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."

Archive for the ‘local color’ Category

Brewster in Bloom

Brewster in Bloom Parade

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Brewster, Massachusetts.


And Along Come Pretty Little May

Greetings from Brewster!  Yes, ’tis the Roving Gardener who greets you today, as I’ve begun a new week’s gig of house and pet-sitting with my pals Mugsy and Peanut again.    Badum is happily managing both floors of our house in my absence, as the Downstairses are happy to be supervised by him.    He loves their windows’ lower perspective on the yard and bird feeding station, too.

Meanwhile, so busy was I preparing to make the move and doing so (waited ’til the last moment, naturally), that only now have I realized that Thursday marked my fifth anniversary as a blogger.  Now that I’ve remembered, I can’t help but marvel at the time that’s passed and the gardens I’ve shared in that time.   I really only started as a way to show my friends and famliy a garden hidden in the woods.   I had no idea it would change my life in so many significant ways.    Thanks to those of you who stop by now and then; it’s always more fun to have an audience!  Five more years, shall we?

I’m always happy to spend time with my buddy Mugsy and I seem to bring out the puppy in her, too.   She has her elderly moments, but is almost always excited to greet me with slobbering kisses and tail wagging and a little rough housing.  Of course, I spoil her a little (with her parents’ blessing) while I’m here.

I understand after they returned from the Mexico trip in February, they were made to feel a little villainous when they had to announce that while they were perfectly happy with her sleeping in the bed when Uncle Greg was here, it wasn’t something that was going to continue the rest of the time.

Well, until this week, when I returned and she happily snuggles up to me each night.   The other evening, Mugs led me on a walk around her neighborhood.   We couldn’t have been less interested, either of us, in doing so back in the winter, but this week, it’s quite a lovely place to explore.

You might recall a few weeks back there was some concern that all the daffodils were going to have bloomed and gone by the time the Brewster in Bloom festival (this weekend) was scheduled.  And that’s true, most of the daffs have done their little dance and for all but the latest varieties, their flowerheads have faded.  We’ll have to wait for next spring to see such a golden show again.   But for the weekend’s festivities this year, we have crab apple trees, dogwoods, primroses, tulips and here’s the big surprise (we all agree they are a couple weeks ahead of schedule, to be blooming on May Day) lilacs!!

It occurs to me that much of this gardening blogging business is about my wishing that I could convey sweet fragrances and natural perfumes to you via the internet, since this time of year especially, it’s such a big part of the whole garden experience.  Even in the cool evenings, the scent of the crab apples or the lilacs is just heavenly drifting on the breeze.

Of course, I’ve filled a couple of vases with lilacs for the fireplace mantle.   Past years have taught me that our Lilac Moments are all too brief and there’s simply no reason to delay bringing some indoors to sweeten our lives (Be sure to mash those woody stems with the bottom of a glass or a hammer or a rock or something, so they’ll take water and last a smidge longer).

Mugsy’s Mom has been excitedly watching her English bluebells, which she’s planted in the backyard and been nurturing for a little while.  They are poised to put on a nice show this year, so Murphy’s Law dictates that it turned out they would be away on their hiking adventure in BC when that show got underway.  So I’ve also been charged with enjoying that show (‘tis a lot they ask of me, I know, but I try to bear the burden as cheerily as I can…heh) and if possible, get a few photos of them.   They get some lovely early and late sun, which makes for lovely photos, so you’ll be seeing more of this gang as the week progresses.

It sure is a treat to be spending more time in Brewster at this time of year.   The trees along Route 6A – the parade route for this afternoon’s Brewster in Bloom parade – have recently leafing out to form the fresh green canopies for which the town is known.  I just love that crisp bright green of new leaves, full of hope and perfect promise for the season ahead.  Without fail, as the days pass, one tree will show a brown branch of advancing age, or damage from some caterpillar horde, leaf blight from too much rain, lightning strikes or wind damage from summer storms, or dull autumn colors from too little rain.

But for now, they’re all delightfully, hope-fully Green.

