One gardener's observations, discoveries and random thoughts whilst simultaneously worshipping and dallying in a Cape Cod garden. "A garden," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "is like those pernicious machineries which catch a man's coatskirt or his hand, and draw in his arm, his leg and his whole body to irresistable destruction."


When Margo and Heidi visited me recently, I was kind of pysched that they were interesting in adding some “educational” component to our tourism, in the form of a visit to the Provincetown Museum and Pilgrim Monument, which is located on Long Pole Road looking out over Provincetown Harbor and the Outer Cape.


Pilgrim Monument is probably the icon that says “Provincetown” to me more than anything else.  Depending on how clear the day is, it can be the first thing one sees as one approaches town (When I lived in PTown, I had a great view of the monument from my place and I could guess what sort of day it was going to be based on how much of the thing was visible, if at all…).  On rarer occasions, one can spot it on the distant horizon from here in Orleans, 30 miles away.


Many people assume the tower is just another – albeit funkier – Cape Cod lighthouse, but its not that at all.  The Pilgrim Monument stands as a reminder that the Mayflower Pilgrims made their first stop in the New World right here at Provincetown.  They were at anchor in the harbor when they drafted the Mayflower Compact (and then promptly sent the womenfolk to shore to do some laundry).

Of course in 1620, there was (as now) no laundromat.  Nor was there running water, Tea Dance at the Boatslip, Drag Karaoke at the Governor Bradford Inn or clam chowder at the Lobster Pot, so it’s really no surprise that – after a few days exploration – our Pilgrim pals packed up the ship and sailed across Cape Cod Bay to settle in Plymouth.   And you can check out old “Brady Bunch” episodes for the rest of the Pilgrims’ story.

Pilgrim Monument stands 77 meters tall (rising 350 feet above sea level).  It’s the tallest, all-granite structure in the United States and is modeled after the Torre de Mangia in Siena, Italy.

Inside, there are 116 steps and 60 ramps to guide you to the top of the monument, where you can see all of little Provincetown, the Outer Cape and the Atlantic Ocean arrayed before you.   Knowing all the o’erflowing gardens there are below, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that the town doesn’t look more like a patchwork quilt of bright colors from up there, but I still enjoyed the view (and to arrive at the top with breath to spare was a nice bit of positive reinforcement about the cigarettes, too!).


Although the Pilgrims chose to try their luck in Plymouth, Provincetown’s big harbor (90 feet deep in many places!) was too much of a draw and the town was established as a fishing village, with easy access to the seemingly-infinite resources the ocean had to offer in days gone by.    Because the climate is so similar, PTown was especially popular with folks from Portugal and a thriving Portuguese community remains today.


In the photos above and below (looking south and west), you can see a tiny little strip of land in the top of the photo.  This is Long Point, the  very tip of Cape Cod.   There is only a lighthouse now, but Provincetown was originally settled there.  As the community grew, many of the homes and businesses built there were carefully moved onto barges and floated across the harbor to the town’s current location.  No joke.  While walking around town, you can see small plaques on many structures, indicating that they were relocated from this first spot.


It’s funny (though in the less amusing, second definition of the world) how the story of settlement is almost the same no matter where folks decide to live.   They find some fantastic, naturally beautiful spot with forests and great soil and decide to live there.  The trees are harvested for building homes, ships and such…and with no plant roots remaining to hold that soil in the place, all the good dirt blows or is washed away.  Such, of course, was the case here, as well.

Still, when fishing and whaling were the big businesses in town, ships would leave Provincetown regularly packed with salt cod and whale oil and so on and return to port not as heavily laden.   This gardener was amused to learn that  ships’ captains would take on soil from their distant ports of call to use as ballast in their lighter ships for the return voyage.  As a result, the yards and gardens of Provincetown were amended with good soil from all over the world.


