A Cape Cod Rain Garden – Part I The Structure

We installed a rain garden and slope planting in November of 2011 on Cape Cod. Scroll down to see how the garden evolved over the course of 2 years.

Rain Garden Before 1

The problem area was at the bottom of a very steep slope and was in the middle of the property’s main view toward Cape Cod Bay. The client doesn’t use that area of lawn, and wanted to fill it with seasonal interest that would be visible from the deck and the upper stories of the house.

Rapoza Rain Garden SketchThe design concept was to add a a dry river bed topped with beach stones, and a few boulders for accent. The stone river bed catches water as it flows down the slope. The rest of the area was filled with native grasses, shrubs and wildflowers. We also under-planted the existing dogwoods on the slope with liriope muscari to give the trees more definition.

Installing the accent BouldersPaul, Daniel and Thomas installing the accent boulders.

Rain Garden Construction 1 This is what it looked like right after installation in November 2011.

Rain Garden first year's growth 2012By the following summer, the new plants were thriving.

Rapoza Cape Cod Garden 4After another full growing season, the area had filled in very well and had become a hotspot for birds, butterflies and bumblebees. This photo was taken in the summer of 2013.

Stay tuned for more about the rain garden plants we selected.

Signs of Life

After a long and snowy winter here on Cape Cod, we are finally seeing signs of life! We caught these bulbs and perennials popping up in Falmouth this week. If you want early spring color, consider planting some of these in your garden:



A universal sign of spring, nothing is more cheerful than the crocuses. Plant the bulbs in fall and these bursts of color will reward you repeatedly year after year.


Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

This succulent brings color to a garden for 3 full seasons, its slowly changing colors truly reflecting the ephemeral nature of a garden. In the spring, its bright green leaves brighten up flower beds. By late spring and early summer it has pretty white buds that change from light pink to dark pink flowers throughout the summer. By fall the blossoms are a vibrant burgundy. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is extremely drought tolerant, and hardy. Though it prefers full sun we’ve seen it thriving in some shady parts of the garden.


Hellebore_pink frost

Helleborus Gold Collection ‘Pink Frost’

Some of our Hellebores have already been blooming for months, even in the snow. This one is a called ‘Pink Frost’. Put them in your shade garden or near your front door where they will perk up even the dreariest winter landscape.


Galanthus (Snowdrops)

The delicate ballerina-like flowers of Galanthus are perfect for a woodland garden. Plant them with lily of the valley for a carpet of green and white all spring.

The Fairy Houses of Beebe Woods

The Ministry of Metamorphosis & Faerie Hatchery by Angela Tanner

The Ministry of Metamorphosis & Faerie Hatchery by Angela Tanner

The fairies of Beebe Woods have descended upon the gardens at Highfield Hall! Visit the historic estate this summer and see over 20 different creations by local artists and naturalists. Each fairy structure has a unique name, and is directly inspired by its location. Maps are available at Highfield Hall, identifying the location, name, and artist. Exhibit runs June 20-July 21.

Our landscape designer, Angela Tanner, has created a house for the exhibit, which can be seen at site #11 along the Beech Walk. Her structure is called “The Ministry of Metamorphosis and Faerie Hatchery” It features a house, a fairy ladder, and four fairy cocoons hidden in the lowest branch of the beech tree.

Children (and adults too) will have fun trying to find these enchanting little buildings throughout the gardens and walking paths. Caution, upon viewing them you may become inspired to build tiny houses in your own garden. Already, more tiny fairy shelters have spontaneously popped up in the gardens, alongside the exhibits.

Below, some shots of Angela’s Fairy Cocoons that can be seen at site #11:


Beech Fairy Cocoon

Fairy Cocoon

Magpie Fairy Cocoon

Hermit Fairy Cocoon

Hermit Fairy Cocoon

There are 23 houses in total, two of them are inside Highfield Hall and the rest are in the gardens. Here is a quick glimpse of some of the other fairy houses on display. The tiny details are remarkable so the best way to see them all  is in person!

From Left: "Texas Redbud Cottage" by Barbara Whitehead and  Bruce Safley; "Golden Dwelling" by Basia Goszczynska; "Pipsissewa Place" by Sheila Payne

Fairy Houses From Left: “Texas Redbud Cottage” by Barbara Whitehead and Bruce Safley; “Golden Dwelling” by Basia Goszczynska; “Pipsissewa Place” by Sheila Payne

Also currently on display inside Highfield Hall:

Enchanted: Through the Lens of Boston Photographers
May 24 – July 7, 2013

For this exhibition, curator Erica H. Adams presents Boston area photographers whose works weave together themes of mystery and enchantment. From photographs of clouds, to secret writing, to constructed scenes of “museums of memory” this show of both large and small scale photographs explores deep ideas through arresting visual beauty. Artists include David Akiba, Jesseca Ferguson and Linda Pagani. Enchanted is designed as a thoughtful companion exhibition to the concurrent outdoor fairy house display.

Fantastical Birds: Quietus in Flight
New paintings by Juan Travieso
May 24 – July 7, 2013
Fanciful, colorful and fabulous, Juan Travieso’s paintings of birds are irresistible.  His winged creatures are animated and articulated by vibrant colors and abstract designs without loosing the innate qualities of their breed. Owls, parrots, bluebirds, robins and other varieties abound.

Amelanchiers mean June Berry Pie and Running Fish.

