When Cape Cod residents first plant their landscapes, many choose evergreen trees and shrubs believing that having foliage all year round is of prime importance. At some point, however, the realization sets in that their yard is a sea of green. Evergreens may have beautiful all-seasons foliage, but these monochromatic trees and shrubs don’t satisfy most humans’ innate desire for color. Read more…
The first thing to consider when starting your own seedlings (which usually take around six weeks to be ready for planting in the garden) is light. To sprout and flourish, seedlings need lots of sunlight, such as that found in a bright Southern exposure window, or steady constant light provided by fluorescent lamps. Read more…
Starting your own vegetables from seed is time consuming—but worth the work—for Cape Cod gardens.
The pleasure of vegetable gardening never grows old. Even on Cape Cod—where variable soil conditions range from sandy to solid clay and erratic weather patterns run from humid summers to cold storm-battered autumns—there’s nothing like growing your own tomatoes, beans, brussels sprouts, lettuce, or whatever vegetable suits your fancy.
The gardening season on Cape Cod and the Islands is longer than in many other New England regions. The surrounding ocean warms things up every summer, which is why this area has a hardiness designation of Zone 7. Zone 7 stretches from Cape Cod to Georgia and includes places like Charlotte, North Carolina. Read more…
Chances are most of your holiday decorating needs are right outside your Cape or Islands back door. Even small landscapes can provide the abundance of colors and textures of greenery perfect for doors, arrangements, mantles, and Christmas crafts. From foundation plants to perennials—and even perimeter-of-the-property vines—much of your winter décor is already in your own backyard. Read more…
It may seem like a strange idea to plant trees, shrubs, and perennials in the autumn, just when Mother Nature is slowing down and about to take a long nap. But the truth is that planting in September and October is often a very smart idea on the Cape and Islands because the soil is still warm from the summer sun, air and water temperatures have moderated, and water levels in the soil are neither too great—as is often the case in New England springs—nor at hot summertime lows.
When teacher Christine Fawkes’ first grade class gathers in the hollow of windswept dunes on Cape Cod’s Sandy Neck Beach one bright summer morning, it marks the culmination of a season’s worth of work. Since springtime, these students from Barnstable-West Barnstable Elementary School and others schools around the state have been working with the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary to rear endangered, thumbnail-sized eastern spadefoot toads. Today, these excited seven-year-olds reach into aquariums, gently scoop more than 230 of the species into their hands, and happily watch the little toads hop away into the sandy wilderness.
With its range of freshwater, marine, and upland habitats, Cape Cod provides a living classroom for students to study and learn about the fragility of this coastal environment. More and more, schools are teaming up with local science and nature organizations to encourage even the youngest children to be aware of the world around them, starting with their own backyard of Cape Cod. From partnerships with groups including the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Mass Audubon sanctuaries, and the Cape Cod National Seashore, innovative teachers are bringing science alive, forging lasting connections with the community and placing the local environment in greener hands.
Spadefoot toads, which are threatened in Massachusetts due to a significantly declining habitat, are known to be found in only 32 places around the state, including the Province Lands at the Cape Cod National Seashore, and on Sandy Neck. “They prefer a habitat they can burrow into,” says Ian Ives, director of both Mass Audubon’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary in Cummaquid and the Ashumet Holly Wildlife Sanctuary in East Falmouth. “They spend almost all of their existence under the sand.” Records of spadefoots also exist in the boggy Ashumet area, but the tiny toads haven’t been seen there for 15 to 20 years, according to Ives, who has studied the records at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Mass Audubon and its student partners are hoping to turn things around for the state’s rarest toads by reintroducing them to their native habitats. Ives says, “This is an opportunity to head-start the toads, learn how to raise them, and bring them back to their natural habitat.”