Being surrounded on three sides by sparkling sea, there’s a quality of light in Provincetown which isn’t found in many other places and as a result, this quality drew the attention of visual artists who were escaping the heat of the summer city with visits to Cape Cod (in the good old days, the train tracks used to go all the way out onto the pier…and boats from Greenwich Village in NY made regular trips to the Cape TipNow there’s a bike trail where the tracks once were, and an airport…but also a ferry from Boston).  The Modern Impressionist art movement was founded here in the bright sun of the Outer Cape and drew ever more folks to this lovely spot.



With the visual artists came the performance artists and about the same time, Eugene O’Neill and Susan Glaspell and a host of others formed the Provincetown Players and brought about what’s considered the birth of Modern American Theatre.   And everyone knows where there are artists, you’ll find alternative lifestyles and in those pre-Stonewall days, what more lovely and perhaps safer place for gays and lesbians was there to be found than on the very edge of the continent, where one could relax and be oneself?
















I’m the last person to suggest that someone is better than someone else, but there is a certain element of, shall we say, “fabulousness” that one finds in many Provincetown gardens that you just don’t see in so many other places.


Sometimes its an unusual species, something perhaps only glimpsed before in garden catalogs in the dismal days of winter, tubular coreopsis petals, maybe, or zonal geraniums that have flowers like bee balm, or delightful puffs of pink.

Other times, it’s not that the flowers are anything special, simply that they are planted so fully in tiny little patches that might go overlooked and unplanted in other parts of the world, where garden real estate is more plentiful.

And then sometimes, it’s that unexpected bit of Something you could simply never anticipate.



Whatever it is, there’ll always be something about Provincetown gardens to draw me in, to entertain and amuse and delight me.   And I think you’d agree.   Let me know if you’re coming for a visit – I love any excuse to ramble around town and peek over fences and down alleyways for the secret gardens which are everywhere – and it’s always more fun with company.



Comments on: "Provincetown: Gardening on the Edge (Pt. 2)" (9)

  1. So you’re saying there’s something special about this Provincetown place? And about those Mayflower people… didn’t they have washing machines on the ship? Or did they run out of quarters? :)

    Well, I’ll certainly be sure we tell you when we’re up for a visit. We did before!! ;)

  2. Hey Greg! Been reading but not commenting, but the P-town series grabbed me!! Great photos…you’re gettin’ good with that camera…got to comment on the “Lands End Massage”…can we assume that this is in no way affiliated with the preppy catalog company?…giggle!! Are there still preppies?, or are they extinct? I don’t get out much, ya know? My husband & I used to hitchhike to P-town for coffee, when we were young, poor & unmarried. I think that’s what swept me off my feet! Thanks for the memory jog…*elaine*

  3. Nice to read about your town and see so many of your lovely photos.

  4. Wow! What a variety of flowers and photos. I want to come for a visit. I’ll have to put it on my list along with vermont in the fall etc. etc.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Your lovely garden photos take me back to P-town and the wild autumn gardens and the scent of a wood fire on the night air…thank you

  6. This is gorgeous (as always). I happily anticipate the day when you take me on a personal tour. Don’t know when, but it’s going to happen.

    I’ve been looking forward to it, as well, Birdie! I know it’ll end with one of our spectacular sunsets, toO!

  7. Greg, I’ve enjoyed this brief survey, the wit and wisdom, of your own Cape Cod, historical and contemporary. I appreciate a guy who has found his place and makes it work. A little eden it is, horticulturally and culturally. And is it any wonder that an edge-of-the-world town with a prominent tower on Long Pole Road would appeal to les artistes. The gardens are glorious, the architecture adorable, and the garden decor by Elton John. That other Cape (I seem to be fond of capes), will certainly be a feature of my own grand eastern pilgrimage if I ever get it together.

  8. I always enjoy my visits to your blog. Your photos are amazing.
    I did summer stock on Cape Cod in the early 70s & it is great to see these pics.
    Check out this link to some pictures fo my garden:

    Stephen, what a delightful space you guys have created and what fun to have it featured so. Wish we shared a coast, so I could stop by for cocktails sometime!

  9. We will have to do that in our lifetimes!

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