It’s a pretty town, that’s for sure.   I love this view of the old grist mill.   This glassy pond (which extends out behind the bridge where I was standing to take this photo) is the destination for the herrings the gulls have been waiting for.   You’d never guess that just a few feet beyond the mill, great dramas ensue.

I showed you the anticipation and expectation a little while ago, and I’ve been eager to return to the herring run for another look.  I’d heard from Mugsy’s Dad that the run had been thick with fish a couple of days after my last visit, but last evening was my first chance to return when I was also able to find a place to park in the limited spaces available there (there was a apparently a wedding there early in the day).  I wasn’t disappointed.

It’s really sort of hard to capture just how it all goes with my trusty little Olympus, it happens that fast.  And there aren’t as many fish passing through as there were last week, either.  The water is moving fast down the hillside and it’s deep with all the April Showers and such.  One bank is very muddy and there’s lots of bird poop.  Because there’s lots of birds.  And they’re hungry.

I’m not sure I realized how big the herring are, but they are pretty good-sized, I’d guess from my brief glimpses six to eight inches (but then, this is the internet, so I may just be over-selling…).  Every now and then you can spot a couple wriggling through the rushing water, and of course, so do the gulls.

There’s a lot of screeching at one another, and flying intimidation games to get the good spots.  That was going on even before the fish showed up.  You know, that whole selfish and entitled Gull Thing.   Mine? Mostly they sit there on the banks, or on the stone and concrete gates that make the pools down the hillside, their heads bobbing and swaying as they watch the water and make false starting darts forward when they think they see something in the frothy water.

Suddenly, one of them lunges, going headfirst into the water, and comes up with a fish.  Gooney goo goo. Sometimes the fish wriggles free and dives down into the water and goes on into the shadows or up the falls into the next level.  Other times, the gull sort of flips the fish around and tilts its head back, taking the fish headfirst and in a single gulp.  It’s fascinating to watch, and I just try not to think too much about the fish that’s now still alive wriggling around inside the bird, or imagining what that must feel like.

No wonder gulls are so cranky.  And like french fries.

There’s a deep fall of water at the top of this Gamut of Gulls, where the water cascades out of the deeper channel of water that passes beneath the road to the millpond on the other side of the street, at the top of the hill.  There seem to be almost no gulls on that side of the road, as they must know the deeper waters there won’t allow them fishing like this.

As I stand on the bridge that crosses the falls, I see a herring launch itself against the torrent, flying under water and making it to the relative safety of the pond.   You want to cheer and wonder if the fish breathes a great sigh of relief at having made it past the hungry hordes.  All that so it can lay some eggs and die.  But I’m not pretending to be Marlon Perkins (or – ughh- Oprah Winfrey), so I’ll send you off here for some better information about the herring lifecycle and for a little more historical context here.

It’s pretty cool stuff.

Lilac Safari


And lilacs now in the dooryard bloom.

This is a lucky year for me, in that I seem to be simply surrounded with the beautiful things.  There are several large plantings of them here on the property and they appear in most other yards in the neighborhood.  Now and then I walk through one of these magical pockets of sweet fragrance and it’s almost like my feet leave the ground – they want to make me do all kinds of old-fashioned things, like Sigh and Swoon.


I’d enjoyed my delightful reintroduction (for this year) to them during the recent trip to Connecticut and was quite happy to find that they were coming on strong when I returned home to the Cape.  For the first time in years, there’s an ample supply just outside the door to make sure my home could be perfumed heavily with the cut blossoms.  I was thinking of snipping some when the Downses invited me to join them on a lilac safari to a nearby abandoned farm, and so off we went with clippers and sacks in hand.

They had mentioned this place a few times before as an interesting place to walk and it turns out I had seen some of it from a distance,  but I had never explored there before.   My ample and active imagination had painted a picture of something from the early 20th century or earlier, but this farm was probably new in the 50s or 60s, I’d say…and fairly long abandoned now, at that.  Well, sort of.

The place is sort of a wreck, but several years ago, was inhabited for a summer by members of some sort of culty-type group, who’d arranged with the property owner to stay there in exchange for fixing the place up a bit.   That’s how the story is told to me, anyway.   There’s lots of art, wall murals and such all over the place, and it seems that’s when all that came to pass.