Ives says that working with the schools is a natural fit. The students feed the tadpoles fish, rabbit food, and bugs and create aquarium habitats with a pool and a mounded beach to match each stage of growth. For instance, the kids first give the herbivore tadpoles lots of water and fish flakes, but as soon as the tadpoles start metamorphosis, students add wingless fruit flies and ants to the amphibians’ habitat. “It got the kids thinking not just about the endangered toads, but it also opened their eyes to other endangered animals,” says Catherine Scibelli of Barnstable, whose daughter Alessandra took part in this project. “We live in such a beautiful spot; I think it’s great they become aware of everything they have around them and bring that into the classroom.” Such invaluable lessons from the land are being taught at other Cape Cod schools including the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in Orleans. Paul Niles, an eighth grade science teacher and the founder and associate director of this public school for grades six, seven, and eight, says having students understand the basic ecosystems on Cape Cod was a principal goal when the school opened in 1994. When the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster became interested in developing school programs a few years back, the two institutions formed a partnership.
During the year, all sixth-graders from the school join naturalists from the museum, teachers, and parent volunteers to visit the area’s four major ecosystems: kettle ponds, uplands, barrier beaches, and salt marshes. They measure the salinity of salt marshes, examine pond water teeming with microscopic organisms, and meet with guest lecturers among other activities.
“We walked through the boardwalk on the marsh and learned about the special perfume that the flies like,” recalls current eighth-grader Amanda Carreiro of Harwich. They also made trail guides for the museum. Amanda’s mother, Andrea Higgins, leads nature hikes and journaling seminars at the school, activities that complement the projects with the museum. “We went walking in these wonderful spots like Nickerson Park and the National Seashore, and we wrote about them in our journals. I was so filled with hope after reading these journal writings—it was really exciting,” she says. “If they’ve fallen in love with an area, they’ll take care of it.”
The site visits and seminars have sparked enormous interest in environmental clubs offered at the school, including a chapter of Roots & Shoots, a global sustainability network founded by Primatologist and Environmentalist Dr. Jane Goodall. Last year, the Cape Cod Lighthouse Roots & Shoots Club received the Middle School Energy Education School of the Year Award from the National Energy Education Development Project for co-hosting an energy fair at the Museum of Natural History. Nauset Regional High School and Eastham Elementary School’s ecology clubs also participated in the project. “We educated families and people around the Cape on how to save energy,” Amanda says. “And, we got to meet Jane Goodall at the Roger Williams Zoo (in Providence) and present our energy project to her.”
“Society has been good about nurturing adolescents’ impulses toward athletic and artistic pursuits, but not so good with science and the environment,” Niles says. “Here, those science and environment muscles have been exercised.” What’s more, while multiple factors may be responsible, the middle school’s collaboration with the Museum of Natural History and abundant hands-on conservation activities have coincided with higher test scores, particularly in science.
The Outer Cape’s natural beauty and the prominent science community drew John Hanlon to call Provincetown his home after moving from Framingham, Massachusetts. Hanlon, who teaches science for the town’s fourth through 11th graders, spends his summers working as a park ranger for the National Park Service, a job that has placed him at the Cape Cod National Seashore for many years. This summer job has inspired Hanlon to bring his students to dunes, marshes, woodlands and cranberry bogs during the school year to teach them science lessons on location, rather than sitting at a desk. It has also opened doors for his students to conduct internships and projects in the community.
Hanlon and his students work with the scientists of the National Seashore on projects like mapping invasive species and conducting controlled burns in Truro and Wellfleet, experiences that have helped the students learn about wildfire, biodiversity, and creating new habitats. The students have also joined the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies to study plankton and investigate the ever-changing shoreline. “If there’s a dead whale that just washed up, we can get in the bus and go look at it,” Hanlon says.
Hanlon asserts that getting students out and about to care for the environment has also strengthened their connection with the community. After seeing students testing water in Provincetown Harbor, one resident was inspired to contribute a grant so the students could grow clams, which they then donated to a soup kitchen.
Provincetown High School graduate Leo Rose, who grew up hunting and fishing with his father in Truro, says science projects with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and an internship with the National Seashore propelled him to pursue a degree in environmental law enforcement at Unity College in Maine with long-term plans to become a park ranger. “I learned how environmentally friendly the national park is,” he says.
Hanlon says the class expeditions cultivate an appreciation for the outdoors that other students in town never had the chance to develop. “The science is one part, but just getting outside to the trails—some kids never get that,” he says. “For many kids, school is not a positive experience; but this is something to look forward to.”
