This garden oasis is a true masterpiece

Cape Cod Home  /  Summer 2019 / , ,

Writer: Julie Craven Wagner

This garden oasis is a true masterpiece


Cape Cod Home  /  Summer 2019 / , ,

Writer: Julie Craven Wagner

Santosha in Centerville 

A couple creates a sanctuary in the heart of a charming village

Their Royal Highnesses, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, have spent much of the last few decades transforming the gardens at their home, Highgrove House, into an oasis of organic practices that has yielded a sensory tsunami of floral and vegetative splendor. In the same spirit, local attorney Peter Daigle and his wife, Diane Kovanda, a yoga and meditation teacher, have been working on creating a sustainable and organic home garden—transforming stretches of lawn to a haven of flowers, fruit trees and vegetables with the help of Peter’s sister, Falmouth landscaper and garden designer Maria Hickey, of Maria Hickey & Associates

Two years ago Peter, Diane and Maria sat down and discussed an overview of what they wanted to accomplish. The collaboration of Maria’s many years of horticultural and landscape design expertise as a certified plant expert—combined with the multi-season vegetable growing techniques of Elliot Coleman, of Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine and J.M. Fortier, author of “The Market Gardener”—sowed the seeds to provide a year-round food supply using greenhouses, hydroponics, and outdoor vegetable gardens. In all, it was a perfect confluence of philosophy, knowledge, expertise and hard work, with the happy outcome that their dream was realized.

“With a great plan, you can make the impossible possible.,” says Maria. “A good landscape plan takes into consideration current site conditions and the proposed changes needed for the plan’s successful implementation.” She designed a plan to create a functioning wildlife habitat to attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and pollinating insects. This included species of edible fruits, vegetables and beneficial host plants that Maria curated to provide food and shelter to a wide variety of species that now share the space.

“We wanted to create a sanctuary for all living things. My late wife, Grace, and I raised four children in this home, so we threw the baseballs and football on the lawn and played lacrosse and hockey in the driveway,” Peter explains. “For the next chapter of my life, I wanted something else.” Now that he and Diane, who owns Kind Yoga and Meditation Teacher Training School, have been married for over a year, her influence in achieving a space full of meaning and vitality is evident as they point out a sign that greets visitors with the word “Santosha” hand-carved across the wood. “The sign is the mission statement. Santosha is Sanskrit for ‘complete contentment,’” Diane explains. “I teach yoga and meditation and the essence of both is to be content, to be present with what is. Gardens and nature are the best cure for all of life’s stresses.”

Their vision of making a safe and happy place to nurture all living things has come true and, like life, continues to evolve. There are three honey bee hives that are home to thousands of bees happily buzzing and working in the garden. There is a frog pond, and a large milkweed butterfly garden. Peter and Diane have moved into full-on overdrive with their love and passion for every conceivable thing a sustainable garden can become. There are bountiful flowers, vegetable gardens, roses, shrubs, evergreens, and flowering, fruiting and leafing deciduous trees. There is a screened meditation cabin, grape arbors, a lavender field on a hill, a blueberry patch, and strawberries spilling forward heavy with fruit. 

Maria also notes that the landscape plan was designed to engage all of the senses: “There are paths that meander through the fruit trees and paths that are lined with lavender to create a peaceful, soothing old-world charm.” Senses are triggered by the sounds of water trickling in the fountain and frog pond, and creeping thyme nestles between the irregularly shaped tumbled bluestone. 

At the core of all of these endeavors are the principles that have made Coleman and Fortier respected voices in the fields of organic and sustainable gardening. Fortier presents agriculture on a small scale for individual gardeners who want to create market-quality produce from a home environment. Coleman, and his wife, Barbara Damrosch, are both farmers and writers, and their Four Season Farm is an experimental market farm that produces fruits and vegetables grown throughout the year.

Diane had been a beekeeper and sustainable gardener for years, and comes from a long lineage of herbalists and gardeners from the Czech Republic.  Peter blossomed into this style of gardening later in life—he says he was a farmer in waiting, who is walking in the footsteps of his ancestors who farmed the Nova Scotia coast—and he refuses to allow it to become a seasonal endeavor. A greenhouse keeps plenty of fresh produce on the table year-round, and a portion of the basement of the house has been converted into a hydroponic growing lab for tomatoes, micro-greens, basil, parsley and other herbs.

Peter and Diane have embraced their passion with an endless amount of energy that seems to be refueled with every additional project and inspiration. Now obsessively pouring through seed, bulb, flower and vegetable catalogs in the pre-dawn hours of the mornings, Peter continually comes up with ideas that his sister Maria and friends are always willing to help implement.

And speaking of friends, the nature of the garden is to be shared, not only through enjoyment, but also through the power of creation. Two of those friends who have helped Diane and Peter make their dreams come true are Dawn McDermott, gardener extraordinaire; and Brian Purtle, a carpenter, farmer and artist. Both friends have helped to create the unique details—Brian by creating beautiful art from rescued lumber and steel; Dawn by nurturing tiny seedlings through all their phases, from greenhouse to outdoor splendor. 

Santosha Gardens in Centerville is a regular on the Hydrangea Festival Garden Tour each summer.  Peter, Diane, and their dogs, Tara, Owen and Dustin, encourage Festival-goers to stop by, visit and stroll the grounds of a true sanctuary.   

Tips for Creating your own Sanctuary

If you want your landscape to thrive instead of just survive, Maria Hickey, a certified plant expert, has advice for creating a plan designed for success. 

Site conditions must be compatible with the goals and objectives of the landscape plan

Everything from soil composition, to grade remediation, to wind and sun exposure, to moving trees and shrubs to a place where they can best achieve their overall optimal shape and form; it all must be considered in order to achieve the space you desire.

Compost, compost, compost

Soil composition is critically important for the health and well-being of the plants. Whether you create your own well-seasoned, mature compost or incorporate widely available commercially sourced solutions, proper soil chemistry is the foundation to every landscape plan. Do it once and do it right. Spend the few minutes to add compost and organic matter to each plant to enrich the soil and provide beneficial nutrients to feed the roots.


Anyone can have any landscape they desire, but decisions about maintenance expectations should be examined in the beginning to ensure happiness and satisfaction for the long run. Asking the right questions in the beginning will yield the right answers in the end.

• Do you desire a low-maintenance landscape? Do you want or need outside help?

• Do you want a long succession of blooms or harvest?

• Do you want a landscape that transitions from
space to space in your yard?

Julie Craven Wagner

Julie Craven Wagner began her experience with Cape Cod Life in 2010 when she joined the sales team after 10 years of working with local businesses on the Cape and Islands with WMVY. In addition to sales, she is the Associate Publisher/Editor of Cape Cod LIFE, Cape Cod HOME, and Cape Cod ART. Growing up on the Outer Cape has given her a unique perspective of life on Cape Cod, from tip to bridge, and that is reflected in her appreciation and presentation of stories found within the pages of our publications. Julie lives in North Falmouth with her husband, Eric, and their yellow lab, Enzo. When she finds free time, she enjoys her Cape Cod life sailing on Buzzards Bay, spending time on the beach in Wellfleet, or exploring Martha’s Vineyard.