Eastham’s Secret Gardens

Cape Cod Home  /  Summer 2020 /

Writer: Katie Anastas / Photographer: Kirsten Doherty 

The 2019 Eastham Garden Tour, a highlight of the annual Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival, showcased the efforts of dedicated gardeners.

Eastham isn’t a place where you’d expect to find lush, thriving gardens and devoted garden tenders. The town’s landscape is unforgiving, full of sand, scrub pines, and salt-dense winds, which renders successful gardening a significant challenge. Yet, devoted horticulturists and garden hobbyists defy the challenging environs to create and care for truly unique gardens and outdoor spaces. Each gardener employs various strategies to successfully tend to their gardens, and every summer since 2014, the Eastham Garden Tour, a fundraiser for the Eastham Public Library, shares their challenges and successes with the community during the annual Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival. The Eastham Garden Tour opens a curated selection of garden gates, for a glimpse at a collection of innovative gardens, to garden enthusiasts, visitors, and locals alike.    

In July of 2019, the crop of participants in the Hydrangea Festival expertly represented the creative and technical diversity Eastham uniquely displays. The tour featured five different gardens (and an un-promoted, surprise secret garden), each of which stood out for their individual approaches, processes and natural presentations. They included a wide range of styles such as vegetable gardens, country inspired gardens, and even a tree house, inviting visitors to experience, appreciate, and connect with the homeowners’ surroundings and the work that produced each garden.

The first stop on the tour was a family’s personal paradise. Wendy and Matt Fraizer designed their garden, entitled “Calling All Kids – from 2 to 92”, initially to create a space for their children’s graduation party. The couple was prompted to do so after the town started restricting parts of the local beach for bird conservation, thereby limiting accessible outdoor space. The garden expanded with each graduation, and now includes both child-friendly and adult-friendly spaces for rest, relaxation, and socializing. The Fraizers’ garden includes a large green lawn, surrounding walls that harbor rows of gorgeous flowering plants and shrubs, and a pool and deck lined by beautiful blue hydrangeas, the festival’s namesake. To the back is an open stone patio, fire pit, and tiki bar, perfect for socializing. According to Wendy, Matt designed the yard’s layout, and did most of the work building their rock walls. Although the Fraizers live in a busy part of Eastham, their garden’s ingenious construction provides a quiet, seemingly secluded haven for relaxation and celebration.

The next garden on the tour was a shift from the Fraizers’ family-oriented space. Saul and Jae Fisher’s “Moss and Ferns” garden expertly intertwines gardening and storytelling. The pair transformed the scrub pine woods behind their home into a dynamic assortment of ferns, moss, and woodland plants. Saul’s expert garden theory helped him construct this intricate space, defined by complementary colors and textures that spark interest, repetition and mass plantings for cohesion and impact, and unique objects—like the various benches and sitting locations around the garden—to spark delight. His extensive understanding of horticulture and plant species is evident in the garden’s plant variety, for instance Japanese ferns, ostrich ferns, and sensitive ferns. Saul derives interest from his efforts no matter where he is in the garden. “My garden has taught me how to see, appreciate, and delight in my natural surrounds,” Saul said. “My favorite spot is wherever I’m sitting. That’s the thing about places to sit—different views give you a different perspective of what’s going on in the garden.” Each section of the garden is its own vignette, or room, defined by pathways and the quality of sun in each area of the garden. The hardscaping, Saul emphasized, is essential to the organizational structure of the garden, giving it structure, definition as well as direction. 

Nancy and Ed Holleran’s “Tranquility Garden”, the next stop on the tour, took a different approach in creating serene spaces. Their garden expertly complements their home, which is located right next to the water and has a phenomenal view of Rock Harbor and Boat Meadow. “We came down to the Cape to see our kids, and to entertain really,” Nancy said. The surrounding landscaping is gorgeous and lively, full of multi-colored hydrangea, accompanying florals, and arbors. It was designed and planted by Peter Thornton and David Hawk, the president of Hawk Design Inc. in Sagamore. The backyard perfectly contrasts Hawk Design’s thoughtfully manicured plan in the front of the home. “There are no plantings behind, there’s just sort of overgrowth,” Nancy said, “and that’s deliberate. I don’t want a pot of plants. If you aren’t looking at the view then there is something wrong with you.” The native beach grasses and coastal shrubs frame the home’s unobstructed view of Cape Cod Bay, the breathtaking pinnacle of this tranquil retreat. 

