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Landscape Design

Cape Cod Garden—A Product of Collaboration

A Waquoit Bay home's driveway and front entrance are given a makeover

  • Low columns and walls were added on both sides of this Cape Cod driveway.
  • Black urns filled with flowers sit atop the columns which are capped with bluestone.
  • Granite lampposts illuminate the length of the 400 foot driveway.
  • The driveway opens into a clearing punctuated by an island featuring a Ginkgo tree and an armillary sphere.
  • A close up of the armillary sphere on a pedestal in the center of the island.
  • The pathway, containers and arbor work together to make the front door a focal point.
  • The arbor is made from a composite material that will last for years in the humid coastal climate.
  • A before image of the home's front entrance.
  • A before picture of the driveway island.
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Project Highlights:

  • Location: Cape Cod, MA
  • Property size: 1.5 acres
  • Budget: 150k

Client Requests:

  • Evaluation of existing plantings
  • Redesign of island feature
  • Front entry features
  • Additional parking
  • Large specimen trees

This garden, which sits on the edge of a wetland near Waquoit Bay, was a collaborative effort. The homeowners worked closely with landscape designer Elaine Johnson, who in turn collaborated closely with masons, plant installation crews, and irrigation and lighting contractors. "This particular project is an all-time favorite of mine because of the creative carte blanche given to me by my clients," explains Johnson. Having worked together before, the owners trusted her and gave her tremendous license with their property.

The first project Johnson completed for this couple involved developing major landscape changes at a previous home, so she was already familiar with their tastes and needs. Since this project, the couple's children have grown and they are nearing the empty-nest phase of life. As a result Johnson focused on curb appeal rather than a pool and kid-friendly features as she had before. "The contemporary Cape architecture and setting of this home were also key considerations for determining the style of the garden," says Johnson.

Johnson points out that being given extreme freedom can be a blessing or a curse. In this case it was a blessing. Both the husband and wife were very involved in the process. "The husband wanted to understand why the trees were selected and how we decided to place them, while the wife helped me pick out all of the garden 'jewelry'," says Johnson. She advises both homeowners and designers to share their thinking during the consult and concept phases of a project to ensure that there are no surprises.

  • Pro Tip: A smartphone is a powerful tool for a garden designer. I regularly snap pictures of plants or accessories and send them to clients. Usually within a few minutes I know whether or not they like the item.

Behind the Scenes

This project involved transplanting many existing foundation plants and a few major trees that were ill-sited. This required a lot of heavy machinery and equipment. Johnson visited the site daily to ensure that the plants were moved to the appropriate spots.

This home had an existing 400 foot long driveway. "We did little altering to the configuration of the driveway because it meandered beautifully and had long curves that created interest and drama," says Johnson. To comply with a local wetland conservation requirement, the drive had to be permeable, so it was paved with pea gravel and edged with steel. Johnson paid special attention to the entrance to the driveway. In keeping with the scale of the home, she added low columns and native stone walls. "I didn't want overkill, instead I opted for modest and attractive," she says. The columns were capped with bluestone and a matching set of black urns complete the look. Recessed lighting and granite lampposts illuminate the driveway entrance.

Where the driveway meets the home it opens around an island destination. "When I first arrived at the property the island was an abomination, but I knew it could be turned into an attractive focal point," Johnson recalls. In the center of the island she placed an armillary sphere from Garden Artisans atop a pedestal from New England Garden Ornaments. Antique rocks, as Johnson calls them, were brought down from Maine to accent shrub plantings and a re-sited Ginkgo tree on the island as well as other spots along the driveway. "I prefer using boulders with moss and lichen present because it makes it look like the rock has been there awhile," she says.

Specimen Trees:

  • Stewartia pseudocamellia
  • Katsura
  • Cornus kousas
  • Styrax japonica

Near the home, a number of elements work together to create a sense of arrival. "At the entrance to the driveway I wanted to reveal a tantalizing hint of what was ahead, but here I wanted to funnel the eye directly to the front door," says Johnson. She did so with a flared bluestone walkway, a pair of containers flanking the front steps and a custom arbor from Walpole Woodworkers. "The arbor and other architectural features, an outdoor shower, lattice panels and eyebrow trellis, are made of a composite material offered by Walpole Woodworkers called 'azak'," she explains. The homeowners chose composite over cedar because of its rot resistance and ease of maintenance, which is crucial in a coastal locale. "Finally, I created a sense of pause under the arbor with a circular piece of bluestone in the walk itself," Johnson adds.

  • Pro Tip: Paint containers that you already own to give them an updated and unified appearance. Here I used black paint on the urns because I felt that it showcased the colors of the flowers best.

Johnson attributes the success of this project to the cooperation and involvement of her customers. "This was truly a team effort," she notes. Over a period of three months Johnson, the homeowners and their subcontractors were able to transform this property into a landscape that suits the climate, is fairly low maintenance and does justice to the home and its surroundings. Johnson made sure to educate the clients on the care of their new landscape, especially the trees, so that they would know how to protect their investment.

Elaine M. Johnson Landscape Design
Centerville, MA

Contributing Author:

Sarah Hutchinson, contributing writer for Landscaping Network

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