Nature’s Palette

Cape Cod Home  /  Spring 2024 / ,

Writer: Julie Craven Wagner

Nature’s Palette


Cape Cod Home  /  Spring 2024 / ,

Writer: Julie Craven Wagner

With spring here and summer within sight, now is the time to consider making a plan to breathe renewed life into your yard. Whether you need to make small changes, or a total revamp is in order, Cape Cod is replete with professionals whose fresh ideas can guide and inspire you to designing an outdoor living space that you’ll enjoy year-round. Meet them in the following pages and read about how their unique perspectives and offerings can help you take advantage of the spring season and get your yard on track to becoming your own private oasis.

Maria Hickey Landscapes

Known for her vibrant and colorful landscapes, Maria Hickey embraces the jubilant and joyful expression color adds to her clients’ projects. Hickey, is actively involved with successfully permitting projects with local conservation boards. Her native planting plans offer a functioning wildlife habitat full of color and beauty attracting nesting native songbirds, bees, butterflies, and dragonflies, all while simultaneously achieving the required regulatory compliance. Her landscapes evoke timeless, classic charm while offering valuable food and shelter for wildlife in necessary compliance with the jurisdictional regulatory agencies. “I use native perennials as part of the landscape for multiple reasons,” she shares. “First, they create an aesthetically pleasing landscape for the clients to enjoy visually. Second, they create a habitat for food and shelter for a variety of insects, birds and animals. Creatures like nesting native songbirds, bees, butterflies, dragonflies and all the beneficial insects—the insects that serve as natural deterrents and predators of the bad kind of insects. And last, it creates opportunities for pollination of all the other plants, shrubs and trees on your property.”

Hickey explains that many of the conservation approved shrubs serve multiple roles; producing not only berries, but for example, rose hips from native roses provide a valuable source of energy for native songbirds. Her clients enjoy these choices for many reasons, including diverse color and interest for each generation of the family. Hickey’s “signature” look incorporates an English cottage-style border with masses of blooming perennials, accented by carefully chosen annuals, that provide succession of blooms and color, not only throughout the season, but throughout the entire year as well. “My ornamental perennials would be roses and dahlias, along with blooming shrubs like hydrangeas, and then add in zinnias and petunias and cosmos,” she offers.

Maria Hickey also dismisses the myth that impact is accomplished with acreage. “You don’t need to have the largest property in the neighborhood,” she affirms. “Impact can be accomplished in a very small space. It just requires informed choices. The way we design for a succession of blooms and with deliberate placement, we can achieve the look of a mature garden in even just the first year. It gives a feeling of old-world charm.” 

It is that “wow factor” that sets Hickey’s projects apart from others, and the impulse to pause and take the space in, is often prompted by her deft use of color as well as her deliberate practice of massing her plantings. “You aren’t going to get the reaction you’re looking for with a few well-placed plant varieties,” she states. “You need to have a plan and an understanding of how everything in your garden inter-relates, and once you do that, you just have to go for it—you need to put several of the same variety together for impact, and then repeat the masses in other places of the garden. That is what creates the visual appeal to keep the eye moving through the space.”

The combination of colors, heights, plant varieties and succession of blooms are why Hickey’s clients are satisfied with her answer to their requests for a landscape that provides visual interest for their friends and family. Add to the mix, an active environment that supports, blooms that become berries and an active array of live birds, insects and animals and you have created a garden that lives with you.  

For more information visit

JuliaGarden Design

At Osterville’s JuliaGarden Design, owner and landscape designer, Julia Esteves initially meets with clients in order to understand their desired atmosphere and ambiance of a garden. “This meeting is crucial for creating a landscape design that aligns with the client’s vision and preference,” emphasizes the team at JuliaGarden. “Once the desired garden style is determined, the color palette, texture, plant selection, and overall composition, the program can be tailored to enhance that specific atmosphere.”

JuliaGarden says incorporating color is always in the conversation, “Creating a color scheme that resonates with the client’s preferences and suits the specific conditions of the garden, such as part-shade, is essential for crafting a cohesive and visually appealing landscape design. For example, for a client who preferred a blue and yellow color scheme we selected plants that thrive in shade and incorporated textural elements. By carefully selecting plants based on their color, texture, and suitability for part-shade conditions, we created a dynamic and harmonious garden that reflects the client’s preferences and tells a compelling narrative through its color palette and plant matrix.” The team continues, “By prioritizing resilience, low-maintenance characteristics, and pollinator value in plant selection, we created a garden that not only thrives in less pampered conditions, but also contributes to ecosystem health and biodiversity. The strategic timing of blooms and emphasis on native and drought-tolerant species ensures that the garden provides a full season of opportunities for pollinators to forage and thrive.”

