One garden is on a pond, the other is close to the center of town. Both have one thing in common: the beautiful grounds are completely maintained and nurtured by the owners themselves.By Debra Lawless | Photography by Betty Wiley
She’s one of two passionate, hands-on gardeners who have designed stunning gardens at their Chatham homes by using sunlight and shade to their advantage.
“Gardening should be fun for both the gardener and the visitor,” says Deirdre Flannery. Flannery and her husband, Frank Gollop, searched for their second home for two years before they found the perfect spot in 2000, a house atop a nearly one-acre hillside sloping down to Taylor’s Pond and Mill Creek in South Chatham.
“The minute I saw the property, I knew the place was magical,” says Flannery, who says the lot was “pretty much wild—none of it was developed.” Designing intriguing gardens on the mostly shady slope might have daunted many gardeners, but gardening runs in Flannery’s family. While growing up in Los Angeles, her mother cultivated a garden “so beautiful that it impeded traffic,” she says. Flannery remembers her mother’s wall of fragrant sweet peas, beautiful yellow Shasta daisies and bougainvillea.
“I definitely think I got that bug from my mom,” she adds.
From the beginning, Flannery’s goal was to capture beauty with as many native plantings as possible. She also drew on her professional background in interior design to create “a series of garden rooms. Every space is different.”
Perhaps because you can’t see all of the garden rooms at once, Flannery’s gardens don’t quickly reveal their secrets—you have to spend time divining their mysteries. Let’s start down by the creek on a narrow strip of land where two Adirondack chairs are set up for sunning. Not so long ago, fishermen’s huts lined the sides of this creek. A large rock is situated so that you can lean on it and gaze out toward Nantucket Sound. Here, Flannery has encouraged the native bayberry and grasses. Although the water is beautiful, its proximity to the gardens creates one of Flannery’s biggest challenges.
In the winter, “wind shoots up Mill Creek,” she says, and “it takes a straight shot at the perennials.” As a result, when Flannery adds plants, she selects those for a cooler microclimate than Chatham’s.
A path meanders up from the water into the “secret garden” where you can meditate in stone chairs. From here, you progress into the shade garden. “I wanted it to be very quiet,” says Flannery. “I did it in green and white, so it has a quiet presence to it.” The dappled sunlight creates a mysterious effect. Here are giant dark-green hostas, white astilbe, lush bird’s nest ferns, Solomon’s seal and ginger. And in the center is a bird bath and an antique bird cage. From here, you have a view down to the creek.
As you progress up toward the house, you reach Flannery’s terraced perennial garden, which the sun touches for the last time at 11 a.m. “My greatest satisfaction is that I’ve been able to coax so much color with so little light,” she says. From here, glance to the east, and the tapering lawn brings your eye to a small wooden windmill that adds a touch of whimsy.
Flannery’s years of work on these gardens has not been a simple. “A property like this—it really takes a village,” she says. Sculptor J.C. Stahl of Chatham created a curving stone staircase, a mariner’s compass patio, a bluestone patio and a small waterfall that divides the upper and lower halves of the property. One of Flannery’s three daughters was married here, and now the gardens provide a private oasis for her daughters’ growing families.
This garden has evolved over 17 years, and Flannery has still more ideas. “A garden is never finished,” she says.
Favorite perennials for a shade garden
- Low-growing varieties
- European wild ginger: Glossy, deep green, rounded leaves
- Dark-leaf bugleweed
- Lamb’s-ear: Light blue-green tone with large leaves that are “blankie” soft
- Lamium: Small leaves with precious little flowers in either pink or blue
To add color
- Johnson blue geranium: Blooms all season
- Forget-me-nots: Perform nicely with a lot of water
- Catmint: Blue and spiky and will form a large bouquet all season
Favorites for a green-and-white shade garden
- Ferns: Painted, bird nest, maidenhair and the Japanese tassel fern
- For fillers: Epimedium, aruncus (goat’s beard), lungwort, sweet William and ginger
- For larger plantings: Azaleas, oak leaf rhododendrons, and astilbe
Compiled by Debra Lawless
Peggy Black of North Chatham agrees with Flannery that a garden is never complete.
“Things outgrow their spaces,” she says. “You have to constantly edit the garden—you can’t just walk away from it.”
