“We reached the seemingly retreating boundary of the plain, and entered what had appeared at a distance an upland marsh, but proved to be dry sand covered with Beach-grass, the Bearberry, Bayberry, Shrub-oaks, and Beach-plum, slightly ascending as we approached the shore…”
So wrote Henry David Thoreau in the 1880s during a trip to Cape Cod, “that bared and bended arm of Massachusetts.” He could just have easily been describing the gardens of Merryfield Cottage, home of Steve Corkin and Dan Maddalena, which I visited the other day. Perched on the Outer Cape bluffs in Truro, the landscape retains much of the untamed charm of old Cape Cod.
For Steve and Dan, who have long spent summers on Cape Cod, owning an historic Truro cottage overlooking the water was a long-time dream. But the original structure was too small for a modern couple looking to accommodate the inevitable throngs of summer guests. To maintain the soul of the place while still creating a livable, year-round dwelling, Steve and Dan turned to architect and landscape designer
Paul Krueger, who took his cue from other coastal retreats in the area to devise an intimate compound of cottages, linked by long porches, gardens, and walkways.
To fill in Merryfield’s plots, Paul engaged the services of garden designer (and our friend) Tim Callis, who was asked to conjure an authentic Cape Cod landscape from the sandy bank. Recently Tim treated me to a tour of the grounds that he transformed, which, even at the approach of autumn, echo the wild drama of the Outer Cape.
Justine Hand. Above: Though the driveway plantings look as if they’ve always been there, Tim designed the landscape from scratch. “It was basically a sand dune,” he said. Now planted with many of the same textured plants that Thoreau observed—bay berry, bearberry, and high-bush blueberries—the long, curved driveway recalls the winding, informal approach of many old Cape Cod homes. Above: At the driveway entrance, the fragrant blooms of Rosa rugosa ‘Belle Poitevine’ welcome visitors. While most Rosa rugosas only bloom in June, ‘Belle Poitevine’ rewards gardeners with an equally robust second bloom in late August and early September. Additionally, this less aggressive variety does not threaten native roses. Above: Blurred lines, Tim often softens the edges of his gardens with creeping plants, such as this native bearberry planted under a Pinus thunbergii Japanese black pine. He also likes to add a bit of “irregularity” and color by spreading Eschscholzia californica (California poppy) seeds along the drive. Above: At the end of the drive, an abundant border garden of bayberry, inkberry, and Rosa rugosa, mixed with perennials, not only creates a lush transition, it also obscures the parking area from the house. Above: Tim is a big fan of letting good plants do their thing, allowing them to merge into each other to create a textured tapestry. “Controlled chaos” is how Merryfield’s owners refer to it: “Wild and indigenous; there’s nothing precious about it.” Above: Along the border fence that separates the drive from the house, purple Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ is flanked by one of Tim’s favorite textured perennials: the feathery Amsonia ‘Hubrichtii’, which sports pale, blue flowers in summer and then turns a dramatic yellow after the first frost. Above: Unless you plant dahlias, “a lot of gardens go south in late August,” notes Tim. One of his favorite long-lasting annuals is salvia, which blooms from June to September. Here, Salvia guarantica ‘Sapphire Blue’ is planted against a backdrop of native inkberry along the driveway fence. Above: Another Tim Callis signature: colorful flowers like this geranium (Cranesbill ‘Rosanne’) merged with more structural greens such as this native inkberry. Above: Framing the front door, more lush plantings lead to the house and finally the expansive bay view beyond. Above: Tim flanked the walkway entrance with two stands of vertical Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ or (feather reed grass), which both extend the structural feel of the arbor and add a sense of movement as they captures the breeze from the bay. Above: In his coastal gardens, Tim prefers airy plants with a lot of movement. In this plot situated between the front and side walkways, Gaura lindheimeri and more salvia undulate in breeze. Above: Parallel to the walkway leading to the front door, another path, lined with bay berry and ferns, takes one directly to the courtyard and beach beyond. Above: A respite from the lush wilds of the front garden and grassy meadow by the bay, the courtyard deck has minimal plantings. Above: The big reveal: beyond the front gardens, the house and grounds open up to take in the dramatic view. In this sheltered courtyard—flanked by the original cottage on the left, a newly built porch and the main house on the right, and another guest cottage at the back—Tim continued the grassy meadow with a small plot of Panicum virgatum “Switchgrass.” Above: A colorful foil for the gray, weathered shingles on the porch of the original structure, Tim employed another signature element: generous and vibrant planters, this one planted with hot-pink Geranium ‘Balcon’ and Erigeron karvinskianus (fleabane). Above: From the courtyard a traditional stone path leads to the steps down to the beach. One of our favorite informal elements is the simple hose and galvanized tube for washing sandy feet. Above: This close to the shore, the front of the complex is a protected area. No watering or fertilizer allowed here. So Tim created a soft, undulating meadow planted with a mix of conservation grass, as well as natives like Rosa virginiana and Prunus maritima or beach plum. Like the gardens towards the drive, the meadow creates a sense of softness and movement, without obscuring the view. Above: Generous windows on this side of the house take in the view of the meadow and bay beyond, merging the indoors with the outside. Above: Along the bayside of the house, a simple path mowed through the meadow allows for a breathtaking cliff walk. Above: The continuous porches along the bay side are completely engulfed in a sea of grass. Above: An outdoor shower-with-a-view is enhanced by simple nautical elements. Above: Although he meticulously weeds out invasive plants, Tim welcomes other volunteers such as goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace. In the fall the whole meadow is mowed down, which helps regenerate the grasses and keeps invasives at bay. Above: “That bared and bended arm of Massachusetts” as it curves towards Provincetown. The view from Merryfield Cottage.
N.B.: See more untamed Cape Cod: