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Seasons of Love

With the help of Maria Hickey and Associates Landscapes, the blank canvas at Kerry Kennedy’s new home has been transformed into a place for friends and family to gather and share the beauty of a creatively inspired space.

There are very few examples epitomizing everything family means than the collective understanding of the iconic Kennedy family. For Kerry Kennedy, a mother of three vibrant and sagacious daughters, and the seventh child of eleven children born to the late Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy, family is at the core of everything that fuels her work as well as her private time. 

Photo by Maria Hickey

“Gardens have always played an important part in my life, both with my family growing up, and now as a mother with my girls, as well as our large extended family,” Kennedy shares. “In Virginia, where I grew up, we had several gardens, as well as a large cutting garden, so the house was always filled with fresh flowers in almost every room.” To further illustrate the influence flowers and a connection to the garden has played in her formative years as well as today, Kennedy gestures to a gold-framed impressionistic oil painting of a vase of flowers. Yellow daisy and golden tickseed blooms spill out in an unorganized presentation, fearlessly crowning a cornflower-blue, ample-bottomed vase surrounded by a sky blue and white background of rich brush strokes. “This painting was the inspiration for this new garden,” she explains. “It has been on the walls of every home in which I have lived, so it is absolutely part of me. These are the colors I love; the blue for the sky and the water, the yellow for the sun, the white for the clouds, this is what I wanted to see.”

Kennedy purchased her new home in 2019. The welcoming gray clapboard home with green shutters which sits perched above Hyannis Port Harbor was surrounded by a typical Cape Cod forest—scrub oaks and pines, locust trees, brambles and bittersweet—affording very little open space for entertainment or enjoyment, let alone a garden. A dirt driveway ran parallel to the side of the home and consumed most of the useable space in the yard. On the other side of the driveway, an aging railroad tie retaining wall provided a bed for a variety of unremarkable annuals. And in the almost acre of space in the back of the property, a chicken coop was home to a few fowl that would become the genesis of more than a year of transformation.

“In April of 2020, we bought some chicks for Easter,” Kennedy explains. “You can’t just throw babies in with adult chickens because they won’t survive, so we kept them in a cage outside, but then some foxes came along and we lost three. There was no choice but to bring them in the house, but we didn’t have a cage inside.” Kennedy proceeds to tell the hilarious tale including the ingenious idea to confine the baby chicks to the shower, because as she says, “What harm could they possibly do? And you can just wash things down in the morning.” Unfortunately the next morning revealed the chickens’ ability to escape over the top of the shower doors where they proceeded to roost throughout the house, and created an unimaginable mess.

Kennedy called Maria Hickey, owner and founder of Maria Hickey & Associates Landscapes in Falmouth, a full-service landscape design and installation company, and asked her to come over and help her design a space for the young chickens where they could be safe, as well as out of the house. It wasn’t long before Hickey, Kennedy and Kennedy’s partner, George Vradenburg, started to discuss the endless possibilities of “what could be.” Discussions of open space for pick-up games of football, soccer, badminton and croquet led to a long, grassy expanse that quickly conjures images of familiar Kennedy faces, pant legs rolled up over tanned bare feet and arms stretched in the air to catch a spiraling football. During the excavation phase of the project, Hickey and her team unearthed a massive rock that provided the perfect sitting area for several family members at what is loosely defined as the end-zone of the playing field.

Hickey contacted David von Jess, general manager of The Stonemasons, Inc. of Westport, to discuss the transition from the backyard to an elevated level with a vegetable garden, grape arbor, and the aforementioned chicken coop. Von Jess, who was responsible for all of the hardscape on the project, constructed terraced beds from native granite and fieldstone which gave plenty of space for thorn-less rose bushes, and perennials like Digitalis, Delphinium, Salvia, Scabiosa and Oenthera. Winding stairs complete the transition between levels as yellow tulips and soft blue grape hyacinth add a touch of cheer to the early Cape Cod spring, and the rolling fog from Nantucket Sound bathes the countless roses in a special brew of salt and strength of character forged by generations of sailors and sirens of the sea.

On the upper level, the grape arbor, fence railings and gates of the vegetable garden have been fashioned from the felled trees Hickey and her crew cleared from the tangled wilderness. Two gates provide access to the round vegetable garden that has been planted in the shape of a Celtic cross. Set into each of the gates are two symbols that are very important to Kennedy: a Peace sign as a symbol for her, and a Sign of David and the word “Shalom” in Hebrew which also translates to “peace,” to pay homage to her partner, who is Jewish. The design of the cross and the symbols in the gates are just some examples of the thoughtful touches Hickey often integrates into her clients’ landscapes, thus making their connection to their gardens and their home a uniquely personal experience. 