Protecting this fragile landscape and learning from those on the front lines of conservation work are real-life lessons in thinking globally and acting locally. While environmental challenges such as climate change can seem overwhelming, students on Cape Cod are learning that they can make a positive difference, one land-use policy, one habitat, and one tiny endangered toad at a time.
Award-winning Cape Cod landscape designer Paul Miskovsky’s own garden is mystical and magical any time of the day—or night.
Paul Miskovsky has planted a garden on a cliff, set another on an island in a pond, and created several under the vast roof of the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. But of his many horticultural designs, there may be none more enchanting than that which surrounds his own Falmouth home.
We are in Miskovsky’s backyard on a hillside that edges conservation land, eyeing below a lush scene of a waterfall surrounded by a profusion of plants. Miskovsky, owner of Miskovsky Landscaping in Falmouth, and his fiancée, Eva Lemoine, worked for three years on the garden, which begins in the front of their buttermilk-yellow contemporary colonial and stretches around both sides to fill the backyard. Tonight, special lighting will transform the entire setting into a mystical wonderland.
The property has a variety of features, including several patio settings, but Miskovsky thinks of it as a single garden. This pocket of nature means everything to the landscape designer. “Living with this garden is a very fulfilling lifestyle,” he says. “It’s the visual, the color, the sound, the interest through the seasons.”
Miskovsky and Lemoine moved to the Falmouth property in 2002 and dug into the landscape project. It was memorable, requiring hundreds of yards of topsoil and compost. “We were buying it by the trailer load from Maine,” Miskovsky recalls, shaking his head at the memory. Over those three years, the couple turned a flat, hard surface of gravel peppered with a few oak trees into a horticultural beauty with several gradations and different views every few steps.
Pools of cool quiet are interwoven with imaginative arrangements and sculpture that draw your attention. Scents waft from flowers and sage. Trees and grasses rustle in the wind, while water fountains and the backyard waterfall provide a soothing backdrop sound. Colors abound. Some of the plants are free-form and others are shaped, such as the spidery, deep green European larch, a new variety.
Miskovsky has won top awards at the New England Spring Flower Show in Boston. He is a trustee of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, which produces the annual show. But designing the property that he and Lemoine see and live in every day was a very different experience—and not easy. “This garden is really formal-informal,” Miskovsky says. “There are games I play here. I played a lot of horticultural tricks, getting it all to look like it should.”
At either side of the front door, centered in the columned front portico, are big pots of pom-pom topiaries that provide a touch of formality. Just off the porch are concrete planters that he and Lemoine found and filled with trailing ivy that circles a single Cordyline, a dramatic focal point plant with purple-red leaves and a recent introduction in the plant world. Lemoine is a very important part of the process. As Miskovsky says, “She’s the one who takes care of the garden.”
Miskovsky is well aware of the importance of people in his life. His father, a mechanic, died when he was 10 and Miskovsky began taking any work he could get—yard care, clamming, repairing machinery—to help support the family. It is a touching story of a young boy rising to the challenge of a household where children had to help provide. Miskovsky doesn’t think that the fact he’s been working since age 10 says anything about his character. He shrugs, saying simply, “Everybody’s got a story.”
Miskovsky hunts out new plants the way some people scour the earth for rare antiques. He’s attracted to the unusual, unknown, and difficult-to-grow. He found the Cordyline at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show in London. “It was brand new,” he recalls. In another flower grouping, alongside blue salvia, orange Leonotis leonurus, and pink spiderwort, are Martha’s Vineyard shrub roses. “They’re not produced anymore,” Miskovsky says, pointing to the soft pink roses. The leonurus is a native of Africa and usually grown in California, Hawaii, and Australia.
This says a lot about Miskovsky. If he likes a plant, he puts enough sweat and love into its welfare to assure its survival. “You do the best you can for them, and hopefully they do their best for you,” he says.
