A Garden of the Greatest Generation

Cape Cod Life  /  April 2021 /

Writer: Chris White / Photographer: Kirsten Doherty 

Falmouth’s Spohr Gardens provides an interlude between the past and the present.

In the heart of Falmouth’s Spohr Gardens stands a bell from 1882, one of those enormous pieces that’s nearly as tall as a grown man and that weighs as much as a platoon of soldiers. Its inscription reads: “SINNERS The sound of this bell calls you together for the good and eternal happiness of your soul and ONLY THIS.” It seems fitting that amid a sanctuary of serenity, this message tolls for visitors, for the Gardens are a place where one might walk one’s troubles away amid the scents of flowers and the music of songbirds. According to Rosemary Hoskins in an article from the Woods Hole Museum, “At one point the Gardens, which look across Oyster Pond to Nantucket Sound, included more than one million daffodil bulbs in 34 varieties.” This variegated feature alone surely contains more than enough beauty to transform the soul of any common sinner into a vessel of goodness and happiness, if not for eternity, at least for the duration of a morning or an afternoon.

The Spohr Gardens are the legacy of a couple from the Greatest Generation, an Army nurse who mended a WWII veteran of Normandy at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Hoskins notes that Margaret and Charles Spohr married in 1946 and moved to Falmouth in 1950; “Thus began a life-long mission which transformed their six acres into the beautiful and unique Spohr Gardens that we know today.” Margaret focused on the overall planning and layout of the Gardens’ various sections, Hoskins reports, while Charles turned his attention to what he called “the decorations.” These include the aforementioned antique bell along with another, smaller one; a collection of anchors, one of which may have been a cast-off from the H.M.S. Bounty; and 75 millstones that “range in size from six inches to eight feet in diameter.” Throughout the Gardens, Charles also placed two lighthouse lanterns, fountains constructed from granite watering troughs, and cobblestones from New Bedford. Some of Margaret’s actual plans are still on display within the Gardens; Hoskins writes that Margaret created sections on paper and on numbered slabs, “intending the Gardens to be informal, friendly, and inviting.” Over the decades, the couple would spend their winters taking inventory and planning for the upcoming spring; they kept meticulous records of all the different “bulbs, trees, shrubs, and perennials” that they ordered, information that remains valuable today. In 1989, the Spohrs hired Mike Kadis to help with the gardening; he served the family and community for many years, and his role evolved to one of caretaker as the couple entered old age. After Charles and Margaret passed away in 1997 and 2001, respectively, the Spohr Gardens have been maintained in part by a charitable trust in their names. 

While the daffodils are less of a focal point than they once were, Hoskins notes, the Gardens are a living memorial to the work of the Spohrs. The site is listed in Travel + Leisure Magazine as a destination for visitors to Falmouth, and the 300 Committee Lands Trust counts Spohr Gardens among its protected properties. From 2016 to 2018, Spohr Gardens also participated in a project to breed and release native butterflies, the populations of which have been in severe decline since 1995. This spring, visitors to the Gardens, at the end of Fells Road in the Quisset area of Woods Hole, should still be able able see the blooms of nectar plants and the dances of swallowtail, red admiral, and monarch butterflies.

Chris White

Chris White is a frequent writer for Cape Cod Life Publications and has written on topics ranging from the history of Smith’s Tavern on Wellfleet Island to the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria off Nantucket. Chris also teaches English at Tabor Academy in Marion.