The Delight is in the Details

Cape Cod Home  /  Spring 2020 / ,

Writer: Julie Craven Wagner

Osterville’s JuliaGarden Design is creating gardens that live, breathe + inspire

For Julia Esteves, founder and garden designer of JuliaGarden Design in Osterville, the path that has led to the seaside village (like those in the most interesting of gardens), was not one that was straight, rigid or without influence. Esteves grew up in Osterville, where, at the beginning of her adulthood, she had the life-changing opportunity to work with locally notable Phyllis Cole Landscapes, who have had a hand in creating some of the most legendary gardens that make-up the village’s estates that dot the coastline. Esteves describes the experience of Cole’s tutelage when she says, “She was a tremendous traditional gardener as well as a talented landscape designer and I learned a lot from her.” Esteves’ journey also brings along the talent of her husband, Arthur Milczanowski, whom she met in Poland while gardening, and upon returning to the states, they continued their love of gardening in her home town of Osterville. Together they are the founding partners of JuliaGarden Design.

The approach that Esteves and her team implement is a philosophy unique among the vast choices of landscapers and landscape designers that are found throughout the region. For example, employees who might be classified elsewhere as crew are instead defined as lead gardeners, thereby clarifying the function and responsibility of each employee in the organization. “Our collaboration as a company represents who we are,” Esteves explains. “When we work together, we bring a sense of community to the garden, because as part of our design philosophy, we want to tell the story of the garden.” 

The company’s ideology is communicated most passionately by head gardener, Clint Flagg who says, “Being head gardener, I am responsible for the other gardeners, but I am also responsible for the story of the garden. Every garden has a story, whether it is within the garden structures, the plant materials or the trees. We refer to the entire property as the garden; flowerbeds, vegetable gardens, they are all part of the bigger picture of the garden. That is our outermost philosophy; we look at the entire picture of the garden as well as the details that make-up that picture.”

“The next step is to feel the garden. What does it feel like? What emotions does it evoke when you walk through it? What was there—the echo of the garden? It is our job to also find that.” It is that zen-like appreciation of life cycles—not just the future, but the contribution made in the past—that informs Flagg, Esteves, their lead gardeners and their clients what the garden can eventually become.

Instilling this philosophy and subtle awareness into the gardeners is a process according to Flagg, and like any good garden design, rarely includes a straight line. But when the work has been accomplished and the possibilities begin to emerge, there will be a moment of clarity when the garden will reveal itself to its caretakers. Flagg reflects on the occasions when a new gardener experiences that revelation for the first time.

“Sometimes with new gardeners, there are moments they get to enjoy with us,” Flagg recalls. “Just the other day, we had been working all day at a home we are in the process of restoring (a process that can take a few years), and that future is what we plan for now. I told the gardeners—who had been working diligently all day, pruning, cleaning, moving things—to take a step back. And I could see the gardeners reflect that special moment in the garden. The garden just shone. We had listened to it, worked it, coaxed it and it responded and showed us what it will be. Everyone was so excited and asked if this was what I told them they would someday experience, and it was.”

The interplay between Esteves’ gardeners and the garden is something that occurs intuitively by listening to the subtleties that might otherwise be missed. “We are continually emphasizing mindfulness with our gardeners,” Flagg explains. “Being mindful is how we share among ourselves, but also with the garden.”

“We call it the heartbeat of the garden, the spirit of it,” Flagg explains. “When we take over a garden, our first job is to find the heart and soul, and then restore it; we bring back the health of the garden and then we can discover what the design story is. We aren’t just looking at plant material, we are taking in the bigger picture, what feeling the garden renders and how we, as human beings, experience that feeling.”

“Our company is driven by design, and when we tell all of our gardeners to learn the story of the garden, we want them to understand the original design of the garden,” Esteves says.

The conversation with nature that evolves between the gardeners and the garden ultimately also includes a discourse with the homeowners, who may or may not have arrived to the discussion as fluent as they will eventually become. But it is the passion of the team at JuliaGarden Design that sparks the sense of adventure in their clients who become eager to follow the gospel of garden design.

“It is a learning experience for our clients, and they have to take a leap of faith with us, but they do,” Esteves confirms. “We encourage them to ask a lot of questions. It takes some time, but we lead them, and inform them along the way about why we are doing things, how we are doing things and before they even realize it, they are as invested as we are.”

Each member of JuliaGarden Design understands the unique approach the company brings to every project. Business manager Carmen Dineen, who has worked for traditional landscape businesses on the Cape, comments, “This is the only company where the gardeners ask to go into the house and see the garden from the client’s vantage point. That says everything to me about how different we are.” 

Once the gardeners learn the story of the garden, the process of  restoration and design begins. “Our deign philosophy is very invested in developing native plant communities and native groundcovers as part of our mission to create diverse gardens,” Esteves explains.

For Esteves and her team, creating gardens is part of their everyday fulfillment that they call work. But for the garden, the gardeners and their clients, the process of listening, learning and lingering in the garden is nurturing the body, mind and soul of everyone lucky enough to experience JuliaGarden Design.

Find more inspiration at juliagardenosterville.com!

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.