This Emerald Oasis in Falmouth Was Once a Wide-Open Lawn

Now, curving, crushed-stone paths connect a wisteria-draped pergola, an arched bridge, a pond, and a natural woodland.

gardeners Susan Greven Vayda and Eric Greven cross beneath a wrought-iron pergola cloaked in wisteria
Gardeners Susan Greven Vayda and Eric Greven cross beneath a wrought-iron pergola cloaked in wisteria.
By Aurelia C. Scott
Photos by Kelsey Kobik
From our April 2024 Home & Garden issue

Nearly 30 years ago, Eric Greven and Susan Greven Vayda fell for a house bordering a Falmouth golf course. Though they aren’t golfers, they were smitten with the grey-shingled place outfitted with large windows and a roomy deck overlooking a grassy 1.7-acre plot. “It was a blank slate just waiting for us,” says Vayda, a retired school psychologist.

Like the neighboring golf course, the couple’s property was wide open and windswept, so they started by layering in evergreen, deciduous, and flowering shrubs and trees. Working with now-retired landscape architect Jerri Stone, they planted arborvitaes and ornamental pears along the driveway. Korean dogwoods join hibiscus and spireas beside the front porch and walkway. Balsam firs, paper birches, crabapples, hawthorns, magnolias, and white pines offer year-round beauty and bird habitat along the edges of the vast rear lawn. Japanese lilacs and maples create a canopy over the back deck and shade the side of the house. At the far edge of the property, white viburnums and pink weigelias light up a natural woodland, which houses a compost pile and a stack of oak logs upon which Vayda grows shiitake mushrooms.

Clockwise top left: lilacs front a wooden bridge that spans a grassy depression; Asiatic lilies, bearded irises, and sedums flourish in raised beds built by Greven; Blue Shimmer irises and peonies; a shiitake mushroom; a frog sits on a pond’s stone rim; drought-tolerant Sicilian honey garlic thrives in sun and shade.

To accommodate water runoff on the sloping lot, Greven, a retired architectural engineer, worked with Durham’s Highpoint Landscape to dig a small pond where frogs now croak, and a grassy depression (known as a swale) the couple rimmed with moisture-loving flowers, including a border of lupines that vibrates with bees in springtime. Three curving, crushed-stone paths branch across the lawn from a central wisteria-draped, wrought-iron pergola, connecting the house, swale, pond, and woods. Lilies, peonies, phlox, and potentillas bloom in great mounds along the walkways. Next to the house, the path widens to allow for a ring of pentagonal raised beds, built by Greven, that brim with Asiatic lilies, irises, and sedums.

“I wanted to celebrate the romanticism of the space by using as many blooming plants as possible,” Vayda said on a spring morning last year, as she crossed the swale on an arched bridge that appears plucked from Monet’s water-lily pond. She’s had good luck with forsythias, hyacinths, Lenten roses, narcissus, tulips, and turtleheads. But the ginkgos, weeping cherries, and winter daphnes she planted fell victim to frost and pests.

“This landscape has taught us so much about gardening in partnership with nature, rather than imposing our will,” Vayda says. “In the first years, I wanted shrubs to stay the same size forever. And I got upset if something didn’t work. Now, if I plant something that dies, well, that’s life. If the deer eat the hostas, well, the deer were here first. It’s important to us to let plants grow and to share the garden with wild creatures. We help nourish and protect them, and they provide year-round entertainment and joy.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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