A memorial garden provides a tranquil, hidden retreat filled with splendor.
Just up the coast from Hyannis Port’s “Cape Cod Camelot,” a family has created a secret garden that would seem right at home in the story of England’s most famous legend.
Arthurian lore tells of The Once and Future King, as author T. H. White put it, who will one day return to restore peace and honor to the world. Based in Camelot, Arthur and his knights represented all that was good and just, and their names endure throughout Western civilization some 1,500 years after their storied reign. Less known, but still widely recognized, is the island of Avalon, which existed nearby but was hidden behind dense, magical mists. Within this Eden-like paradise, priestesses of Mother Earth forged the legendary sword Excalibur, which Arthur would famously draw from the stone. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, author Geoffrey of Monmouth first wrote of the garden isle in his 12th-century Historia regum Britanniae (c. 1136), where he details how King Arthur was, after suffering mortal injury, “carried thence to the isle of Avalon to be cured of his wounds.” In Vita Merlini, published 14 years later, Monmouth describes Avalon as “the island of apples … called fortunate.”
Like Avalon, Osterville’s Seaview Secret Garden has been artfully crafted to be nearly invisible from the outside world; appropriately, it inhabits a bucolic setting just like that of “Cape Cod Camelot,” the Kennedy Compound as it was known in its heyday. One could park along the garden’s north or south borders and remain oblivious to its location—not because of thick, enchanted fogs, but rather due to dense hydrangeas and native flora. No showy gate marks its entrance; instead a simple shell path leads through a patch of forest. A walker could easily pass by none the wiser. Beyond the proverbial mists, however, an exquisite garden awaits, replete with flowering bushes, herbs and vegetables, and, of course, apple trees.
The Secret Garden is a living memorial. Owner Michele Walker named it “Le Jardin des Deux Mamans” in honor of her mother and mother-in-law, both of whom had recently passed away when she created the garden. “My mother was French, so the name is in her honor,” Walker explains. “Both of our mothers loved gardens, gardening and vegetables.”
The family entrusted the landscaping firm E.J. Jaxtimer of Hyannis and landscape architect Bernice Wahler of Sandiwch to complete Walker’s vision for a hidden garden set across the street from their seaside home. One goal was to reuse aged natural materials, such as reclaimed brick and weathered stone, so that the finished garden would inhabit a timeless, antique past with a refined yet rustic feel. The result pleased not only the client—E.J. Jaxtimer won a gold award in the Excellence in Landscape/Garden Design category of the 2016 BRICC Awards for the project.
Just as the legendary Avalon was renowned as an island of serenity and a center for the healing arts, the Secret Garden is an oasis for the spirit. While coastal living may appear tranquil and calm, the reality of life on the beach can prove more turbulent. Prevailing southwest breezes often whip Nantucket Sound into a frenzy, especially on July afternoons, but the garden, enclosed by trees, provides sanctuary from the sometimes-wrathful face of summer. Although there was enough space for a full swimming pool, the family opted for a formal dipping spa, where one can soak amid flowers and recharge the soul. As part of the overall project, E.J. Jaxtimer transformed a garage into a personal gym, further emphasizing the attention to holistic wellness. The Secret Garden is intimate enough for solitary reflection yet spacious enough to accommodate large parties; depending on one’s mood, companions could include butterflies, songbirds and lightning bugs or feature more boisterous revelers adorned in the equally bright colors of summer fashion.
Sharing the same variegated bluestone terrace as the spa are a fountain and a fire pit, the former catching and refracting the sun’s flames by day, the latter casting its own glowing embers into the night. In keeping with the antique theme, much of the finishing is distressed; the cabana’s antique windows and French doors were reclaimed from other projects. The patio transition from the cabana to the elevated terrace features a herringbone pattern of bricks, many scarred or wearing remnants of paint from previous residences. “This adds to the old English feel of the garden,” builder Jonathan Jaxtimer notes, as do the “irregular-shaped steps” of stones that appear more likely to have been acquired from swift mountain brooks than from any quarry.
From either side, the secluded woodland retreat proceeds through a series of distinct spaces, each with its own sensory appeal, much as a trout river flows through a succession of pools. The main entrance lies directly across the street from the house proper; the understated path gives way to garden boxes containing vegetables, herbs and flowers for cutting. “Project manager Rob Kennedy was very helpful with the vegetables, which I had never done before,” Walker says. To complete the theme of this space, blueberry bushes and apple trees, just beginning to bear fruit, line the borders. Kennedy says he is pleased with the way the garden had matured into its second full summer, a time when nature and design are at a sort of equilibrium.
In the next phase of the garden, the fountain is the focal point. Here, Wahler says the “precise geometry laid out in classical garden style” becomes most obvious, with an almost clockwork layout of walking paths, flowerbeds and statues. Beyond the spa and fire pit, a row of five hornbeam trees rises from a rock wall, forming the living, northern border of the garden. On the opposite side of the wall, Kennedy has trained ivy to take on a diamond-shaped pattern. Such attention to detail truly defines this Avalon of Cape Cod, a garden as suitable for royalty as it is for those seeking respite from everyday cares.
Jaxtimer notes, “This was the type of project where the owner was very involved; she was very hands-on.” Kennedy calls Walker “the brains behind it all.” Walker has high praise for her landscape and design team and the cooperative approach everyone took: “They worked with me to develop my idea for a ‘Secret Garden,’ and we turned it into a reality together.”