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Landscaping Ideas: A Classic Cottage Garden on Cape Cod

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Landscaping Ideas: A Classic Cottage Garden on Cape Cod

July 22, 2019

Turns out there is something more romantic than a rose-covered cottage: two 19th-century, rose-covered cottages, united by a rambling garden of wild natives, exuberant perennials, and more than 80 heirloom roses, perched on a windswept cliff overlooking Cape Cod Bay. This three-quarter-acre gem is the labor of love of Scott Warner and David Kirchner.

Purchased by David in the mid-1990s, the original cottage featured minimal plantings, a few brooms, and a Sir Thomas Lipton rose hedge. In 2005, David and Scott began to expand the gardens and realized that their “mania” for gardening required a larger plot. Happily, their next-door neighbor offered to sell the property to them, thus saving their rare heirloom roses from a potentially treacherous transplant. The challenge was to merge the two properties in a cohesive style that both honored the history of the cottages and married the Cape’s wild landscape with David and Scott’s particular vision of a classic cottage garden.

Photography by Justine Hand for Gardenista.

At the edge of the gravel driveway, a vibrant border garden of interplanted perennials and annuals welcomes visitors. Typical of many English country gardens, rambling paths in David and Scott&#8
Above: At the edge of the gravel driveway, a vibrant border garden of interplanted perennials and annuals welcomes visitors. Typical of many English country gardens, rambling paths in David and Scott’s garden lead through a series of smaller beds.

Scott and David designed the garden in classical cottage style, with the gardens in front of the house by the road. “We did this in part as a practical matter, because the cottages provide much-needed shelter from the punishing winds that come off of the water. But we’ve found that the open nature of our garden brings a number of pleasures,” they say. “It’s become a place to meet new people who stop by to comment on the garden or to ask gardening advice; a subject for artists who come into the garden to paint; and a spot to chat with neighbors who stop by on their morning walks.”

Along the front path, white mock orange Philadelphus &#8
Above: Along the front path, white mock orange Philadelphus ‘Snowbelle’ provides a cool counterpoint to the hot mix of purple Salvia “Amistad” and acid green Smyrnium perfoliatum, a self-seeding biennial.

Though “lush and exuberant,” the garden avoids chaos through careful color selection—purples, pinks, and shades of chartreuse—and repetition of key “signature plants,” such as lady’s mantle, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’, and Aster ‘Harrington’s Pink’.

A dramatic column of eggplant-hued &#8
Above: A dramatic column of eggplant-hued ‘Romantika’ clematis and chartreuse golden hops (Humulus lupulus aureus) provide a bold color accent in the front border garden.

David and Scott say they “aim for color throughout as much of the year as possible, beginning with heaths and witch hazels in winter, bulbs in spring, roses and perennials in June, annuals and dahlias supplementing summer-blooming shrubs and perennials, and a final bold autumn display featuring a wide variety of asters and salvias.”

Throughout the garden, a series of curated antiques, including troughs, a stone sink and a baptismal font that function as birdbaths, French garden chairs, and more, provide accents that lead the eye to key focal points. Here a cast-stone birdbath from the Edwardian era is tucked into the naturally occurring grasses and wild Rosa viginiana.
Above: Throughout the garden, a series of curated antiques, including troughs, a stone sink and a baptismal font that function as birdbaths, French garden chairs, and more, provide accents that lead the eye to key focal points. Here a cast-stone birdbath from the Edwardian era is tucked into the naturally occurring grasses and wild Rosa viginiana.

David and Scott also sought to honor the Cape Cod location of their garden by merging their plantings with the native grasses, beach plum, bayberry, wild roses, and red cedar that occur naturally on the site.

 In the summer a “hot” border, in shades of orange, red, and violet comes to life, including Rosa gallica officinalis—known as the apothecary rose, an ancient variety found in medieval gardens—and purple Nepeta &#8
Above: In the summer a “hot” border, in shades of orange, red, and violet comes to life, including Rosa gallica officinalis—known as the apothecary rose, an ancient variety found in medieval gardens—and purple Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’.
A rose-covered arch—painted in the same shade of green as the doors and trim on the cottages—forms a transition between the front gardens surrounding the driveway and the gardens around the main residence cottage.
Above: A rose-covered arch—painted in the same shade of green as the doors and trim on the cottages—forms a transition between the front gardens surrounding the driveway and the gardens around the main residence cottage.
A soft yellow Claire Austin rose and white foxglove frame the archway in early summer. The rose on the arbor in the background is “Baltimore Belle,” an heirloom rambler dating to 43.
Above: A soft yellow Claire Austin rose and white foxglove frame the archway in early summer. The rose on the arbor in the background is “Baltimore Belle,” an heirloom rambler dating to 1843.
The lilac next to the door of the main residence is one of the original plantings which Scott and David kept to &#8
Above: The lilac next to the door of the main residence is one of the original plantings which Scott and David kept to “honor both the former owners and the vernacular cottage planting style of the Outer Cape.”

