AN AWARD-WINNING LANDSCAPE DESIGNER BRINGS THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE TO A BREWSTER GARDEN.By Debra Lawless • Photography by Betty Wiley
The English are famed for their beautiful gardens.
Now a garden designer has brought her own interpretation of an English cottage garden to Cape Cod. The owners of the one-and-a-half acre Journey Garden, nestled in Brewster’s picturesque historic district, lived in London for many years and wanted to create an English garden with a Cape Cod flavor.
“The idea was to evoke memories of the English countryside to the homeowners,” says landscape designer Joyce K. Williams of Chatham, who also wanted to create gardens that would “invite exploration and discovery.” In 2012, Williams won a merit award from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers for her design of the Journey Garden. The judges called it “absolutely magical.”
The Cape-style house, which could pass for a sweet English cottage, overlooks the garden from the rim of what was originally a roughly mown bowl of grass. In the scruffy open space lay nothing much of interest beyond mature oaks and maples. Yet the owners had a strong vision of the garden that could grow up here. This property appealed to them because of what Williams calls its “venerable trees” and the ideal setting for the garden pond.
Outside the house, a bluestone patio overlooks the entire garden and makes a wonderful setting when the homeowners entertain. From here, your eye is drawn to the rectangular area marked off from the lawn by low boxwood shrubs. In this formal garden, a path of brick and pea stone travels among four exuberantly planted garden beds, where the harmonious colors of lavender, white, pink and green predominate. Pink roses climb the obelisks set in each bed. Your eye travels through the garden and beyond, finally stopping at a large boulder at the back of the property that is aligned with the house’s front door.
The centerpiece of this geometric garden was sculpted by Yarmouth Port architect Sara Jane Porter, who designed both the expansion of the house and the new summer house by the pond. Her 2009 sculpture, in bronze with a dark finish, is of a bird taking flight. It is called “Beyond Expectation.”
“The owners liked the idea of a modern sculpture,” says Williams. “And they allowed everyone involved to do their finest craftsmanship.”
While this striking garden naturally draws the eye, Williams designed the rest of the area in a looser manner. The British gardeners William Robinson (1838-1935) and Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) originally popularized the English cottage garden style. In contrast to the Victorian taste for “carpet bedding”—tight artificial plantings of dwarf annuals in colors that often screamed at one another—Robinson and Jekyll stressed the picturesque and the use of indigenous plants that followed the natural contours of the land. Their gardens featured informal drifts of perennials in soothing color schemes that evoked Impressionist paintings. Williams has brought these concepts to the Journey Garden.
“The relaxed, informal, blowsy look of these gardens became iconic throughout England after World War II when large estates were sold off and the majority of gentry moved to smaller parcels of land,” Williams notes. “The English cottage garden style evokes the simplicity of country living and a respite in today’s fast-paced world.”
As you wind your way across the Journey Garden’s terraces and lawns, following paths and stone walls, you find quiet places for reflection. Williams retained some of the sloping lawn, and inserted “pencil lines” of stone in it. “They just give you a toe up,” she says. Crossing the lawn brings you to an area of mature oaks and maples, where beds of hostas nestle in the dappled shade. At a slightly lower level is the water garden, where a little stream flows over rocks tucked in among ferns, grasses and sedum. A stone bridge brings you to the pond where goldfish dart below flowering lily pads. Here, by Porter’s enchanting summerhouse, is the place to spend a lazy summer afternoon reading a book in one of the Adirondack chairs overlooking the pond.
A bog extends the water garden beyond the pond. While Williams planted the bog, “a lot of other plants have found their way over here,” she says. Wild turkeys, birds and deer are attracted to this natural spot.
At the back edge of the property a 300-foot, dry-laid stone wall extends along the boundary. Set in this wall is a remarkable gate made of bluestone. The heavy gate, with its locally crafted hinges, swings open at the nudge of a finger. And here is another English touch: “I wanted the owners to look down from the house and feel like some sheepherder was going to come through here with a flock of sheep,” Williams says. “That’s the look I was going for.”
Along this back wall, a woodland garden is made up of native plants and ornamentals. Here, too, is a tall stone dubbed “one-eyed Jack” because of the round hole through which you can spy the garden. Williams thinks of “one-eyed Jack” as a chi-stone through which energy travels.
At the opposite border of the property, between the house and the road, is the tranquil fountain garden. A border of ferns, hellebores, variegated dogwood, boxwood and pink astilbe grows up along the side of the house by the fountain. Planted just beyond the retaining wall, and screening the house from the road, are rhododendron, oakleaf hydrangeas, mountain laurel, lilies, hosta and fat pink peonies. A kousa dogwood is in full bloom around the corner.
The Journey Garden blooms from early April up to the first frost of the autumn when the leaves are turning the color of rust. Yet even the winter here is interesting, Williams notes, as the formal geometric garden, with its low shrubs, obelisks and sculpture, catches your eye under its dusting of snow.
“In the winter, you see the bones of the garden,” Williams says.