Bursting with Color

A stunning waterfront West Harwich home gets a dramatic makeover from Falmouth landscape designer Maria Hickey.

By Debra Lawless | Photography By Betty Wiley

On a sunny morning in early July, fuchsia roses are at their gorgeous peak on the split-rail fence at John and Donna Hale Donovan’s West Harwich house overlooking Nantucket Sound.

When the Donovans bought the property in 2010, the roses were already on the fence and the seawall, but “those roses needed serious rehabilitation,” says John. And while the previous owners had extensive foundation shrubs and a vegetable garden, they had no flowers. The predominant color of the original property was the green of grass, shrubs and leaves.

The Donovans rebuilt the house in 2013. The heart of their home is a 1742 house relocated from Dennisport to its current location in 1955, according to John. In the early days of their renovation, the Donovans added more roses on trellises on the front of the main house and on the façade of the guest house. They also added blue peegee hydrangea foundation plantings. But they still craved more color and additional planting beds.

Enter landscape designer Maria Hickey of Maria Hickey & Associates of Falmouth. Donna discovered Hickey in a horticulture magazine and brought her on board in 2015.

At the Donovans, Hickey encountered the challenge of all gardens with a lovely ocean view: How do you compete with the view without undermining it? Hickey solved that dilemma by adding color to the expanse of green. “We took it up 10 notches,” says Hickey.

As the U.S. flag flaps in the wind in the backyard, Hickey wades into the teardrop-shaped garden in the center of the crushed-shell turnaround drive. When Hickey planted this garden, she was challenged not only by the wind off the water, but by the need to keep sightlines low so as not to obstruct a neighbor’s view of the water. She decided on white phlox paniculata, which grows two to four feet, and dwarf Pia hydrangeas that will grow to only three feet. Here, too, are yellow lilies, purple salvia and pink spider plants.

During her weekly visit to tidy up the colorful gardens, Hickey begins her rounds this hot morning in the front circular garden bed where there were once trees. Hickey’s crew removed a dead tree and an evergreen from the front of the house. The result “was very dramatic,” she says.

The circular garden is now dominated by white Shasta daisies, ornamental grasses, purple salvia, pink petunias and blue hydrangeas. Throughout the property, she has planted native perennials mixed with a few annuals. She has also created a long bloom season from May to November.

Everywhere in the landscape are striking touches, such as a weeping cherry tree rooted inside a cobblestone circle and ornamental grasses swaying in the breeze against the white privacy fence. The curves of the garden beds contrast nicely with the straight lines of the architecture.

“It’s low-maintenance with the exception of when we have a heavy rain,” says Hickey, as she gathers fallen rose petals on the lawn.

Hickey, a native of Falmouth, grew up loving plants. Her aunt Ann Buckley is a botanist who took the children on nature walks and encouraged them to keep notebooks and catalog plants—a habit Hickey now continues with her clients. Hickey’s formal training is in both landscape design and horticulture. After college, Hickey worked indoors for two years. She longed to get outdoors again and wanted to get back to her roots, so to speak. She took on a small, select group of clients, and as her two sons grew, her business expanded. Her sons, Patrick and Brendan, now work alongside her in the business.

Hickey opens a white gate under an arbor and enters the main lawn and gardens overlooking the water. One’s eyes fly to the distant roses. Hickey’s crewman Shawn Price is now crisscrossing the broad lawn on a sit-down mower that creates precise stripes in the grass. The view from four Adirondack chairs under a flagpole is of the breakwater with puffy white clouds overhead. In the distance, a sailboat bobs on the waves. And the reddish-pink of the roses on the fence graces the edge of the yard.

“It’s like being the frame to a beautiful painting,” says Hickey, of the colorful flowers that she introduced to this garden.

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