Hydrangea Walk’s Private Side

Everyone knows the iconic home on Shore Road, but very few have seen the backyard. There are plenty of hydrangeas, of course, but also an expansive lawn, a sycamore maple, a circular garden with roses and a conservation area that abuts the property. Here’s a peek behind its public face.

Written by Debra Lawless | Photography by Betty Wiley

For decades, Hydrangea Walk has been one of Chatham’s most photographed sites. The elegant property on Shore Road features two double rows of stunning blue hydrangeas separated by a red brick walkway that leads from the road to the front door of a stately white colonial. Velvety lawns fan out on either side.

“It’s an icon,” says David Hawk, president of Hawk Design, a landscape architecture and land planning firm in Sagamore. Debra and Rob Jones, who bought the six-acre property in 2005, hired Hawk to redesign the gardens. “Everyone knows Hydrangea Walk.”

But not everyone knows the backyard.

Hydrangea Walk shows one face to the public, and another to the Jones’ family and its guests.

“This is the tranquil part of the house,” says Debra, referring to the back lawn. The sun is still climbing this July morning, and patches of shade mingle with sunshine on the flat back lawn. “This is where we will tend to hang out.”

“I feel when I’m back here, that I’m in my own world,” says homeowner Debra Jones.

Here, away from the tourist photographers, the Joneses could have planted anything. But in a sense the house, “a grand old home that deserves to be placed in a proper setting,” suggested the landscaping, says Hawk, who began with a canvas of more than two acres from which he removed tired hollies and pines.

Then came the lawn. “It’s a wonderful lawn that stretched out and gave you an idea of the size of the property,” says Hawk. Because the house is nearly 9,000-square feet, it “needed that [lawn] to ground the house.” Just off center in the lawn stands a venerable sycamore maple, about the height of the house. Its dappled shade evokes relaxing summer days.

The lawn winds westward until it joins a natural area abutting conservation land where deer and coyotes, and perhaps the odd fisher cat, roam. Debra recalls telling Hawk that she and her husband wanted to “preserve the openness of the land and feature hydrangeas, which are the heart of the property.”

Hydrangeas pop up here and there, tying the back gardens with the front.

A courtyard sheltered on three sides by the house features large bluestone patios and red brick walkways set in a herringbone pattern. Once these spaces were laid out, “everything started to take shape,” says Rob. “Then we tried to keep it relatively simple.”

Hawk agreed. “The majesty of the property dictated that we needed to be somewhat simple and elegant,” he says. Up by the house, he created pocket gardens among the patios. Here, a circular garden of pink Knock Out roses are surrounded by a low boxwood hedge and lawn. There, in the corners created by the architecture, more roses and Nikko blue hydrangeas framed by low hedges of boxwood balls. Russian sage softens a low wall separating the lawn from the terrace.

As for border gardens, Hawk decided the “nostalgic property” was “screaming” for traditional plant materials in a Cape Cod palette. On the south side of the lawn, a tall privet hedge formed a privacy shield, and here Hawk added evergreens, flowering deciduous plants and, yes, hydrangeas. Stepping stones lead past the colorful perennial gardens that Hawk designed to bloom from mid-to-late summer in half sun, half shade. He chose a mixture of old-fashioned perennials for a traditional Cape Cod garden: peonies, phlox, Shasta daisies, tickseed, black-eyed Susans, lamb’s ear, yarrow, Calamintha nepeta, coral bells, daylilies, Russian sage, bearded iris, astilbe, lavender, lamium, joe-pye weed and perennial geranium coneflowers. Hydrangeas pop up here and there, tying the back gardens in with the front.

One of the homeowners’ daughters was married in these gardens and another hosted her wedding reception here.

A little farther west from the perennial gardens, the morning sun is just now touching a dazzling sea of Nikko blue hydrangeas. These are the very hydrangeas that once grew famous on the front walk. Here, away from the scorching sun and biting winter winds off Chatham Harbor, just across Shore Road, “they fare pretty good,” says Edson E. Eldredge of North Chatham Landscape. Eldredge, who has tended Hydrangea Walk’s gardens and lawns since the 1990s, has an even older connection to the property—his uncle Horace Reynolds built the house in 1938.

One of the Jones’ daughters was married in these gardens and the other hosted her wedding reception here. In fact, the hydrangeas dictated the July dates of the ceremonies. While one daughter wanted a June wedding, “I told her it had to be in July for the hydrangeas to be in bloom,” says Debra. With the sun setting in the west at the far end of the lawn and the sycamore maple festooned with huge dangling lights, the yard was a magical spot that evening.

The Joneses first used the gardens as a backdrop for weddings. Today, when the entire family gathers to celebrate the Fourth of July, the backyard is the spot for the grandchildren to play, far from the street and the public eye.

“I feel when I’m back here,” says Debra, “that I’m in my own world.”