Like Flannery, a family gardener influenced Black at an early age. A native of Tennessee, Black says her grandmother had “an amazing green thumb.”
In 2000, Black became a master gardener in Barnstable County. And then in 2007, she completed a rigorous certificate program at the Landscape Institute at Harvard University. For a few years, she ran a residential landscape design business on the Cape. These days, Black concentrates on her own gardens.
This half-acre property was once a part of the farm of the Monomoyick Sachem Menekish, according to Black’s husband, Bob, a historian and author, and the Blacks have found Native American artifacts on the property. When the Blacks bought the property in 1994, they began with nothing but a privet hedge, a Betty Prior climbing rose and several arbor vitae.
“It’s a labor of love, but I enjoy being out here,” says Black. She does almost all of the work herself, with help from Bob. Wearing a green gardening apron, she is standing in her formal garden tucked away inside nine-foot hedges near a busy Chatham street corner that you forget is there.
“We wanted a place to sit, to relax, to feel enclosed and to enjoy being outside in a serene setting,” she says. “Once we were enclosed by the hedge, we laid out the beds and got things planted. It has been wonderful watching it evolve and change over time.”
In the middle of the flowers and greenery, a cherub spouts water into a small pool. A Rhode Island antique dealer told Black the fountain was likely made in Belgium and once graced a gilded-age garden in Newport.
“We like water in the garden,” Black says. “I like the sound of it.”
All day long in the summer, the sun drenches the colorful flowers growing among the green backdrop of the hedges and leaves. Black says this garden reflects her love of the English cottage garden. Here are roses, hollyhocks, lamb’s-ears and phlox. A Betty Corning clematis grows up the side of a pergola. There are Oriental lilies—“I just love them”—and salvia to lure hummingbirds. There are dahlias, blue balloon flowers—“I couldn’t live without this”—and white phlox that you can see at night. One of the things Black learned at Harvard was how to use shape, texture and line to lead the eye through a garden.
Around the corner, her private backyard is the spot for hydrangeas and trees.
“I love trees,” Black says. “They’ll be here long after we’re gone.”
Here, Black has planted hydrangeas in the shade of Kousa dogwoods because they take the same light and soil. The result is sophisticated. Around the edges of the lawn, Black has four seasons of color. The tricky season is, of course, winter, but a coral-bark Japanese maple, which has fire engine red bark, and a yellow Hinoki false cypress offer color against the snow.
“Trees anchor a garden to a house,” says Black. This is where she hosts local gardeners. “I think it’s important to share what you know.”
In front of the house, a Stewartia pseudocamellia tree thrives in the fierce north winds shooting up the hill off the nearby Atlantic. Black glances around and wishes she had more room to create new gardens.
“I can’t think of a better use of my time, really, than watching things grow,” she says. “It really helps me to get my hands in the dirt. Time melts away when I’m in the garden.”
Favorite perennials for a sun garden
- Marie’s balloon flower: One of the prettiest blue flowers in the garden
- Coreopsis full moon: Soft yellow flower that blooms late in the season and for a long time
- Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’: Tall, lavender flower that grows in a clump at the back of the border
- Geranium Rozanne: A non-stop bloomer from June until frost
- David phlox: Tall, white disease-resistant phlox that blooms for months
- Salvia guaranitica ‘Argentine Skies’: Hummingbirds love this late-blooming plant
- Symphytum ‘Axminster Gold’: Huge yellow-green leaves on a plant that makes a statement in part-sun location
- Lady’s mantle: A wonderful edger in sun or shade
- Paperbark maple: Cinnamon-colored exfoliating bark, gorgeous fall color
- Stewartia pseudocamellia: Beautiful white camellia-like flowers in July; great fall color; beautiful bark in winter
- Chinese fringe tree: White flowers in May followed by purple berries that birds love in winter
- Sweetbay magnolia: My favorite native tree—lovely white flower in summer; red berries for birds in fall
- ‘Autumn Moon’ Japanese maple: Lovely orange leaves in spring and fall; beautiful small tree
- ‘Sugar Tyme’ crabapple trees: Covered in flowers in spring followed by large red berries birds love; disease resistant
Compiled by Debra Lawless