Cover 130

Get Wild

Cape Cod Life  /  April 2020 /

Writer: Allyson Plessner

Bachelor buttons and daisies and wild rose bushes, oh my!

Night falls and the sun sends an impassioned, fiery farewell to the day, simultaneously welcoming the stars as they blink into existence. The Milky Way arches over the vast, dark mass of the rolling ocean, and the moon takes its rightful place as watcher of the deep, dark night. “Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, blossomed the lovely stars,” wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “the forget-me-nots of the angels.” And like those stars that dot the night sky, providing the kind of lively spirit and unmatched beauty that inspires the words of poets and dreams of lovers, Mother Nature does her own part to capture an earthly version of that beauty; somewhere a poppy springs up, waving in the wind as if sending a hello to its bluebonnet neighbor and surrounded by other wildflowers in a corporeal mimicry of the starry night above. The wildflower acts as nature’s vibrant response to the call of the infinite expanse overhead.

A wildflower garden is a whimsical way to add color and character to an outdoor space. A mix of hearty annuals and perennials creates a naturally charming homage to the mythical wonders of Mother Nature. There’s something intrinsically quaint about letting the landscape run its course, with the added benefit of low-maintenance work for the gardener. But, don’t be fooled: while resilient and, often self-perpetuating, most wildflowers still require their fair share of upkeep, and as Karen and Terry Cronburg know firsthand, the best wildflower gardens are ones that begin with a vision and end with the thoughtful touch of a seasoned gardener.

“I think my favorite part is sitting back and watching the colors change,” muses Karen about her wildflower garden. “This year we were worried nothing would happen, and then we went away for a few days. When we came back, the colors were just incredible.” The Cronburg’s beautiful garden has certainly taken on a life of its own thanks to the careful tending of this flower-loving duo. With an ideal location on a dead end street leading to a popular beach walk, their garden has quickly become the talk of their home village of Cataumet—a refreshing yearly welcome into the pleasantly warm months of spring. “When we first bought this house, you could barely see it from the street because everything was so overgrown,” explains Karen. But with a stunning view of Squeteague Harbor across the street and plenty of windows to let in sunlight and the happy squeals of children at the nearby summer camp, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. After moving in, the Cronburgs quickly set to creating their flowery haven.

Today, a white shell path leads past an entrance of wild roses in front and through a fantastic array of wildflowers that span the entire front yard. From daisies to Queen Anne’s lace to hollyhock nearly six-feet tall, there’s something new to discover in every corner. Bird feeders with stylish copper roofs add a fanciful touch to this outdoor space and other enchanting details, like a small stone bench, provide picturesque views for admiring visitors. “We have always enjoyed gardening even before creating this space,” says Karen, explaining that their previous Connecticut home was situated in a unique location: an apple orchard. Within this garden, Terry pays homage to that previous home with a pair of apple trees and even a peach tree.  Blueberries, rose hips, and beach plums add to the array of fruit-bearing plants that the couple have incorporated, and Karen can often be found in the kitchen whipping up some delicious beach plum jelly. 

Terry is in charge of wrangling the weeds, and he’s found an arch-nemesis in the grapevines that often plague wildflower gardens. “It’s a constant struggle,” he acquiesces, but one that he’s more than happy to take on because in this colorful garden, he’s found a true passion. He and Karen have even taken over maintaining the garden outside of their local post office, and often fresh-cut bouquets from their yard can be found at town events. Seeing the duo ride down the quiet streets of Cataumet on their two-seater bike really solidifies the fact that they have created more than simply a striking garden for themselves; they’ve also built a beautiful life in this quaint Cape village. 

Karen has furthered her love of gardening as a member of the Aptucxet Garden Club of Bourne. The club promotes the beautification of local Cape communities as well as the conservation of natural resources across the region. Living so close to the shoreline, preservation is a philosophy that Karen and Terry have happily adopted. Their wildflower garden makes use of native plants, approved by the conservation commissioner and has the benefit of not requiring chemicals that could run off into the nearby harbor. 

Gardening runs in the Cronburg family: Karen and Terry’s daughter, Ingrid, recently won first place at the Vermont Wildflower Photo Competition, held by the Vermont Wildflower Farm—the same place from which Terry and Karen buy bulk annual and perennial seed each year. “We love sharing our garden with our family. Whenever I walk on the beach, I collect fun shells and seaglass to add to our walkway, and when our grandkids come to visit, they love to walk up and down the path and recollect everything I’ve added,” laughs Karen. 

This past year, the Cronburg’s garden was particularly notable for bright sunflowers, royal blue bachelor buttons, and cheerful orange poppies. Hot pink cosmos flourished all the way up until first frost, demonstrating just how resilient wildflowers can be. With the right amount of care and careful consideration, a wildflower garden, filled with color and spirit, is certainly an achievable goal. Karen and Terry have become wildflower masters, and sitting on their porch, looking across a sea of colors to the sparkling ocean beyond, they can take pride in the fanciful sanctuary they have cultivated.

Like an enchanting sky full of stars, the Cronburg’s garden will continue to shine on—a prismatic light that guides the way as beachgoers stroll down the streets of Cataumet, enjoying the peaceful nature of a small Cape Cod town. As with the calming joy of a silent night, serene Cape Cod days are made all the better by the wildflower stars of this incredible garden.

Allyson Plessner

Allyson Plessner is a former editorial intern for Cape Cod Life and now works for the publication as a staff writer and digital media coordinator. Born in Florida, Allyson has been a lifelong summer resident of the Cape. She is a recent alumna of the College of Charleston, located in Charleston, South Carolina, where she completed bachelor’s degrees in both English and Spanish. In her free time, Allyson is an avid sailor, beach-goer, and—like her fellow Cape Cod Life colleagues—a dog-lover.