The real horticultural surprise is in the back of the house. There are several spaces here, some offering privacy and others perfect for gathering groups of friends and family. Three patios are set with tables and chairs, all with a view of the waterfall, which is center stage. Nearby a granite walkway with a locust banister leads to a space that feels like a secret, furnished with a table and chairs under a bamboo cover that sprouts clematis.
Eyes always turn to the waterfall. Water rushes over flat Maine granite stones, creating a pleasant experience for the eyes, ears, and soul. There is no pond at the bottom— Miskovsky buried pumps and a bio-filter to create the rushing water. But it looks completely natural.
Another space high on the hillside is cleared for a tent and picnic table. Nearby is a little enclosure with a bamboo roof and locust frame. It is a private space for Miskovsky’s nine-year-old son. “This is his fort,” he says. On the other side of the house is a shed like no other. The roof is planted with spiky variegated yucca, butterfly weed, verbena, and ferns, and hearty English ivy trails down the sides.
Sitting at his favorite patio, Miskovsky gazes at a hefty birdhouse—big and roomy, purple martin size—sitting on a cedar pole. The late Allen Haskell, a renowned horticulturist from New Bedford and Miskovsky’s mentor, gave it to him. “It weighs 200 pounds,” Miskovsky says. “It took four men to get it up there and a tele-handler.”
Miskovsky is very comfortable here; he is home, after all. “I’m very lucky,” he says as his eyes sweep over the view. “It’s a nice little garden.”
To contact Paul Miskovsky, go to www.miskovskylandscape.com.
What is it about woodland gardens that stir our feelings of enchantment? Perhaps it is some magical attraction that appeals to our collective unconsciousness, something buried deep in our childhood memories. The play of light and shadow in trees and shrubs; the fascinating movements of birds, butterflies and bees; the mystery and allure of nature all combine to create a feeling of wonder.
Thom Koon’s odyssey creating a famous Nantucket woodland garden was pure happenstance. Although his father was an avid gardener, he did not ask his son to help with planting or maintenance. “I never really gardened,” says Koon. “I lived in New York City for 15 years before coming to Nantucket in the late 1970s. All I can remember doing with plants was to buy an occasional orchid for the apartment, or grow herbs on the fire escape.”
It all began when Koon noticed a tree had fallen in the woods, not far from the house. He decided to hack his way through the underbrush to either right the tree or cut it down. After completing that chore, he noticed that he had created a path and opened up the canopy to a vision of blue sky and dappled sunlight.
“It reminded me of an overgrown horse path I loved to hike, that ran between the Milestone and Polpis roads,” says Koon. Excited by the bit of open sky, Koon decided to expose the nooks and crannies of his unusual property further.“It was like taking baby steps for me,” he says. “Together with Bart and a dear friend, Sean Browning, we would clear a ‘room’ at a time.”
Within a few years of moving to Nantucket in the 1970s, Koon and Cosgrove opened up a hair salon, The Hair Concern. “Creating the woodland garden is a lot like cutting hair,” says Koon. “You keep working at it and then you stop when you know it’s right.”
The woodland terrain was perfect for Koon’s exploratory approach to gardening. Small inclines and depressions set each area off as a vignette distinct from surrounding plantings. “What started out as a path became more involved each week,” says Koon. “We moved slowly, 10 feet at a time as we cleared and planted. We gathered large rocks and boulders from places around the island. I had a friend who gave me ferns from her garden and that started things off nicely.”
The enchanted woodland has been evolving for more than 15 years now and it is still a work in progress. The property is fanciful and sophisticated without being flashy. A large swath of Asian butterbur and bright chartreuse Japanese Aureola grass are visually magnetic. Benches line the paths, prompting contemplative resting places. Brightly colored wooden frames of red and green hang from trees outlining views into one room or another. Classic statuary, country style furniture, fountains, antiques and modernist sculptures—all are placed harmoniously in the natural landscape.
Native pines, scrub brush, and some unusual favorites survived Koon’s surgical eye. “An important aspect of my woodland garden is the poison ivy. Lots of poison ivy,” says Koon. “It is a beautiful glossy green in summer and yellowish gold and crimson in the fall. There are a few paths that can’t be walked in the summer because of the abundant poison ivy. But in the winter, after a snow fall, you’d think you were in Siberia.”