Some of JuliaGarden’s favorite plants to use are Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride,’ Canadian Ginger and Golden Ragwort. “These shade-loving ground covers provide green foliage throughout the year. They also take the place of mulch, add interest as well as color variation and can be punctuated with broadleaf evergreens for a more formal look. Nepeta ‘Blue Prelude’ offers vibrant blue flowers in late spring and early summer, providing a striking focal point in the garden during this time. Pairing it with Aralia ‘Sun King,’ known for its bold chartreuse foliage, creates a dynamic contrast of colors and textures that adds visual interest throughout the growing season. ‘Hass Halo’ Hydrangeas, with their lace cap blooms, not only add beauty, to the garden but also provide valuable nectar and pollinators,” says JuliaGarden. “Integrating these hydrangeas as a backbone in the garden design ensures a reliable food source for pollinators while contributing to the overall aesthetic of the space. Non-native Salvia ‘Koyame’ blooms later in the season, offering yellow flowers that brighten up darker shade conditions and rooty gardens. By combining early, mid, and late-season flowering plants with a higher percentage of native to non-native species, you can create a garden that not only delights the senses with its beauty, but also supports pollinator populations throughout the growing season.”

The team at JuliaGarden shares that creating a poolside garden which thrives in the bright sun and hot microclimates requires careful consideration of plant selection and design principles to ensure both visual appeal and plant survival. “Texture can be the primary goal with pops of color to enhance the look of the garden beds,” notes the landscape design and installation company. “Echinacea x ‘Kismet Raspberry’ (coneflower) when combined with Echinacea purpurea (native coneflower) can be a good late summer bloomer. The vibrant raspberry-pink blooms of Echinacea x ‘Kismet Raspberry’ complement the softer pink hues of Echinacea purpurea. Planting this coneflower with lavenders, and grasses like Autumn moor grass, Karl Foerster grass, and Blue grama grass creates a strong grassy matrix. This should cover soil enough so that mulch is not necessary.” 

For more information visit

Gregory Lombardi Design

There are so many wonderful things about a garden, but perhaps the greatest is that it can be anything you can dream of. Of course, there are site limitations, if you live under a canopy of dense tree-cover, your shade-laden space will probably never see sun-loving species thrive. Yet short of defying the rules of nature, the possibilities are almost endless.  

At Gregory Lombardi Design, based in North Billerica and with an office in Chatham, the concept of, “What would you like?” is at the center of their creative work every day. Troy Sober, principal says, “A lot of what we try to bring to the process is trying to educate our clients on the possibilities for their particular site. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a limitation, in fact just the opposite. They often compare neighboring properties to their own, and in many instances we can develop a design and push their boundaries on plant choices and provide more enjoyment for them.”

Sober says the first determination involves assessing the site. “The proposed program is modulated by how big their space is and where their intended focal points are. If it is a summer home, it is common for the clients to want an infusion of color, maybe around a pool environment or an outdoor dining space—we often refer to that application as power borders. And in that application, we have our borders offer the most amount of seasonal variety from late May, early June through Aster season in late September, early October.”

Sober says color and interest are not reserved for the warmer months. The off-season interest is often over-looked, particularly for seasonal residents, yet for the homeowners who spend time on the Cape or Islands, adding visual interest to a dormant landscape can be just the thing to keep the space captivating. “A recent project for a year-round resident allowed us to embrace the idea of viewing a landscape from the inside out, as well as outside and in the midst of it,” Sober offers. “We focused on ground covers that are evergreen, hellebores for the late winter, early spring and primrose and an infusion of bulbs provide a lot of early color for them.”

Sober shares that Vinca is a popular groundcover choice for their clients. “We use Vinca quite often in and around plant beds, and we even use them inside parterre gardens, for example if it is lined with boxwood, with maybe roses or hydrangeas inside. We still plant over it, and we understand Vinca is a very aggressive plant, but the benefits of the habitat it provides, as well as insect protection and reducing the need for mulch make it a good choice for many of our clients.”

Sober goes on to say that the partnership between Gregory Lombardi Design and their clients is the most important link. “With changing climates and unpredictable seasons, we are continually re-evaluating and trying to read and understand clients’ space. We have learned through the years, that a landscape needs to evolve with the climate and gardening practices. I often work with my clients to install a landscape that may only fill 70% of their beds the first season. This gives us both an opportunity to dial in the last 30% of the next few seasons; because ultimately it will be a more successful space, and more successful garden.” 

