Written by Debra Lawless | Photography by Betty Wiley

Landscape designer Joyce K. Williams uncovers an unusual bit of history while turning a simple yard into one with lush, year-round blooms and antique objects.

The owner of this seaside garden overlooking Bassing Harbor, the entrance to Ryder’s Cove and Crows Pond, loves nautical antiques—“crusty, rusty stuff,” says landscape designer Joyce K. Williams of Chatham.
Here, tucked among the resplendent gardens are pier lights, a metal cleat and antique bollards, short posts used principally for mooring boats. Granite pavers around the swimming pool were reclaimed from the Longfellow Bridge spanning the Charles River. A Dennis antiques store yielded a pump and an old trough turned up in Boston.
Since the homeowner loves objects with a history, it is appropriate that the home she and her husband bought in 2014 had a hidden past—right under the lawn—that would be revealed only as work began.

“The homeowner loves gardens—she just wanted the whole property to be a garden,” says Williams. In the fall of 2015, when she began designing the landscape for the Cape-style house, built in 1973, it featured a traditional lawn down to the street. Williams worked with Patrick Ahearn Architect on a circular drive for more privacy and intrigue.
When it came time to plant the newly designed space, diggers hit solid concrete—left behind by Chatham’s World War I Naval Air Station (most of the station’s buildings were demolished in 1924). The concrete had to be removed as the topsoil was too shallow to accommodate the gardens. A 15-foot cedar was growing in just 14 inches of soil.
The gardens start at the street where Williams designed a “colorful, exuberant garden” that catches the eye and shields the house from the public. She mounded the area and planted it with roses, hydrangeas and deschampsia, a two-to-three-foot ornamental grass. A dwarf Japanese maple adds color, while a cryptomeria and a tall maple serve to block the utility pole.

Walk up the drive, and you’re surrounded by a variety of gardens and even window boxes bubbling over with marguerite daisies and purple angelonia. A cottage garden with stunning colors backs up against the white picket fence by the pool. All four sides of the house boast gardens, each with its own distinct character.

Granite pavers around the swimming pool were reclaimed from the Longfellow Bridge spanning the Charles River. Several rusting metal clam baskets rest at the edge of the pool.

Walk up the drive, and you’re surrounded by a variety of gardens and even window boxes bubbling over with marguerite daisies and purple angelonia. A cottage garden with stunning colors backs up against the white picket fence by the pool. Two bollards that the owner found at an antique salvage company are half-hidden among ornamental grasses and blue hydrangeas to enhance the seaside feeling of the property. All four sides of the house boast gardens, each with its own distinct character.

In the eastern portion of the front yard, an eight-foot privet hedge hides a shade garden, which features an in-ground trampoline for the homeowner’s teenage children. The circular shape of this area echoes the shape of the trampoline. “I love curves,” says Williams, explaining that they pull the eye through the garden “like the tide ebbing and flowing.” She skirted these gardens with antique edging and planted tall, red bee balm, peonies, catmint, lilies, crocosmia, perennial geraniums, butterfly weed, phlox, Joe Pye weed and autumn joy sedum. The white blooms of Limelight hydrangeas contrast with the green hedge. Included are flowers that attract pollinators because, says Williams, “We’re all trying to bring back the bees.”

Pass a butterfly bush, and you’re by the pool, which is separated from the shade garden by the cabana. Here is where the Longfellow Bridge’s c. 1900 granite pavers found a home. Stained and scarred with rust from the years they spent in the Charles River, the pavers lend the patio a well-worn air. Five rusting metal clam baskets rest at the edge of
the pool.

Instead of a fence, Williams constructed what may be the only “ha-ha” in Chatham on the side of the pool facing Bassing Harbor. A ha-ha is a recessed incline used first in 17th-century French gardens and later in English deer parks. The ha-ha allows you to swim in the pool and still see the waters of Bassing Harbor rather than the inside of a fence. Williams filled the ha-ha with pink fairy roses and winter berry holly whose red berries stand out against the stone wall.

A rusty cleat with a knot of thick nautical rope sits near a flag pole. Just beyond is the seawall with lights from New York City’s South Street Seaport piers. The landscaping team brought in sand and worked with the town’s conservation group to reestablish the bank and plant it with bayberry and American beach grass. At one end of the wall are a rust red English pump and an old stone trough, behind which blackberries and bayberry grow.

“They want exuberance where there is always something blooming,” Williams says of the homeowners. Except for in the dead of winter, there is indeed always color in this garden.