In Hampden, Gardener Erin Clark Has Created a Fantasyland

Her blooming backyard with a gabled cottage is straight out of a storybook.

Erin Clark’s patio garden empha- sizes layered mounds of soft colors and John Davis roses, a hardy climbing variety with delicate pink blossoms and a cascading habit.

Erin Clark’s patio garden emphasizes layered mounds of soft colors and John Davis roses, a hardy climbing variety with delicate pink blossoms and a cascading habit. Clark took divisions from this garden to line the gravel path to “Sweet Pea Cottage,” her art studio, garden library, tea house, and rainy-day retreat.

By Virginia M. Wright
Photos by Hannah Hoggatt
From our July 2024 issue

Erin Clark doesn’t know much about carpentry, but she has a green thumb and a knack for laying out a garden. Her husband, Dan, doesn’t know much about plants (he jokingly identifies everything Erin grows as a coreopsis), but he’s a whiz when it comes to assembling wood into enchanting structures. Together, they’ve transformed their Hampden backyard into a storybook garden with a tiny cottage, hipped-roof arbor, six-sided gazebo, and, of course, abundant flowers that bloom in every growing season. “This is my dream come true,” Erin said last summer, stepping onto the back deck with Dahlia, her Australian labradoodle, trailing at her floral-sneakered heels. Stretched out before her was an oval brick patio enclosed by a picket fence, its stake points punctuated by eyelets that Dan drilled over the course of a week, effecting lace trim. Tracing the patio’s edge are repeating arrangements of lady’s mantles, nepetas, silver mounds, and Rozanne geraniums, a sequence softened by pops of deep-purple alliums, apricot foxgloves, Radiant Rose hollyhocks, Becky Shasta daisies, pink phloxes, and, climbing on the fence, fragrant John Davis roses. “I love the look of an English cottage garden, but that’s a little messy for me,” Erin said. “I like to have a pattern.”

The latticed arbor at the far end of the patio is outfitted with built-in benches and a curlicued chandelier and is entwined in climbing pink perennials — cup-and-saucer vines, honeysuckles, morning glories, and more roses. From there, a gravel path winds through flower beds to the pale-pink cottage, into which Dan has incorporated Erin’s architectural-salvage finds, like a side door with stained-glass panels and a round window set, jewel-like, in a center gable clad in scalloped shingles. Just one room, furnished with a crystal chandelier, a sofa slipcovered in floral and striped fabrics, and a distressed-wood coffee table, the cottage is their refuge for afternoon tea, evening wine, and otherwise unwinding.

Dan Clark incorporated salvaged finds into the cottage (bottom left), including windows he fashioned into French doors, and Erin outfitted it with vintage furnishings. The double-bowl water fountain (upper left) and rusty bicycle (bottom right) are among many antiques and repurposed junk pieces peppered throughout the gardens.

The couple met 16 years ago, when they were single parents of high-school boys who were best friends. At the time, Dan, the owner of a trucking company and a self-taught carpenter, had been living for nearly three decades in the Cape he’d built on a rural road east of downtown, but he’d done little landscaping beyond planting a lawn. That changed when Erin, who absorbed her gardening know-how from her mother, came to live with him in 2010. She drew a picture of the deck and gazebo that she imagined them enjoying together, and Dan built both the next summer.

That’s how they’ve collaborated ever since: Erin sketches an idea, Dan builds the structures, and she plants the gardens that surround them. In the process, she decided to retire from nursing and start offering gardening advice through her website and newsletter, Clark Cottage Gardens. She also rents out the gardens for wedding photo shoots, and Dan is now putting the finishing touches on Erin’s latest vision — a chapel-like greenhouse with 14 windows. “And you know,” she said with a smile, “it will have to have gardens around it.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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