Last weekend I walked around the old cranberry bog on Bumps River Road close to our house with my best friend and our dogs and all around us nature was giving a flamboyant goodbye to summer . . .always a bittersweet time on Cape Cod and the Islands. It is hard to let go of that glorious golden time every year. As I said in the just released 2011 winter issue of Cape Cod HOME, I am always sad when the hydrangeas—that emblem of Cape Cod—begin to turn from intense blue—just like the sky over a Cape beach in summer—to muted greens, grays, and soft purples.
We have lots of hydrangeas surrounding our old Cape house, in beds around the yard—these show-stopping beauties burst into bloom around the end of June and perform their hearts out until around mid-October. A few weeks ago when my husband, Steve, and I were doing our fall clean-up (raking, raking raking!), I decided to take a break and make a few hydrangea wreaths. These wreaths can be done with blossoms that still hold color, or even those that have faded to that lovely beige color, kind of like old lace.
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…
Fall comes gently to Cape Cod. There are autumn days so warm that you can sit in your backyard in the bright sun and pretend that the cold gray months are still far away. But finally, the late October Saturday comes when you can’t pretend anymore—it’s time to rip out the bolting arugula and the towering kale, cut down the stalks of fading Black Eyed Susans, and hardest of all, prune away the dying blossoms of that Cape Cod emblem of summer—the hydrangeas.
We just love the 2012 Vineyard Seadogs Calendar, available here. Says calendar creator and wildlife photographer Lisa Vanderhoop:
“The cover dog this year is Ensign, an adorable little Border Terrier. He is owned by Ben and Maria Batsch who captain and run Maurice Templesman’s yacht the Relemar during the summer months here on the Vineyard. Maurice just adores Ensign and can be seen walking the little guy everyday during the summer in Menemsha.”
Buy calendars ($16) and other artwork at vineyardseadogs.com. Part of the proceeds from the calendars will go the Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard!
- Lowell Holly Reservation Mashpee and Sandwich
An arborist’s delight, four miles of tree-lined carriage roads and walking trails traverse this peninsula that juts into Mashpee and Wakeby ponds. Some 250 stands of American holly trees, representing 50 varieties, flourish among the beech and rare northern red oak and sweet birch trees. Former Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell donated the property in 1943 to The Trustees of Reservations as a horticultural preserve. Trail parking is on South Sandwich Road in Sandwich.
- Indian Lands Conservations Area Dennis
Early settlers considered Bass River a possible site for a canal connecting Nantucket Sound to Cape Cod Bay, and some say the Vikings moored here en route to new lands. Contemplate the waterway’s intriguing past on a walk along 1.3 miles of serene trails, with views of Bass River bordered by the rich golden hues of salt marsh. Birdwatchers will enjoy spotting wintering heron, ducks and egrets. The trail starts behind the parking lot at Dennis Town Hall, 485 Main Street, South Dennis.
- John Wing Trail, Cape Cod Museum of Natural History Brewster
The 1.3-mile trail features a microcosm of the Cape’s landscape, with salt marsh, wooded uplands and barrier beach. Cross the marsh boardwalk onto the island (be sure to check the tide—it floods when high) where native people once harvested shellfish and 19th-century settlers operated saltworks. A replica Sachem solar calendar near the main trail recalls early life on the island. Rolling dunes beyond the woods bring you to crystal-blue Cape Cod Bay and its expansive tidal flats. The museum is located at 869 Main Street/Route 6A, Brewster.
- Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge Chatham
Migrating songbirds and shorebirds including terns and plovers abound here, along the tip of the Lower Cape. The site has been designated a World Bird Conservation Area by the American Bird Conservancy, so it’s no surprise the 1.1-mile trail is a favorite among birdwatchers. A boardwalk on top of the bluff offers vistas of Monomoy’s South Beach, a barrier island. Follow the trail down steps to the beach, which disappears at high tide, and walk along dunes and marsh where myriad wildlife can be spotted. Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is located on Morris Island at Wikis Way.
- Cannon Hill (Hamblen’s Island) Wellfleet
Crossing the footbridge known as “Uncle Tim’s Bridge” over Duck Creek brings you to a small island where you can gaze across on a darkening afternoon to the sparkling lights of this historic harbor town. Gabled roofs of 19th-century buildings, now filled with galleries and cafes, rise along the compact hillside. An easy, looping trail on the island passes through oak, pine and bearberry forest. Watch for countless fiddler crabs scrabbling in the tidal flats along the shore. A small parking area for Uncle Tim’s Bridge is on East Commercial Street. –Susan Spencer
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.
There’s a quiet place on Martha’s Vineyard. Away from the crowded beaches, away from day-trippers clutching guidebooks on Circuit Avenue. It’s a place to find the peace and quiet that everyone who comes to visit and live on an island seeks. Thousands come to this place each year, yet it remains a secret.
On the northwestern side of the island in the town of Chilmark, the secrecy of Menemsha Hills Reservation is only matched by its serenity. Through 211 acres, the topography of the reservation traces through one of the most varied habitats on the island, an environment comprised of wetlands, heathlands, and a beach that remains all but empty even at the height of summer. The Trustees of Reservations, the New England conservation organization that oversees Menemsha Hills as well as six other properties on the island, estimates up to 25,000 visitors come here each year. But ask any one of these travelers to recall the last time they saw more than a handful of passersby on the trails, and you might not get an answer. Read more…
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.“