How to Plan a Cape Cod Herb Garden

Chives in our Cape Cod Garden

The Palmer House’s Cape Cod Herb Garden

We are looking forward to some of the most beautiful gardens on Cape Cod this year (perhaps a little biased :).

Cape Cod Herb Garden hops

To be honest I’m not really an expert but this is how we put our garden together. Hopefully you can find some useful information or at least some inspiration for your garden. Most of our garden planning is a year-round activity. Early each year we sit down with a property plan to map out the best use of light and space. The inn has several distinct garden locations. The first one we will focus on is the Humble Innkeeper’s Herb Garden.

  1. Cape Cod herb garden
    Herb garden facing the main Inn building.

    Start by defining the requirements for the garden: This is the garden where many of the breakfast garnishes and ingredients  are harvested. We also want it to be a peaceful place to rest, while being a functional organic garden.

  2. Next, determine the environmental conditions: What sort of light is available? How warm or cold does it tend to get? What are the soil conditions?
    • This garden is in a small clearing that is surrounded by woods. This makes it a lovely place to watch birds and grey squirrels, or even hold a small wedding ceremony without it getting too hot, but it also means the plants on the edges are in shade much of the day.
    • We are on Cape Cod, so we start our seeds indoors or buy them in the garden center and don’t put them into the ground or containers until after the last frost of the year, usually in early May.
    • As for the soil conditions: you can get a test kit at our local garden shop to check for acidity.
  3. Cape Cod B&B Humble Innkeeper's Garden
    Humble Innkeeper’s Garden, the herb garden.

    Plan, plan, plan: I like to sit down on a chilly day in the winter with a pencil and paper. Then I sketch out how I want the garden to look. I also spend time researching plants requirements and how tall it will grow. Our herb garden is quite structured. There are 8 squares, each lined with locally sourced light grey granite cobblestones that are quite common to the region. One can walk around each square, therefore, we have arranged  the plantings so that the tallest plant or centerpiece (bird bath, orb, statue,…) is in the center.

    Cape Cod Herb Garden plan
    Cape Cod Herb Garden plan
  4. Cape Cop B&B Garden purple flowers
    Purple blooms in the herb garden.

    I refer back to our list of requirements (No. 1) to make sure that we have the plants we will need: This year we will have plenty of mint, chives, rosemary, oregano, golden sage and parsley for our breakfasts. We will also have hops and heather to add visual interest.  Those herbs combined with the shiso, lemon balm and Egyptian onion should make for a beautiful garden of purples and green.

  5. The last step: We make sure the soil is ready. We start by mixing our organic compost into the soil. When we plant the seedlings we add organic (time released) fertilizer to each bed or container. We also add moisture absorbing pellets to the soil. We make sure that each container has a drain hole then we place packing peanuts in the bottom. Next, a layer of porous fabric, then the potting soil and the herbs. I make sure that the soil level is about 1/2 an inch from the rim of the pot so that when it is watered, the water does not run off. I like using containers because they are easy to move. I always place the “show-offs” at the entrance of the garden.


Chives in our Cape Cod Herb Garden


Then sit back and watch the show all summer.


Cape Cod's Stowe Room, A
Harriet Beecher Stowe room
Cape Cod's Roosevelt Room, B
Cape Cod’s Roosevelt Room, B

While all of our rooms have their own individual charm suitable for relaxation after the most wonderful day of adventures or sitting in the garden, we recommend the Harriet Beecher Stowe room, the Theodore Roosevelt room or the Emily Dickinson room. These rooms feature comfortable king beds, fireplaces, jacuzzi-style tubs and a relaxing stay before and after your day.


The Pepper Bush on Cape Cod

Cape Cod Pepper Bush
Cape Cod Pepper Bush
Pepper bush in our Cape Cod garden.

The pepper bush is native to coastal New England. The Palmer House has several of these bushes beside the entrance door. They are a pretty bush with oval green leaves and a cluster of white conically shaped blossoms. The flowers bloom in August and one of its most attractive features is its sweet delicate fragrance.

The New England pepper bush is not related to the bush of the same name that is found in the south sea islands and produces the the well known spice.  The story has been told that even before the sailors, on whaling ships had made landfall, they could smell the scent of this fragrant bush. What a welcome sign it must have been after years at sea away from home.

My Morning Commute to the Inn

Cape Cop B&B Garden with purple flowers (detail)

A short walk to the Inn

Cape Cop B&B Garden with purple flowers (detail)
Purple flower detail.

Each morning during the summer season I leave the “little house”, between 6:00 and 6:30, I walk down the wooden walkway that leads to the car park and on to the inn’s main house to begin my day of inn keeping. The “little house” is a cottage at the far end of the Palmer House property, it is also known as the owner’s quarters. During this three minute walk, my head is full of the tasks that are planned for the breakfast and the busy day ahead.

Cape Cop B&B herb garden
Herb garden, facing the innkeepers quarters.

This morning I just happened to glance to my right and there was our herb garden glowing with the first long rays of the morning sun. It seemed to beckon me. The days plans that were racing through my head vanished as I strode across the the slightly damp lawn and swished through the dew covered hosta leaves. The garden seemed to be enchanted. I took my trusty little camera from my pocket and attempted to capture that fleeting moment. The birds were singing and there was a gentle breeze rustling the leaves, otherwise this part of the world was peaceful silent and oh so beautiful.

Cape Cop B&B herb garden
Herb garden facing the main inn building.

When we bought the Palmer House Inn eight years ago I can remember walking the grounds with my sister. The gardens had been neglected for several  years. It seemed that everything was over grown. However, we could see the potential. After all we are our mother’s daughters. We talked and planned. Little did we know how long it would take to realize those plans. This morning I felt such satisfaction just standing among all of those thriving plants. The hops are growing on their iron frames surrounded by fragrant rosemary and lavender. The shiso, a Japanese herb also known as ” the beef steak ” plant, is blooming beautifully this year. Last year it was looking a little sad but in the spring I added new top soil and some plant food to their bed. It seems to have enjoyed the attention. The shiso surrounds an antique black iron bird bath.

Cape Cod B&B Humble Innkeeper's Garden
Humble Innkeeper’s Garden, the herb garden.

The chives are thriving as is the parsley, oregano, sage, thyme and lemon balm. There is one plant that is a bit unique. It is an Egyptian onion that my sister brought to us two years ago. It did not bloom the first year but it has really hit its stride this season. I like it especially because I can take clippings from it 12 months a year to use as garnish on the breakfast plates.  That little dash of green adds a nice contrasting color on the breakfast plates.

Each of the rooms in the Palmer House has a name so we decided to name the gardens also. The herb garden is called ” The Humble Innkeepers Garden”. Several years ago I had the opportunity of a lifetime.

Cape Cop B&B Garden purple flowers
Purple blooms in the herb garden.

One of our daughters and her husband were going to China. He was studying at the London Business School and was going to China as part of his course work. She asked me to go along so that we could tour while he worked. One of the cities that we visited was Suzhou. It is known for its miniature gardens. My favorite garden was the “Humble Administrator’s Garden”. Upon my return to Cape Cod, I renamed my garden.

After taking a few photos, I turned, walked down the path that leads to the Thornton W. Burgess Garden, through the Guest House Garden across the drive and into the kitchen of the big house to begin the day.

As you can tell, I like my daily commute.