A Pocket Garden for Summer

Colorful blooms and petite plantings make the sunny season sweeter for two snowbirds on Cape Cod.

By Janice Randall Rohlf | Photography by Amber Jane Barricman


Once children have flown the nest, condominium living often sounds appealing: Indeed, one of the main attractions is knowing that someone else will tend to the property’s outdoor maintenance. But as liberating as that sounds—Yay! No more lawn to mow!—relinquishing control of the yard doesn’t come without pitfalls. “The danger of condo landscapes,” says Cape Cod garden expert C.L. Fornari of Sandwich, “is that [often] the crew will spread mulch whether the yard needs it or not.” Like aspirin, Fornari adds, “More is not good.”

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A mix of old and new, Old Sold Landscaping planted the entire garden in just two days.

Overzealous mulch-spreading was just one of the landscaping issues to contend with when Zene and David Hoult moved into their King’s Way condominium in Yarmouth Port, but it was a big one. “The existing walkway was surrounded by so much built-up mulch that it looked like a riverbed,” comments Finbarr Phelan, owner of Old Sod Landscaping. He and his partner, Alison Davis, who were hired to execute Fornari’s plan, also note that a low rock wall was almost totally concealed by superfluous plant material.

“All the work was done by hand and wheelbarrow,” explains Phelan. “No machines were brought in.” And yet, every bit of remedial work, transplanting and planting was done in two days’ time, which astounded the homeowners.

The garden left by the condo’s previous owner “was more care than I needed,” says Zene, who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with her husband in the off season. Even though their Cape green space is small, it’s one of the larger lots in King’s Way, and a fair portion of it gets sun. For the time the Hoults are on the Cape, they want to enjoy being in their yard and looking out at it from inside the house.

“We had just read ‘The Secret Garden,’ “ says Zene, explaining her inspiration. She wanted perennials and plants that bloomed in summer, when they were in residence on Cape Cod. Their search for the right plants began at Country Garden in Hyannis. It ended there too, as soon as they were referred to Fornari, who consults for the garden center and runs its educational programs.

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Hakoro Nakishi Salix (dappled willow tree) welcomes visitors through the side entrance.

“All they needed was a plan,” says Fornari, who draws her garden layouts by hand on graph paper during a site visit that typically lasts no more than an hour and a half. “I try to make it right for the client,” she says, explaining that she “has a catalog of plants in her head.” The knowledge she’s acquired over more than 20 years eliminates extra time spent on research.

The Hoults “needed more summer color and smaller plants that didn’t require a lot of high maintenance.” For example, for a plot outside the dining room window, instead of the Cape’s iconic Nikko Blue hydrangeas, which grow quite large, she recommended City Line “Rio” hydrangeas, which grow three-feet tall and have dark blue blooms. “They have the same outrageous flowers [as Nikko Blue], but the owners don’t have to fight the size.”

“The beauty of plants today is that there are cultivars; plant breeders are breeding things smaller,” says Fornari. And for the most part, small plants suit this yard. There are some instances, however, where larger plants like rose of Sharon were chosen for privacy purposes; they act as natural screens between this yard and the neighbors’. Phelan points out that they are in scale with their surroundings so the homeowners don’t feel enclosed.

The dining room plot contains all new plantings, including a dappled willow tree and white geraniums. Elsewhere in the yard, Fornari suggested that certain plants be left where they were, including key evergreens, or transplanted to other areas. “Leave weeping cherry and all rose of Sharon,” she wrote on the Hoults’ plan. “Transplant three smallest azaleas to backyard. Remove all else.” When appropriate, she even includes pruning instructions.

“I don’t recommend plants that will be hard for people to find, adds Fornari. Among those she suggested for this project is hakonechloa macra aureola. With its yellow, long and tapering leaves, soft texture and ability to thrive in sun or shade, this Japanese forest grass, quips Fornari, “brings a lot to the party.” As does, in her opinion, Summer Wine, a hardy shrublike plant that blooms in June but retains its deep burgundy foliage for much longer.

The Hoults are looking forward to the maturity one year will bring to their garden this summer. And it’s likely some new plants will be added. But most of all, they appreciate the expert advice that yielded a very pretty property that doesn’t interfere with their enjoyment of Cape Cod. “It’s so easy!” says Zene, with a big smile.

Landscape Design: C.L. Fornari
Landscape Installation: Old Sod Landscaping

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