Skip to content

Subscribe  |  Login  |  Account

Eden by the Sea

Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and her husband, Paul, could have chosen any exquisite corner of the globe as the summer holiday retreat for their growing family.

Photography by Dan Cutrona

Foremost in everyone’s mind was the need for continued care of the signature trees pruned in the Versailles espalier tradition of which Mellon was a master, along with the fruit trees shaped in rounded orchard style. The irreplaceable artisans behind this task were the Childs family, whose three generations of tree experts have sculpted the property’s trees to perfection for 50 years. Thomas calls Aaron Childs and his father, Bob, “true artists”, and says the family will happily continue to pay for the artistry of the Braddock-Childs Tree Service.

Bob Childs studiously trained each winter with Mrs. Mellon and her team of arborists in Virginia. In turn, the team traveled north every summer to assist with the more than 100 fruit trees, plus the oak, sassafras, flowering locusts, and topiaries. Over time, Bob’s skill precluded the need for the Virginia crew and Mrs. Mellon became increasingly dependent on him. Sons Aaron and Jason joined the family business as teenagers and continue to prune the way they were trained—from a high wooden ladder tied to a tree with a simple pole pruner.

“You wouldn’t see a bucket truck,” says Aaron with a laugh. “We never used a chipper. There were no power tools involved.”

The delicate canopy of sunlit, dappled oak leaves, the majestic, flowering locusts, the plump apples and juicy peaches, and the intricate espalier trees are all testaments to years of loving care with hand tools instead of technology. “Nobody does it like this,” Aaron says with admiration. “[Mrs. Mellon] knows her stuff.”

Allen, who has worked on many choice New England gardens, says she is honored to work with a team who views the property not as a job, but as a professional legacy. “The Childs love it as though it is their own,” she says.

The next priority was the gardens of Putnam and its guesthouse. In addition to the installation of an irrigation system (“something my grandmother would have availed herself of had it been available,” says Lloyd), Allen chose an array of colorful, lower maintenance perennials and reduced the size of the massive vegetable garden, incorporating both flowers and vegetables into an intimate, outdoor living space.

When MacMullan, who is managing the project, explored the soil in the garden, he was astonished at the lack of sand so close to the sea. After some research, he discovered the secret. Years ago, Mellon had asked her employees to excavate six to eight feet below the surface and then truck in the choicest Barnstable County farm soil. The result is a garden rooted in rich loam instead of saltwater sand. A key task for MacMullan and his crew became managing the seedbed with groundcover and leaf mulch. “This approach allows for tremendous weed suppression while enhancing soil biology,” he says.

You might also like: