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Eastham’s Secret Gardens

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!

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