Koon always works to create year-round visual interest in his woodland. “I get excited by each element and how it contributes to the overall experience,” he says. “A recent revelation was opening up the flowering dogwoods, which I never really saw until I cleared out that portion of the property.”
The digging of a koi pond was in keeping with the couple’s urge to try new things and enjoy the fun of unexpected discoveries. The pond was a major effort, shoveling and cutting through a deep tangle of roots and vines. About a foot below the surface, Koon, Cosgrove, and Browning came upon a layer of pure white sand. Rather than cart it away, they deposited it along the edge of the pond, creating their own private beach. “On a hot summer day, we’d set up beach umbrellas, dig our toes in the sand, and drink cocktails,” says Koon.
As is the case with all koi ponds on Nantucket, this one is a magnet for blue herons. Even with a six-foot depth, it is a favorite fast food stop for the huge wading birds. Other uninvited poolside guests include deer, an issue for many island gardeners.
For years, the deer would forage at Moor’s End Farm, across the street from Koon’s garden for dinner, and then amble over to the woodland for a little dessert.
When the farm erected an electric fence around the property, the woodland hideaway became much more popular. Koon gazes skyward, rolls his eyes in frustrated acceptance, and says, ”What can you do? Anger won’t stop them. You have to live with it.”
While the natural look of a woodland garden might suggest a less intense need for maintenance, Koon says the opposite is true. “Over the years, trees come down, branches fall off, and suddenly shade gardens have become sun gardens,” he says. “I spend a lot of time moving things around to find the best spots for growing. I’ve transplanted some specimens two or three times. I also try to space out and extend the blooming periods with lots of perennials.”
This garden that began as a path is well known amongst Nantucketers and its fame has spread far beyond the island. It has been photographed for the Smithsonian Institution’s archives as an exemplary woodland garden. With this kind of fame, it is not unusual for people to drop off plants they think Koon might like to add to his woodland. “I have to be very diplomatic,” he says.
Koon’s labor of love begins in the early spring and extends through the summer into fall. He is up by 5:30 every morning to inspect the garden and hand-water before heading off to the hair salon.
“By mid August, I’ve had it with the garden,” says Koon. “I generally give up and enjoy it for what it has become that year. It changes every time I look at it. But it is always a thing of beauty.“
Roses have always had a singular allure; it’s no wonder that Cape Cod residents and visitors alike treasure these flowers. In general, roses do well in seaside locations, and they are treasured for gracing our landscapes with color during the summer and fall.
Success with roses isn’t necessarily a given, however. Some varieties do better than others and they require proper planting and some on-going maintenance. Two of Cape Cod’s premier rosarians, Irwin Ehrenreich and William “Oz” Osborn, agree that if the right plant is chosen and placed in the correct growing conditions, roses can thrive and provide years of pleasure.
“Roses aren’t difficult to grow,” says Oz, who is a master gardener living in Harwich. He has had plenty of experience raising these plants both on the Cape and elsewhere. “We moved over 300 roses from our garden in New Jersey when we moved to the Cape 15 years ago,” he explains. “We were serious rose growers for seven years before we moved, being very active in the Garden State Rose Society.”
Irwin, owner of The Rose Man design and rose care service (www.therosemannursery.com) agrees that given the right attention, roses can be grown in any sunny garden. The first key to success with these plants is that crucial word: sunny.
Before any rose plants are purchased the homeowner should assess the amount of nonstop sunlight that falls on the garden over the course of an entire day. “Most roses need at least six-hours of direct sun,” Irwin explains, “and more is better.”
Roses are most likely to thrive when those hours of sunshine include the noon hour when the light is strongest. So finding these areas is the first step to success. “If you put a bush in the wrong place around your home or garden,” Oz advises, “you’ll be disappointed when that plant’s performance doesn’t meet your expectations.”
The next important action is undertaken when the rose is purchased. “Most people get in trouble buying beauty at the nursery,” Oz explains. Garden centers are frequently filled with many types of roses, and often these plants are budded or in bloom.
