent cuts for house bouquets. “I love its fragrance and as a cut flower the ‘Lady’s Mantle’ is beautiful,” she says.
The oldest survivors in the garden are the huge Rhododendron. “My mother and father planted those back in the early 60s,” says Sargent, noting that she looks forward to the display of blossoms each spring. New additions to the garden have been added by her son-in-law, David Hawk, president of the landscape architecture firm, Hawk Design. “He is really talented and the nicest guy in the world,” says the proud mother-in-law. “His sense of design is unbelievable. He designed a beautiful rock wall for us and a circle garden filled with annuals.” Sargent is also partial to a planting David created with matching beds of Hydrangea paniculata, under planted with round balls of boxwood and a feathery pink Coreopsis perennial.
Although a bad back has slowed her down a bit, this gardener says she still finds time in the summer to swim and swing golf clubs or a tennis racket. There is no stopping this busy, multi-talented woman.