But the place has also been trashed, it seems, by local kids…and also just by time and weather.  It’s even possible that someone has lived, or has very recently, been living there, maybe even still.   There’s certainly no lack of homeless people on the Cape, sadly, so I guess it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise.   And there are probably much worse places to end up, I suppose.


Largely the area is a mess of ruins, but I suppose the remaining buildings offer enough shelter, at least this time of year.  There’s lots of trash and rusty bits of metal and rotting wood and broken glass and such around, but also some pretty clear pathways.


I got the initial impression that much of whatever treasure the site may once have hold has long since been salvaged, though I wonder what a closer examination of the sight might reveal.   However, on the face of things, it seemed largely a sort of junkyard place, with a pick-up truck with a badly smashed windshield…and this burned down remainder of a Winnebago.

A place like this always fascinates me, the way the things of Man begin to decay and go back into the land, as the Green rises up around it, reclaiming everything.   In a spot like this, its easy to let one’s mind play through a variety of post-apocolyptic survival fantasies.  Of course it also takes my mind no time to think about how I might start to tidy the place up or reclaim the space.   Of course, I see everything as a potential location for a new garden bed.  It’s my gift, I suppose.

It was pretty cool to explore around a bit, although it was sometimes a little creepy, too.


I can see where a place like this might be a godsend to someone who was homeless, or, my writer’s mind posits, someone who was on the run or in hiding or something.  The art one finds everywhere one looks might even make a ruinous spot like this sort of comforting and attractive to someone in such a situation as one of those.  Still, this wouldn’t necessarily be the easiest place to make a life, I bet.  The farm is located on a meadow at the edge of one of the marshes nearby, and is surely smack in the middle of Coyote Territory.


Perhaps this explains the evidence we found of the torch in the former office.  There was also a big black kettle that appeared as though someone had maybe been using it for cooking or something.  And a slightly unsettling bit of neon green graffiti that suggested maybe the person or persons who had been living there had had their stuff pilfered by others.  But even that didn’t seem all that recent, what with other graffiti scrawled over the top of it.

Still, I found some chairs set up at the edge of a pond in a cosy arrangement that suggested it was visited by someone regularly, although that certainly wasn’t evidence of anyone in residence currently.  And of course, its quite likely that it’s simply a sort of clubhouse place for local kids.  There was also evidence of what looked to be a bike ramp for jumps or something.  Possibly all these suspicions are true to some extent.


But I also thought it was a little odd to find two pots of pansies that looked relatively well-cared for (ie, not in need of deadheading, which pansies almost always are...) sitting out there in the middle of nowhere (you can see them to the left in the photo with the whale mural, but for some reason I didn’t think to snap a closer photo).   That sort of reinforces the slightly unsettling notion that someone might’ve been hiding when we visited.   Sort of comforting to have visited with other people, really, when you think about it.

Despite it all, it was also a very cool place to visit, with all the artwork adorning the ruin of the place.  It was sort of fascinating to pick my way through and snap a few photos as I let my eyes wander and wonder about the place, imagining what it’s history might have been…what story is continuing to play out there now.






I sort of thought there would be more lilacs there (or other recognizable plantings or their remains – I don’t know just what sort of a farm it was, actually) but there was just a relatively small cluster of two or three bushes, a bit tall and sparsely-branched, but there were certainly enough blossoms for us to fill a pair of grocery sacks and leave plenty behind, so someone else might enjoy the discovery of that unexpected cloud of sweet fragrance.



With a thought or two for those whose circumstances might be less fortunate than our own, we took our perfumed treasures and headed home to seek out any variety of vases – large and small – to fill with cuttings to adorn as many rooms in our house as possible with these lovely purple flowerheads.


At first, their perfume was sort of fainter than I’d hoped, but by next morning, the Nest was delightfully scented, the indoor cuttings enhancing the more diluted fragrance which was just beginning to waft its way through open windows from the bushes in the yard outside.

Delicious.  Delightful.  De-lovely.