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This is going to be a colorful celebration

A preview of the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival July 7-17

Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival preview

Imagine being able to peek behind fences and stroll though private gardens that are normally closed to the public. Envision flowerbeds in full bloom, vegetable gardens overflowing with organic produce, and mature landscapes that retain the best of “old Cape Cod.” Or, picture touring through creative combinations of plants, garden ornaments, and restful outdoor living spaces.

Cape Cod residents and visitors can enjoy these experiences and more during the second annual Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival in July. The festivities commence with a kickoff party on Thursday, July 7, and run though the final garden tours on Sunday, July 17. Organized under the umbrella of the Cape’s signature plant, the blue Hydrangea, the annual festival celebrates flowers and Cape gardens while benefiting local businesses and non-profits. This year more than 90 gardens will be open for public viewing across Cape Cod along with related exhibits and educational events.

Although blue Hydrangeas have given this festival their name and logo image, the private gardens on the tour contain an assortment of plants and garden styles. For example, strolling through George & Marcia Chapman’s garden in East Falmouth, visitors will see what two horticultural professionals have created with hundreds of different shrubs, perennials, and trees.

“Visitors who come to our gardens will discover a variety of densely planted areas that are linked by paths and archways,” Marcia Chapman says. “They  will see secluded garden spaces, vistas, and focal point plants.”

Several gardens on the tour will showcase ideas for working with specific situations. Marjorie Harvey’s garden in Mashpee is a wonderful example of how a small lot and a new landscape can be transformed quickly through the lush use of plants.

While Harvey established her charming gardens around a new house, Tilda Bystrom’s property in Chatham was planted years ago by the home’s previous owners, who worked at Heritage Museums and Gardens. Visitors to the Bystrom garden can see original Rhododendrons in restored and expanded beds, and learn how older, established plantings can be enhanced and refurbished.

Flowering perennials are the focus of another garden, which is designed and maintained by Jennifer Floyd of Crocker Nurseries in Brewster. “The Levis family’s Yarmouth Port garden is a woodland setting with a sweet cottage garden,” says Floyd. “It’s a fairly low-maintenance landscape with no lawn.”

Floyd describes this property as having a magical quality. “The cottage garden is a colorful array of tall garden Phlox, and perennials that flower summer to fall,” she says. “While working there I always feel that if fairies are real, they would live in this garden! Perhaps this is aided by the whimsical touches the owner has added. It’s truly a wooded oasis.”

Visitors to Bob King’s garden in Sandwich will have the opportunity to see a wide variety of flowers, vegetable plants, and more. “There’s a lot going on,” says King. “I have a garden that is much like an English cottage garden. It’s very crowded, eclectic, and colorful with many perennials, dahlias, and a great many annuals mixed in to provide summer-long color. There is a fairy garden, asparagus patch, raspberries, and a salad garden.”

John Sullivan’s garden in Dennisport also has full, exuberant flowerbeds; his are planted around beautiful ponds. “My gardens started by accident,” Sullivan recalls. “Our property was covered by large shade trees, but Hurricane Bob in 1991 changed all that. By the time the downed trees were cleared and stumps pulled, the yard looked like the dark side of the moon.”

This is going to be a colorful celebration | Cape Cod HOME Summer 2016

A retired animation and drama teacher at Barnstable High School, Sullivan has an artist’s eye for color and years of experience designing impressive stage sets. So it’s not surprising that he didn’t skimp when creating a landscape at his home. “I started replanting around a newly placed tree,” he says, “but then I expanded the gardens to included five waterfalls, three koi ponds, and a triple-layered garden.”   

Jim Pelletier and Joel Hass’s garden in Barnstable will be of special interest to anyone who has a yard that has grown a bit too wild. Strolling through the garden, visitors can get ideas about what can be accomplished with a thorough cleanup. “We once had an area of our property that was unusable due to the poison ivy, heavy overgrowth, and 29 downed cedar trees,” Pelletier says. “But it is now another tremendous space that we can really enjoy. The special features I hope people experience are the raised vegetable and herb garden, and the islands of cedar trees.”

In contrast to the Pelletier/Hass garden where the land has been developed fairly recently, Steve and Susan Dewey are opening a garden that has been affectionately cared for by four generations. “People always enjoy the fact that our property has been in my husband’s family for almost 100 years,” says Susan, a landscape designer who recently retired from a long career as an editor at Cape Cod Life Publications. “Visitors will see specimens that were planted by Steve’s great grandmother.”

“Our house in Centerville was built in 1736,” Susan adds, “and it’s surrounded by old farmland and surprisingly fertile soil. People will also enjoy the vegetables in our hoop house. We will be on hand to share information about how to grow fresh produce all year round in a structure heated by solar power.”

Those interested in both gardens and art will have multiple opportunities on the tour to savor the mix of sculpture and plants. From the ornate, white birdhouses in Helen McVeigh and Bobby Hallstein’s Yarmouth Port gardens, to the giant dragonfly perched on a tree house in Willow Shire and Jaime daLomba’s Eastham property, creativity abounds.

Entry to each garden costs $5, and the funds will go directly to a wide variety of Cape Cod non-profits. While some of the gardens on the tour have been planted and maintained by professional landscapers, others have been completed solely by the homeowners.

“I’m proud to say that my garden represents the years of work done by a man and his shovel,” Bob King says. “What I love most about my garden is that in spite of the fact that we’re in the middle of the densely populated Sandwich Village, my garden is very private, and something of a hidden oasis.”

One could argue that all of the 90-plus gardens on the hydrangea festival tour are hidden treasures. During the 10-day festival, these normally concealed havens are available for all to experience.

Hydrangea festival—some upcoming events

July 7

The Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival kickoff party will be held Thursday, July 7, at Cape Cod Beer’s headquarters, 1336 Phinneys Lane, Hyannis. The event runs from 6-8 p.m. Attendees can view garden-to-vase arrangements, visit the cash bar, and purchase garden tour tickets directly from various non-profits.

July 8

On Friday, July 8, the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society hosts a morning of talks about Cape Cod’s signature plants. The event features a morning coffee and continental breakfast, three speakers, and informative handouts. The event is held at Barnstable High School’s Knight Auditorium, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Tickets should be purchased in advance at

July 8–July 17

Tour more than 90 gardens across the Cape Cod peninsula, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Addresses and descriptions for open gardens will be posted the week before the festival at

July 8July 17

Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich hosts daily 30-minute walking tours of its hydrangea gardens, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., during the festival. The tours are free with museum admission.

July 12

The Bourne Historical Society hosts a Colonial Garden Tea Tuesday, July 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Aptucxet Trading Post Museum, 24 Aptucxet Road, Bourne. Attendees can tour the gardens on site and learn about gardens of the Colonial era. Admission is $5.

July 16

Joan Harrison, the founding president of the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society, will give a talk on her book The Colorful World of Hydrangeas on Saturday, July 16, at 10 a.m., at Soares Flower Garden Nursery, 1021 Sandwich Road, East Falmouth. The author has traveled to England, Wales, France and Ireland to view and photograph these beautiful flowers. A book-signing session follows the free talk.

July 16

Writer C.L. Fornari—the author of this Cape Cod HOME article—will give a talk about her latest book, The Cocktail Hour Garden, Saturday, July 16, from 5-6:30 p.m., at Hyannis Country Garden, 380 West Main Street, Hyannis. The event features a wine tasting and book-signing reception in the store’s Hydrangea Evening garden display.

More events can be found at

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