After purchasing the second cottage, the couple established this space as their main residence, reserving the original as a place for guests. To unify the two houses, Scott and David added new cedar shingle roofs and replaced a “hodgepodge” of windows with new two-over-two windows, along with pine plank shutters. They also painted all the doors, shutters, arbors, and Adirondack chairs on the decks in Benjamin Moore’s Mountain Lane.

Separating the driveway from the gardens by the guest cottage, Sir Thomas Lipton roses (a rugosa hybrid) were an original part of the landscape.
Above: Separating the driveway from the gardens by the guest cottage, Sir Thomas Lipton roses (a rugosa hybrid) were an original part of the landscape.
The view around the hedge of Sir Thomas Lipton roses reveals the front garden by the guest cottage.
Above: The view around the hedge of Sir Thomas Lipton roses reveals the front garden by the guest cottage.

In merging the two properties, David and Scott designed a series of smaller beds that are not attached but are visually connected by certain anchor plants such as lady’s mantle and nepeta as well as pink asters in the fall. They say, “The arrangement of the beds creates pathways throughout the property that are both practical and pleasing in the way that they lead the visitor from one vignette to the next.”

 An heirloom damask rose called &#8
Above: An heirloom damask rose called ‘Ispahan’ and a small Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ tree form an informal archway leading to a quiet sitting area beyond.
Tall white Valerian officinaiis and climbing hydrangea frame the doorway to a guest apartment.
Above: Tall white Valerian officinaiis and climbing hydrangea frame the doorway to a guest apartment.
Complemented by vintage bistro chairs, white Festiva Maxima peonies, and Clematis recta purpurea, a wooden boardwalk leads from an in-law suite toward the front of the guest cottage and the main residence.
Above: Complemented by vintage bistro chairs, white Festiva Maxima peonies, and Clematis recta purpurea, a wooden boardwalk leads from an in-law suite toward the front of the guest cottage and the main residence.
A wild, naturally occurring Rosa virginiana borders the left side of the boardwalk leading to the guest cottage deck and field beyond. On the right, two brooms (Cytisus scoparius &#8
Above: A wild, naturally occurring Rosa virginiana borders the left side of the boardwalk leading to the guest cottage deck and field beyond. On the right, two brooms (Cytisus scoparius ‘Moonlight’), flank the couple’s Belle Herminie rose, an heirloom variety dating from 1822.
 Planted in hand-thrown Italian terracotta pots, Cordyline &#8
Above: Planted in hand-thrown Italian terracotta pots, Cordyline ‘Red Star’ curry plant, Helichrysum italicum, Mexican feather grass Stipa tenuissima, and Panicum ‘Cheyenne Sky’ echo the grasses in the field beyond.

Between the deck of the guest cottage and the main residence, a field of beach grass and other volunteers provides an unobstructed view of the bay beyond. On this exposed deck, the couple placed containers with succulents and other drought-tolerant plants that can withstand the wind and heat.

A large privet hedge and garden gate separate the main house from the guest cottage.
Above: A large privet hedge and garden gate separate the main house from the guest cottage.
Another heirloom rose, Fantin-Latour, rests on the other side of the privet hedge and gate.
Above: Another heirloom rose, Fantin-Latour, rests on the other side of the privet hedge and gate.
On both sides of the path alongside the main cottage, the couple planted Nepeta &#8
Above: On both sides of the path alongside the main cottage, the couple planted Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’, Campanula takesimana ‘Elizabeth’,  Allium nigrum, and lady’s mantle. On the right side, climbing hydrangea scales a stone wall.

Alongside the residential cottage, a south-facing dry-stack wall shelters a Mediterranean-style planting, which features plants generally not hardy in this Zone 7a location. Here the path leads toward a wooden shade garden and to the beach beyond.

Lady&#8
Above: Lady’s mantel and climbing hydrangea create a soft, feathery texture along wall.
The roof deck of the main cottage provides an aerial view of the Mediterranean garden.
Above: The roof deck of the main cottage provides an aerial view of the Mediterranean garden.
Along the side border path and stone wall, a yellow Leverkusen rose merges with purple Nepeta &#8
Above: Along the side border path and stone wall, a yellow Leverkusen rose merges with purple Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’. The dry-stacked wall is Elk Mountain stone.

Take a tour of more of Cape Cod’s outermost gardens:

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