“The re-purposing of the trees allowed me to create an old-world charm, while also honoring the family’s deep commitment to their faith,” Hickey explains. “Family connections are at the core of the way Kerry approaches life and I wanted to give her places to nurture those opportunities, like the arbor and the family sitting rock.”

The individual details also come from Kennedy herself, who has placed an ancient Korean gong above one of the garden gates, a remarkable keepsake she brought home from a trip years ago. A statue of the Virgin Mary stands guard at the head of the cross and watches over the tender broccoli, kale, tomatoes, herbs and fennel that prove to be irresistible when contemplating the next family meal. “I found that statue of Mary years ago, and while I lived in New York, my mother took care of it, and now it is home with me again,” Kennedy explains.

Upon exiting the gate through the Sign of Peace, the senses are embraced by “Zebra White,” Blushing Bride,” and “Endless Summer” Hydrangea. Pink and yellow dwarf honeysuckle intermingle with low blueberry bushes as they provide cover for the “Hen Den” now hosting a flock of happy, healthy chickens. David Austin roses spill forth with a sweet scent and a jaw-dropping profusion of soft, velvety petals, which make up rose heads the size of soft balls. A grape arbor provides shady respite and reflection as green, red, and white grapes ripen on the vine. A seating area with white wrought iron furniture provide a place to take it all in—a Thanksgiving football game, an early morning egg collection, harvesting herbs for bouquets and salad dressing for a dinner al fresco, or just a quiet moment at the beginning or the end of a hectic day.

“It (the garden) engendered a sense of hope and joy and appreciation for creation, which is extraordinarily important at any time of life, but particularly now.”

~ Kerry Kennedy
Photo by Fleeting Moments Photography

Perhaps the most enjoyed, and arguably the most sentimentally important part of the garden is the area that replaced the old railroad ties adjacent to the house. During the completion of the hardscape, von Jess mentioned to Hickey that he had some attractive stone that might be perfect for the space. Further investigation revealed that in fact he had a supply of pink granite from the West Falmouth moraine—the same granite that Jackie Kennedy specifically requested for the construction of President John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery. The 100-foot-long bed was significantly enhanced in both depth and height, and the new retaining wall is now a part of American history with its pink granite fortification. 

This portion of the garden is one of the first things you see as you approach the home, and it is visible from every window on that side of the house. It also provides an attitude adjustment function as it lines the path one takes to get to the backyard. Hickey took advantage of the high-impact effect this bed offered and planted it with all of Kennedy’s favorite varieties, in all of her favorite colors, as well as introducing some new favorites. Reminiscent of an English Cottage garden, the roses, Echinacea, Dianthus, Aconitum, and pink Salvia mix with the patches of creeping thyme spilling over the edge of the pink granite. And the lilies…the hybrid lilies fill the space, both in their stature as well as in their heady aroma that fills the salty Cape Cod air. “Tiny Tortuga” Chelone and Cleome wave in the breeze with the lavender and Nepeta. Close examination proves to be an endless fascination as new and unexpected blooms and foliage turn their faces to the sky as though asking for recognition and a smile in return.

Kennedy says the garden, which was primarily installed during the pandemic, has come at just the right time. “COVID was obviously a tough time for people across our country and around the world. And, for me, being able to spend time in nature, being able to go up and just sit quietly, in a space like the vegetable garden, was extremely calming and restorative. And to be able to pray, meditate, to be in a place of stillness and silence, that was incredibly healing,” Kennedy shares. “It engendered a sense of hope and joy and appreciation for creation, which is extraordinarily important at any time of life, but particularly now.”  The first celebration in the garden was during the summer of 2020 as Kennedy hosted an unexpected engagement dinner for her nephew and Hickey’s niece on the date of what was supposed to be their wedding. The young couple finally said their vows this past summer in July of 2021, so it appears the gathering of friends and family in such a special place was enough to tide everyone over for another year.

For Kerry Kennedy, the growth and renewal found in a garden is a metaphor for the transition in family. The years stack up on themselves and there are changes from one to the next, but just like a gardener, it is important to look for the recurring indications of hope and what is to come, all the while learning from the season before and taking steps to protect the things you hold dear. How do you measure a year in a life? Visit your garden as often as you can.

Julie Craven Wagner is the editor of Cape Cod GARDEN. 



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