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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Provincetown on Cape Cod

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10 Garden Ideas to Steal from Provincetown on Cape Cod

June 5, 2017

A sandy, windswept spit of land might seem an unlikely place for a garden mecca. But at the very tip of Cape Cod is Provincetown, Massachusetts (or “P-town” as it’s affectionately known). In this tiny, outermost town, which for years served as a muse for artists such as Edward Hopper and Eugene O’Neill, residents defy sandy soil and postage-stamp-sized lots to create their own, more ephemeral, masterpieces.

As a lifelong Cape Codder, I leapt at the chance recently to spend a day touring some of Provincetown’s loveliest gardens with the designer who created them, my friend Tim Callis. Along the way, Tim shared a few tips about what makes these tiny gardens so expressive.

Photography by Justine Hand for Gardenista.

Graceful Hedges

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, diagonal lines, Gardenista

Above: In this West End garden, a cascading hedge of quince provides some privacy, but also artfully frames a neighboring home.

In Provincetown antique homes and cottages were built close, huddled together against the wind and waves, making hedges a must. But severe, horizontal lines are so unfriendly. Better to employ a graceful arch or fall of foliage, especially when your neighbor’s house is so pretty.

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, hedge arch, Gardenista

Above: In this home for one of his East End clients, Tim created a permeable barrier between the studio and the main house and yard, by shaping a privet into a graceful curve and arch. The undulating hedge not only forms a dynamic backdrop for a vibrant bunch of native Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susans) and white Veronicastrum Alba, it also creates a sense of flow between the two structures.

Rounded Gates

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, vegetable patch, Gardenista

Above: At the home of Marty Davis and Alix Ritchie, an arched gate leads to a vegetable garden patch, its shape an echo of the peaked roof of the cottage beyond.

Provincetown is best enjoyed on foot or by bike. (Only the greenest of tourist would attempt to traverse those narrow, crowded streets by car!) Strolling the lanes and alleys, one gets a tantalizing glimpse over the many picket fences—which are pretty much de rigueur for Cape Cod—into the garden splendor beyond. Though traditional square gates are abundant, we also spotted a number of rounded gates, which have a less formal effect.

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, wisteria arch, Gardenista

Above: A rounded gate in this East End home complements the archways and curved path.

Supersized Planters

10 Ideas to Steal from Ptown Gardens, supersized planters, Gardenista

Above: On the rooftop deck of Ian Bruce and Craig Smith, Tim used an oversized Pennoyer Newman pot to create a dramatic planting, combining ‘Viridian’ yew with more lush leaves and flowers. The assemblage complements both the vertical and horizontal lines of the architecture, while at the same time softens the austere lines of the house.

Like many quaint Cape Cod towns, P-town could be in danger of coming across as a bit too precious. The opposite of cute, gigantic planters celebrate the village’s bolder side.

10 Ideas to Steal from Ptown Gardens, collius, Gardenista

Above: In this cool, shady courtyard of a West End home, Tim added some dramatic fire with layers of large coleus plants coupled with sweet potato vine.

Grasses As Privacy Screen

10 Ideas to Steal From P-Town Gardens, grass screen, Gardenista

Above: In the tiny front yards of P-town, Cape Cod’s traditional privet hedges can feel like a wall, blocking light and breeze and making one feel hemmed in. In the West End residence of Ian Bruce and Craig Smith, Tim created a softer, more welcoming and dynamic screen with grasses—Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ —which sway in the ocean breezes.

Enfilade of Arches

10 Ideas to Steal from Ptown Gardens, wisteria arch, Gardenista

Above: In this East End home of a local poet, a wisteria archway leading off the street is echoed in the privet hedge toward the back of the yard.

10 Ideas to Steal from Ptown Gardens, privet arch, Gardenista

Above: From the main gate, a curved path leads to a second archway to the back of the property.

10 Ideas to Steal from Ptown Gardens, hedge rooms, Gardenista

Above: The hedging between the two arches frames a more sheltered outdoor “room,” surrounded by a lush flower garden.

Hot & Cold Color Mixes

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, summer colors 1, Gardenista_edited-1

Above: A detail of the oversized planter above shows how Tim mixed acid green sweet potato vines, and Plectranthus argentatus ‘Silver Shield’ with pale pink verbena to create a vibrant, yet soothing summer palette.

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, color mix 2, Gardenista_edited-1

Above: Grandma’s favorite hues, updated! Purple petunias (‘Sky Blue’) and coral verbena look fresh against hot and cool greens.

Grapevine Shade

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, grape arbor cottage, Gardenista

Above: Grapes grow wild in the Cape’s scrubby woodlands, so using their cultivar cousins to create shade is not as adventitious as you might think. Here grapevines are employed in a wilder manner to shade this sunny facade, belonging to Marty Davis and Alix Ritchie.

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, grape arbor, Gardenista_edited-1

Above: For a more classical approach, this East End home with a columned pergola of grapevines creates welcome shade and privacy.

Long, Lanky Yellows

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, yellow with bike, Gardenista

Above: Few would dare to work with the acid yellow of Patrinia, but against this chocolate door it really works. In this clamshell driveway, where this perennial self-seeds to wild effect, Tim paired Patrinia with fennel and oregano.

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, dill, Gardenista

Above: A minimal wisp of fennel provides a striking, whimsical complement to this restrained facade.

10 Ideals to Stral from Ptown Gardens, giant day lilies, Gardenista

Above: ‘Autumn Minaret’ is a late blooming daylily that grows to 68 inches tall.

Ivy Door Frame

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, ivy door frame, Gardenista

Above: On our way to one of Tim’s gardens, we passed an ivy-framed doorway that has a cooling effect on a sun-bleach facade of a classical house.

Cascading Steps

10 Ideas to Steal for Gardens of Ptown, steps, Gardenista

Above: Crowning the front steps of Ian Bruce and Craig Smith’s house, exuberant Gomphrena provides a bit of Seussian whimsy. Below, Swan River Daisy and Torenia ground the arrangement as they cascade down the steps.

In some P-town properties, the front step is all the outdoor real estate you have. Tim makes the most of them for his clients with a combination of planters and ground covers that create a more integrated look.

10 Ideas to Steal from Ptown Gardens, stepping stones, Gardenista

Above: Stonecrop and Sempervivum enhance the rock-garden effect of the stone stairs of this West End home.

For more of our favorite Cape Cod gardens, see Landscape Architect Visit: A Very American Garden on Cape Cod and Secret Garden: At Home with Marnie on Cape Cod.

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