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.


Welcome Spring!

Spring daffodils

It has been a long, cold, snowy winter but spring is here. Last weekend we turned the clocks ahead and now we have sunlight later in the afternoon. The green flower shoots are beginning to poke their leaves through the soil and the buds on the flowering trees are growing larger. If we do have snow, it will not last very long.

Spring daffodils
Spring daffodils

Soon the days will be warmer and we will be able to get out into the gardens to begin the spring clean-up. We had a pleasant autumn season and were able to accomplish a great deal of clean-up at that time, however, it is amazing how much there is still to do. During the winter we have a heated bird bath that is located just outside the dining room windows. There is quite a variety of birds and squirrels that visit during the day. Our guests enjoy watching their activities and antics while enjoying breakfast. Soon the heating pad will be put into storage and we will be able to start floating flowers in the bath. I do not know if the birds appreciate the flowers but I do know that they like the fresh cool water each morning.

The Antique Flatiron Collection

Flat Iron

I grew up in Rocks Village, Massachusetts in the Deacon Phineas Nichols House. The house was built in 1740 and is a classic example of pre-revolutionary architecture. It has a central chimney with five fire places. The flooring is pumpkin pine and some of the boards are 24″ wide.  Before my parents purchased it, the house had served a store and school-house as well as a family home. When we lived there, all of the houses in the village dated from before the American revolution. The village had a small general store, a Firehouse that housed an ancient firetruck, a two room schoolhouse, a granite horse watering trough and the classic white Congregational Church. The village had sprung up around the Rocks Village Bridge that crosses the Merrimac River to West Newbury. The bridge had originally been a wooden covered bridge, however, in the 1930 the wooden structure was replaced with a steel one that opened to allow taller boats to continue up stream. My parents enjoyed antiques and after purchasing the house in 1945 they set out to furnish it with appropriate items. Many of our weekends were spent visiting antique shops, auctions and yard sales.

Crimp Iron
Antique flatiron – crimping iron
Flat Iron with Gauge
Flatiron with Gauge

Dad worked for the New England Electric Company. He started as an electric meter reader right after he graduated from high school and worked his way up to sales manager in Essex County. In those days, the electric company was encouraging people to use electricity. They had stores in most mid-sized cities. The stores sold and serviced electric appliances. One of the promotions that was quite successful was that customers could trade in a used flatiron for a new and improved model. The company had expected the flatirons to be the used electric versions. However, it was not uncommon for an elderly lady to walk into the store with one of the pre-electricity versions.  The salesmen would bring the antique flatiron to Dad’s office. He would go out onto the sales floor, give the customer the new iron of her choice. Then he would write up a sales slip and pay for the iron himself. That evening he would arrive home with his prize and we would all admire his acquisition and decide where it would serve as a doorstop. That was how the collection started.

Flat Iron
Flatiron with a heated brick inside and a cool wooden handle.

As a small child I can remember walking with my mother to Chip Germane’s house. Chip owned the fulling station on the Amesbury Line Road on the way into the city.  His brother also lived in the village and worked as the bridge tender and the janitor at the school. Chip’s housekeeper was an older woman named Dusty. My little sister would sleep in her carriage while Mom and Dusty would enjoy a cup of tea and chat. One sunny day as we arrived at Dusty’s kitchen door, we saw her ironing. She had the ironing board set-up in front of the black iron stove that she had stoked with firewood. There was an iron on the top of the stove and she was ironing a shirt with the another. When one iron would cool, she would switch it back to the stove top and pick up the other, wet her finger and rapidly touch it to the iron to see if it was hot enough. If she wanted to put the iron down in order to adjust the position of the shirt, she would place it on its holder that was on the end of the board. The handle of the iron would be quite hot, so she used a dish towel that had been folded several times to protect her hand. She also had a bowl of water on a table close by. Every once in a while she would lift up the iron, dip the fingers of her left hand into the bowl and snap the water on the shirt, then proceed to iron.  I sometimes think about how skilled she must have been to know just how hot the iron should be so that it did not singe the cloth. I guess that is one of those lost arts.

The iron collection has served us well at the Palmer House, decorating the fireplace and doorways. They are now being packed up and sent off to California to serve as doorstops in our daughter’s homes.

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, 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.