The fourth featured garden focused on a more functional purpose. David Payor’s “Vegetables at Eye Level” garden took an unconventional and exciting approach to vegetable gardening. Payor has lived on this site since 1996, every year producing delicious produce for his friends and family. “This is stuff that we like to eat,” he said. “That’s why I don’t grow flowers—I don’t eat flowers.” Instead of planting his vegetables in the ground, Payor’s entire garden is raised, making it easy for him to harvest, prune and weed. He sourced all the materials and built the garden as part of this completely self-funded project. The elevations, boxes and cages he uses protect his vegetables—including dozens of tomatoes and peppers, as well as cucumbers, eggplant, swiss chard, zucchini, eastern turnips, and more—from damage and critters who might want a taste of his harvest. 

The last stop on the 2019 tour put an individual spin on the classic English country garden. Dana Paradis and Guido Domke started constructing “Marsh Mellow”, a 1775 cottage, in 2018 after a number of invasive locust trees fell on their property. Their yard’s slanted landscape challenged Dana and Guido, but they devised innovative and unique ways to work around the problem. “It’s a very organic process with me,” Dana said. “I get a weird idea, then I figure out a way to engineer it and that’s how everything has kind of morphed.” Dana and Guido structured the yard around mature rhododendron growth surrounding their property and created terraces to accommodate their property’s slope. “I leveled each terrace so that the plants would get water and stay on the plane,” Dana explained, “and so that each terrace had kind of a different theme and was manageable.” 

The levels inspired the pair to create garden vignettes, like an entertainment center, complete with a fire pit, a plant hospital, and a butterfly path. Dana and Guido did everything themselves and used locally sourced materials from Brewster Sand and Gravel and Stonewood Products in Harwich. “I felt like I was a kid again,” Dana said, “but I was working with bigger tools and making a different project.”

Willow Shire’s “Secret Garden” completed last year’s tour, a special treat for those willing to venture the extra mile to Eastham for the Garden Tour, and what a treat it was. Shire’s garden is large, extensive, and secluded, as well as beautifully laid out and adorned by her partner’s artwork. The property doesn’t look anything like a traditional Cape Cod garden, with its tall pines, a koi pond, and a tree house to match. Shire embraced the challenges that come with gardening in Eastham. When she started working on her garden 30 years ago, it was a sandlot. “I work around with what’s already here,” Shire said. “I don’t force anything.” She expanded her garden “one little square” per year, and eventually her garden flourished into a myriad of distinctive, cohesive spaces. “It all just belongs here,” she said. “Each space ends up being unique and I can go into a space and it just has its own personality and style and feel to it, and it’s just fun.” 

Shire, also one of the Garden Tour committee members, stressed the effort the gardeners put into each of the participating gardens, citing the individualism and ingenuity present in the designs, despite Eastham’s difficult landscape. “All of them are designed by the homeowner and maintained by the homeowner, and it’s for the homeowner,” she said. Each participating garden reflected Eastham’s innovative or unconventional spirit, lending a keen eye into the Cape’s unique community and environmental landscapes.

Unfortunately, this year the Eastham Garden Tour is opting not to participate in the Hydrangea Festival. Eastham Garden Tour committee coordinator Betsy Loomis said the tour could not be held in a way that complies with Governor Baker’s guidelines for botanical gardens to keep everyone—visitors and volunteers—safe. The Eastham Garden Tour committee expects tours to resume in 2021 with the previously identified 2020 gardens participating, and organizers speculate that the additional efforts by the gardeners will culminate in gardens that are better than ever. “By showcasing Eastham’s gardens through the Hydrangea Festival which benefits our beautiful new library, people have discovered our little town and its many wonderful qualities,” Loomis reflects with a palpable sense of pride.

For information on upcoming events like the anticipated 2021 Eastham Garden Tour, visit easthamlibrary.org!