Second star to the right & straight on ’til Martha’s Vineyard
Tara Gayle’s imaginative gardens provide storybook-like inspiration for gardeners across the Cape and Islands
There’s a reason all the best fairy tales begin in a garden. J.M. Barrie’s classic young protagonist, Peter Pan, starts his adventures in Neverland as a whimsical boy gallivanting through Kensington Gardens in London. Today, a statue of the beloved character stands watch over all the daring children that make their way through the gardens.
While this is a far more expansive landscape than one might find in the front yard of a Vineyard cottage, Barrie captures the adventurous nature that a fabulous garden can evoke and the imaginative spirit that successful gardeners must capture. Tara Gayle, owner of Gayle Gardens on Martha’s Vineyard, could be considered the 21st century embodiment of the type of childhood fantasy that Barrie portrayed. As an art enthusiast and passionate botanist, Gayle fully understands the magic that the perfect garden can inspire, and has dedicated herself to cultivating this spirit through creative garden projects.
A New Yorker turned islander, Gayle draws from her education in art history and her foundation as a student and member of the New York Botanical Garden. “I feel most passionate when I’m learning, whether it be in the field or through ongoing classes and intensives. As soon as one season comes to a close, I can’t wait for the following spring when all the efforts of the previous season emerge again stronger than the year prior,” she says. As an enthusiastic gardener and dedicated student, Gayle understands that the best gardens are never stagnant. “We continue to work with our clients throughout the season to ensure the health and longevity of their investments,” she explains.
Working on Martha’s Vineyard can be tough. “We are at the mercy of the boats and the short season that leaves as quickly as it came,” Gayle says, but there’s also a lot of opportunity to let creativity shine, adding to and expanding on the natural allure of the island. “Working on Martha’s Vineyard affords me the privilege of working with everything from sprawling landscapes in the woods of Chilmark, to ocean-side terraces in Edgartown, to restaurants in downtown Oak Bluffs,” says Gayle. “I have clients located all over the island, and in every town, which allows me to work with different styles and in different environments.”
Ever the scholar, Gayle describes herself as “Vineyard-based, but travel-happy,” and says that she pulls from the beauty of landscapes all over the world. “I tend to draw inspiration when walking through age-old gardens, most notably public gardens that have grown into their purpose,” she says. “One can find a garden of some sort in any corner of the world. I love marrying traditional English gardening techniques such as pleaching and topiary with the loose, natural style found most often along coastal New England, incorporating meadows and walks when possible.” With pleaching, the branches of a hedge are espaliered together, as if they were braided, to create a raised, flat plane that gives some separation to a design, almost creating rooms, as Gayle puts it. Tying this together with the more natural growth of a garden creates an interesting contrast and brings worldly elegance to the classic Vineyard style that marks her island home.
Clients who work with Gayle Gardens can look forward to landscape creations that not only intend to capture the historic beauty that graces gardens and landmarks worldwide, but also the literature that often inspires those places. “I draw from stacks of books that feature botanical illustrations, to biographies of some of the great landscape architects and designers I most admire,” says Gayle in words reminiscent of great whimsical visionaries like Barrie. One could just imagine Peter Pan and his Lost Boys gallivanting through one of her gardens, or a gaggle of fairies tittering around through her breathtaking flower arrangements.
Interestingly, Gayle’s favorite project is actually one of the first that she completed as owner of Gayle Gardens: a “moon garden” that she continues to add to every year. “A moon garden, also known as a white garden, is one where both the blooms and the foliage of the plants catch the light of the moon on a clear night,” she explains. “So we excavated the clay hillside and nursed a lush garden, which boasts year-round interest.” The detail and passion that Gayle brings to her landscape designs is perhaps most evident in her description of this project. “The border garden along a native stone wall offers a roadside attraction, backed by newly planted, pleached hornbeams, which will grow into an elevated hedge, for privacy. Young, espaliered fruit trees grow along the sunny front of the house. The wraparound deck is populated by container gardens with edible plants. One of my favorite things about this project is the secret garden aspect to it, though it does allow for anyone traveling along the road to enjoy the emerging and ever-evolving cottage garden, sneaking a view as they travel past.”
Gayle explains that every town on the Vineyard has its own style, but when one thinks of a traditional Vineyard garden, the image that comes to mind is one of blue hydrangeas and boxwood. “My own style is wild but organized. It’s about incorporating native plants and keeping things as natural as possible but with some thoughtfulness to it,” she says. Think of the High Line in New York, created by Piet Oudolf—natural and wild, but still thoughtful and organized. Gayle takes the Vineyard’s classic style and makes it her own, adding a little wildness and a lot of personality. “There are the tried and true plant materials, but you can still play on the different varieties of those more traditional plants,” she explains. “It doesn’t always have to be a blue mophead hydrangea. Instead you can use a snowflake quercifolia hydrangea and then add some non-traditional elements too. You could take the same five plants, and the way that you plant them can make a garden completely different.”
For Gayle, gardening is truly an art form. “I didn’t even realize how much I loved it until I was out in the middle of winter working on landscapes,” she says, laughing. “It’s not just a job for me, and it’s amazing how tied to my art history background it is. All the great masters incorporate symbols of flowers and other botanicals in their work.” The level of education and detailed devotion that Gayle brings to her projects is incredible. She’s inspired by things like Botticelli’s “Primavera,” and she can name countless varieties of ornamental grasses. It would not be a far jump to say that Gayle creates her very own masterpieces within the spaces where she works. “Someone once told me that I paint with flowers,” she says. “It sounds a little cheesy, but there’s definitely a huge artistic component to it. That’s super important to me.”
As Peter Pan tells Wendy, “One girl is worth more use than 20 boys.” Gayle, as an evolving entrepreneur, has boldly set out to learn from the world around her and bring stunning creations to life in the yards of Vineyard homes. Gardening is an art form that is ever-changing, but one that she has proven is achievable with some hard work and maybe a little pixie dust.
For more information, visit gaylegardens.com.