Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Caroline Dugan's beloved gardens at the Cobb House

Birdbath nestled in the sunflowers
When Bob Hoxie, owner of Great Hill Horticultural Services, was tasked with designing the gardens for the Brewster Historic Society's Cobb house, he got a little help from a very unlikely source, a previous owner who died in 1941.  Caroline Dugan, the great granddaughter of the shipmaster Elijah Cobb, was born in 1853 in the house now bearing his name and kept a lively diary from 1873 to 1878.

Circular garden with sun dial
Generous donations made the garden possible
In her diary, Caroline celebrates her fondness for nature and for her garden with her many detailed and poetic entries.

Excerpts taken from "From Painting a Time in text and photographs, The Diary of Caroline Atherton Dugan", Published by the Brewster Ladies Library, c. 2014

The smoke tree in the back framing the nasturtiums 
July 26.  Sunday.

Addie Nickerson called at sunset time.  She is most attractive & lovable.  - Our smoke tree is in full glory, a soft mist through which the sun shines.

As in Caroline's garden, the flowers display a
lighthearted mix of red, yellow pink and purple.

July 31, Monday.

"In gardens also, bloom coreopsis red & yellow, great sunflowers, nasturtiums, moneywort, balsams, white & red, smoke, mignonette, and sweet peas in every shade of white, pink and purple"

View towards the welcoming porch in the back

Bob, a historic landscape designer and curator, took inspiration from the descriptions of her beloved garden and incorporated the flora mentioned in her diary.  Many of the varieties of plants available to Caroline are not readily available today.  Fortunately, Bob starts heirloom seeds in cold frames in the spring to supply the historical gardens that he curates.  He explains that the inspiration for this garden came from Caroline's writings, photographs, and a sense that this is a Cape Cod country garden of a young lady in the late 19th century.  He wanted to avoid the look of a professionally designed and overly groomed and impersonal landscape.

Sweet pea scramble up the bamboo frame
One look at the charming nasturtiums meandering behind sweet pea, under the smoke tree, and spilling over the alyssum and you can see that Bob has hit the mark.  Some of the other plants include old fashioned roses, daisies, phlox, marigold, tiger lilies and dusty miller.

There is a second area that invites visitors to sit and relax on a stone bench while admiring the flowers surrounding a sun dial, also mentioned in Caroline's diary.

A place to sit and enjoy the garden
Bob is a master at bringing a historical landscape to life, allowing visitors to get a taste of the exuberance and curiosity of young Caroline as expressed in her garden.  Great Hills Horticultural Services works with historical museums but also with private homeowners of historic as well as newer homes.  Some of his works include gardens at the Plymouth Antiquarian Society, Plimoth Plantation, the Oyster Harbors estate of Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, and private residences across Cape Cod and the South Shore.  Check out his website, facebook page, and blog for more photos and info.

To purchase a copy of Caroline Dugan's diary, you may visit the beautifully restored Cobb House or contact the Brewster Ladies Library, 508-896-3913,

The front facade of the handsome Cobb House Museum
To visit the Cobb House in person, check their website for seasonal hours (2017 hours: 1-4 PM Wed - Sat, June 28 - Sept 2, 1-4 PM Saturdays from Memorial Day through Columbus Day)

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