Shoppers usually fall for plants that have the type of blooms that look as if they’re fresh from the florist, but these types may not be the easiest to keep alive. “Hybrid teas are very difficult to grow and require special care,” says Oz.
Irwin agrees saying, “Picking roses that are disease magnets, such as the hybrid teas, and not taking the time to care for them is one way people can go wrong. This type of rose is also the first to die over a severe winter.”
Both rosarians agree that there are some Floribunda and Grandiflora type roses that are more problem-free than the Hybrid Teas. Grandiflora roses have shorter stems than the hybrid teas, but with similar “florist” flowers, and Floribundas have large clusters of blossoms on each branch.
Most climbing roses are even easier than those listed above, and they are naturals for growing on Cape style houses. Every gardener has his or her favorite climbers, such as the small-flowered “American Pillar” that covers many of the houses on Nantucket to the fragrant and repeat flowering “Collette.”
When asked to name his three favorites, Irwin Ehrenreich says, “It’s hard to pick just three. Thirty would be easier.” Nevertheless, he goes on to identify “Autumn Sunset,” “America,” and “Eden” as three good choices.
“‘Autumn Sunset’ is a great climber for the Cape,” Irwin explains. “It grows 10 to 12 feet tall, has a strong fruity fragrance, and takes some shade. It’s also disease resistant and winter hardy.”
“‘America’ is a climber that you see throughout this area for good reason,” Irwin continues.
“It’s covered with coral-pink flowers all summer, has a spicy fragrance and is very winter hardy. And ‘Eden,’ my third pick, has an old-fashioned, very full, pastel pink bloom, and is disease resistant.”
Oz Osborn names three others that gardeners should consider. “‘Jeanne Lajoie,’” he says, “is always in bloom, extremely hardy and covers our 90-foot fence. It has pink flowers. ‘New Dawn’ is a climber that will grow under any conditions, and it has a super pale pink bloom that will stop cars on the road. Just make sure that you give this one plenty of room,” he cautions.
Oz ends his choice of three with “Sally Holmes.” “I like ‘Sally Holmes’ because it has huge, white, long-lasting flowers, long canes, and is very disease-resistant.”
Shrub roses are also easy to grow and many of these bloom all summer as well. Oz and Irwin list “Bonica” and “The Fairy” (both soft pink), “Double Knock Out” (rose red), “Blushing Knockout” (shell pink), “Distant Drums” (tan-mauve), and “Macy’s Pride” (lemon yellow) as some of their favorites.
No matter which cultivar is chosen, however, preparing the soil and caring for the plants afterward is key to your success. Amend the soil with compost or composted manure spread over a wide area, and dig these materials in deeply. Use at least one 40-pound bag per rose, but two bags would be even better. When planting roses it’s better to be generous rather than frugal.
At the same time, mix in an organic fertilizer such as Rose-Tone to the area, and place your plant in the center of this enriched soil. Covering the area with two inches of bark mulch after the roses are planted will keep the moisture more constant and help prevent weeds. Regular applications of fertilizer and good, deep soakings with water once or twice a week will also help these plants to preform well.
Finally, Oz recommends seeking out like minds when it comes to dealing with questions and problems that may arise. “The Lower Cape Rose Society usually meets on the third Saturday of the month, at 10 a.m.,” he says, “at the Harwich Community Center.”
This group is a hands-on, educationally motivated club that uses the Millie and Tip O’Neill Rose Garden outside of the center for pruning, deadheading, and other instruction. The general public is welcome at all meetings where they can enjoy the monthly program and have their questions answered.
Given the climate on Cape Cod, a wealth of plants to choose from, and friendly, accessible support from area rosarians, it’s no wonder that this area is a rose lover’s dream.
Spohr Gardens enchants visitors all year long
Margaret and Charles Spohr began creating this lovely garden around their home in the 1950’s and gladly received an ever-increasing number of visitors who came to see its rumored beauty. After their deaths, the gardens were left to the Margaret K. Spohr and Charles D. Spohr Charitable Trust with the specification that the property be open to the public every day of the year from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with no admission fee. For more information, visit www.spohrgardens.org.
By Lindsay Oliver