Amelanchier x Autumn Brilliance

Amelanchier x Autumn Brilliance

What is Blooming in Falmouth? The Amelanchier.
(Otherwise known as Shad, Serviceberry, Saskatoon and Juneberry.)

This family of spring blooming shrubs and trees grows naturally along stream banks here on Cape Cod. They are also called Shad Trees because when they are in bloom, you know that the Shad Herring are running from the ocean to freshwater to spawn. These trees make a versatile and beautiful addition to the garden. Consider planting an Amelanchier if you’d like:

  • Prolific Spring Flowers
  • Edible Fruit (See the Recipe below for Juneberry Pie
  • Brilliant Fall Color
  • To Attract Birds, Butterflies, Honeybees
  • A Tree for Small Spaces (Reaches 15 to 25 feet tall)
  • Versatility: Trim an Amelanchier up as a specimen tree or allow it to spread naturally into a thicket of shrubs along an embankment or woodland edge.
  • A Full Sun or Part Shade Plant.

Shad Tree Fall Color

Creamy Juneberry-Rhubarb Pie Recipe*:

3 Tbs Flour
1/2 Cups Sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 Egg (beaten)
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 tsp Lemon Juice
1 Cup Chopped Rhubarb
2 Cups June Berries

Mix Into a Crumble:
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 Tbs cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Pie Crust:
Use the pie crust of your choice. Ready Made or Home Made, I prefer a graham cracker crust with this pie.

Preheat oven to 400F. Mix Flour, Sugar, Salt, Sour Cream, Egg, Vanilla, Lemon Juice together in a large bowl until well blended. Add the Rhubarb and June berries. Pour filling into a 9″ pie crust. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 25 minutes. Remove the pie, and sprinkle the crumb topping on top. Bake at 350 for a final 15 minutes or until the topping is brown.* Note: We adapted this pie from a straight Rhubarb pie at http://www.rhubarbinfo.com/pie If you don’t have Juneberries, Strawberries also work wonderfully in the mix.

A Woodland Nook in Progress

Woodland Nook 7

A New Woodland Sitting Nook

We recently created an informal sitting area in the margin of woods between a residence, a sloping meadow, and a path through the woods. The residents wanted a place to sit and enjoy the shade in the summer months. Here is a quick photo tour showing how the shady woodland nook fell into place.

Recently cleared wooded area

Recently Cleared Wooded Area

The existing wooded area was first cleared of invasive understory shrubs and vines, and a few dead trees were removed.


Creating a Level Area

Once the vegetation was cleared, we needed to create a level sitting area. We re-graded the bumpy spots and added some clean fill.


Building a Rustic Retaining Wall

We constructed a rustic boulder retaining wall on the lower edge of the sitting place.

Setting the Stones into Place

When the retaining wall was complete, we added good planting soil/compost mix, and raked it smooth. Then we set irregular bluestone in place, keeping the joints far enough apart for mosses and other ground cover to be installed later.


Laying out the Irregular Bluestone

Now the Woodland Nook is ready for some shade loving plants to fill in the blanks. Add a few Adirondack chairs, and it will be a great respite from the summer sun. We’ll add more photographs when the planting is complete!

woodland nook 8

Sitting Area Ready for Planting

Sweet, Edible Spring

When clusters of sweet violets recently popped up in the garden, food was not the first thing on my mind. I was thinking birds, blooms, and warmer weather must finally be on the way. But after spotting this flower recipe book at Eight Cousin’s Bookstore, cooking violets into sugary concoctions seems like the only logical thing to do. Cooking with Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes with Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender, and Other Edible Flowers by Miche Bacher and Miana Jun is full of beautiful photographs and recipes featuring edible blooms.

Cooking With Flowers  by MIche Bacher, Miana Jun

Cooking With Flowers by Miche Bacher, Miana Jun

Dandelion leaves are tender and tasty this time of year, but their yellow flowers can also be used. Toss them in bread crumbs and fry them up as fritters. Tulips? Not only are the petals edible, but so are the bulbs. They taste like onions. And right now is the perfect time to harvest violets, pansies, and dandelions from your garden.  With lovely sounding things like Calendula Orange Cake, Elderflower Marshmallows, and Blackberry Borage Fool, the only problem with this book is that you will want to eat everything in it.

A few edible* flowers to look for this spring:

Apple & Crabapple Blossoms (Malus)
Bachelor’s Button (Centaurea)
Calendula (Marigolds)
Clover (Trifolium)
Dianthus (Carnations, Pinks, & Sweet William)
Elderflowers (Sambucus)
Wild Geraniums or Cranesbill (Pelargonium)
Lilacs (Syringa)
Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranth)
Pansies (Viola)
Violets (Viola)

*The flowers on this list are all fairly common, but be sure confirm the identity before eating any plants. Also, never eat flowers that have been sprayed with harmful chemicals. 

Viola Odorata - Sweet Violets

Viola Odorata – Sweet Violets

Now what to do with those Sweet Violets from the garden? Candied flowers are an easy way to add elegance to your favorite cupcake recipe. To make candied violets, all you need are egg whites, very fine sugar, a handful of violets, and water. There is a great How-to at Taste of Home. Don’t use your houseplants for these. African Violets are not members of the Viola family and are not edible. Use Viola Odorata (Sweet Violet), Pansies, or other edible flowers.

Taste of Home Candied Violets Recipe

Taste of Home Candied Violets Recipe

Happy Spring, Happy Flower Cooking, and if you know of any other great flower recipes, we’d love to hear about them.