For more information visit

Ponderosa Landscaping

Gardening on the Outer Cape, is unlike anywhere else in the area, with the exception maybe of Nantucket. Sandy soils, unrelenting winds and plenty of salt sprinkled air make for a whole new set of challenges for intrepid gardeners wanting to coax the best from their coastal retreats. For over 40 years, Ponderosa Landscaping has been helping homeowners tame and encourage their landscapes into welcoming environments that are naturally suited for the unique microclimate.

In addition to the field-based landscape services, Ponderosa has a locally popular Garden Center located along Route 6 in North Eastham. Jennifer Floyd, the garden center manager, brings decades of working in the Cape horticultural industry to each of her days at the bustling market that provides invaluable products and expertise for the Outer Cape community. Floyd, who is responsible for all the buying for both the garden center as well as the landscape division, says the end of the Cape favors different species and applications than gardeners to the west might be searching for. “We are really geared toward providing native plants,” she shares. “Many people in this area are ecologically conscious so natives appeal to them, but even for the novice gardeners, a native plant is going to perform better since they should require less water and less maintenance.” 

Floyd says sometimes bloom and color are achieved in this unique environment in different ways—low bush blueberries provide seasonal interest as well as habitat for the variety of wildlife. “We sell a lot of beach plum,” Floyd explains, “and the visual interest of the dark bark before the spring explosion of the tiny white blossoms is so iconic for this part of the Cape. And then of course you get the fruit later in the summer.”

For shrubs, Floyd says evergreens are a popular choice for local homeowners. “Rhododendrons are very popular also because they are blooming as people arrive for the season. They are fast growing and respond well to our acidic soil. And I think it gives a sense of calm that they don’t immediately have to set about working in their yard the moment they arrive for the season.” 

Perhaps due to the lack of deciduous trees on the outer Cape, Floyd says flowering trees are very popular. “The flowering cherries are always in demand, and magnolias are a favorite, including a native magnolia that has great proven success.” For winter interest, Floyd says the red twig dogwoods and evergreens add to some structure to the beachside landscapes which can feel very severe in the off-season. “Even some of the winter birches with their peeling bark, during the most dismal times of the year, those species really draw you in,” Floyd says.

Of course, container gardening might be the most popular expression for many homeowners who are in search of color, and interesting plant material, with minimal maintenance requirements won’t detract from time on the beach. “Yes, containers gardens are very popular,” Floyd asserts. “And we create our own containers that remove the mystery for the homeowner for what goes together, along with a high likelihood for success.” 

For more information visit

Sudbury Design Group

One of the best things about southeastern New England is the multitude of areas where a leisurely afternoon drive affords glimpses of some of the finest architecture and craftsmanship in the country. It is not an uncommon occurrence for the landscape chosen for these magnificent homes, to be attributed to Sudbury Design Group. Mike Coutu, founder and president of Sudbury Design Group (SDG), says achieving spectacular landscapes always begins with understanding the site. “The best design is always driven by site-specific elements,” he shares. “What you want may or may not be realistic with the site you have. But our job is to evaluate the space and determine a program for success for the homeowner.” He goes on to say that success comes in many forms.

“If you think you want a serene white garden that provides a place for relaxation and contemplation, but you have a wide-open space with very little shade, lots of sunlight and the unrelenting winds that find their way ashore in this area. It isn’t realistic,” he advises. “But we can create pockets in the garden where with enough thought and planning we can control as much of the environment as we are able.” Coutu says in this example a pergola with planted shade coverage and lush beds beneath can certainly accomplish the desire to have a quiet place for reflection.

SDG is not only accomplished at creating individual micro-climates, they are also well versed at taming the environment to accomplish the vision of the overall design. “I suppose we can literally create almost any kind of landscape, but that isn’t really the issue,” Coutu shares. “The reason we love working with our clients, and I’d like to think the reason they choose to work with us, is because we can identify optimal scenarios for what works best for the site, their lifestyle, the architecture, not only of their home but also the surrounding properties—sometimes it is about obstructing a view as much as opening up a view. The goal is to create a program that looks natural, adds interest, as well as function, and most importantly exceeds everyone’s expectations in the most positive way possible.

When it comes to incorporating color and textural interest to a landscape, Coutu says it can be done on a variety of scales, but again is dictated by the site. “Color and plant material interest can be accomplished as simply as containers that are placed in strategic spots,” he explains. “And the containers can be small, modest in size or significantly over-sized. And in the greater landscape, color and texture on a grand scale can easily be integrated with massed, mature plantings of evergreens and other trees and shrubs.”

The take away for the years of expertise Sudbury Design Group has earned appears to be found in the countless projects they have transformed with their hard work and creativity.  

For more information visit

Julie Craven Wagner is the editor of Cape Cod HOME.

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.