IT TAKES A brave gardener to show off a winter garden. And it takes a seasoned gardener to understand the subtle beauty that can be found during the slowest growing season. Enter the Capers: Lucinda and Jerome, who have lived on their expansive property for 15 years and continue to cultivate growing spaces.
You press the doorbell and hear the cheery tune of Frère Jacques at their Fox Island home. A lot is cheery here; Lucinda and Jerome pepper their speech with humor, and their vigor for creating and tackling garden projects is enviable.
The property can be broken into sections: a small front yard; a long, rectangular side yard (anchored by a dried riverbed for drainage); and a sweeping backyard. There are far too many plants to track. A gardener friend calls their yard a “conifer kingdom.”
Just off the front door is a narrow, manicured space with a small lawn and garden beds. Up here, the couple has left an old apple tree and a maple in place, but otherwise filled the space with plants that hold yearlong interest. Framing a side entrance to the kitchen stands a tall, winter-blooming camellia. Adjacent is a bed with hellebores, fuchsia and short evergreens, like a variegated ‘Sparkling Arrow’ cedar.
Against the front fence, a couple of Lucinda’s favorite winter plantings are a Thuja Occidentalis ‘Rheingold’ cedar and a New Zealand flax, which goes pink-hued in winter.
“They’re just rosy now — it’s their winter color,” says Lucinda. Nearby, the couple has planted three star magnolias and a Japanese Stewartia tree, which drops its leaves in winter and leaves behind elegant branches that act as sculpture.
Whereas many gardeners rely on boxwood hedges for their shape, she has planted a border of ‘Little Gem’ Norway spruces for their clumping nature and flat, singular, emerald green tone. Behind these stand tall, gold thread cypress. “When we got here, in the winter, there was no structure,” says Lucinda.
Because they are planting mostly evergreens in the front yard, it’s easy to notice they are playing with color — dozens of shades of green. “I read something once that said our eyes pick up more shades of green than anything else,” says Lucinda.
Standing at the edge of the driveway and peering into the side of the property, the sheer amount of planted space is overwhelming — they have filled an acre of land by hand. When they first moved in, this area was a large arena with stalls for horses. Outside of the tall Douglas fir trees, they’ve cultivated every inch.
Lucinda is intentionally creating symmetry and variances in the garden. It looks as if it has been meticulously planned out, but when pressed on how the property came together, she responds, “I just like to do it.” She chooses plants from nurseries, seemingly at random. Back at home, “I walk around and kind of let it talk to me,” she says. She couples this intuition with the plants’ needs — water and sun — and simply tries to accommodate them. She talks to her plants.
Pathways weave and bend through and across the side yard, as if through an arboretum. There are hydrangea aspera, a unique plant with peeling bark and giant leaves that turn red; hellebores; trilliums; pachysandra; pieris; flax; deciduous ferns; and a dainty, winter-blooming white forsythia.
Among the bushes and ground cover, the Capers have planted scores of trees: some common, some unique. There are several Japanese cedars — two ‘Black Dragons’, a ‘Tansu’, an ‘Elegans’ and a tall ‘Rasen-sugi’ that looks like a pole — and other, more typical landscape trees: a Japanese snowbell, magnolias, katsura and maples.
“This is one of my favorite trees in the world,” says Lucinda of a nearby ‘Pembury blue’ cypress, an evergreen conifer that is silver-blue and looks snow-kissed. “I love it because of the texture, the color and the shape. It feels pretty when you touch it. All year-round, it’s really nice.”
These plantings parallel a dry river bed the couple built to help with drainage. There is a small bridge that crosses over to the barn.
“We use it for storage and mice,” says Jerome. His favorite plant overlooks this shallow valley — a giant sequoia. “I planted it right there on purpose because it’s down in the valley, and I can always see it,” he says.
The backyard is anchored by a massive lawn surrounded by winding paths, arbors, garden art and resting places where they spend time to take it all in. Hops climb over an arbor; there’s a trio of purple-leaf weeping beech trees nearby; a green weeping maple has dropped its leaves; a tall, thin-needled Pinus densiflora ‘Umbraculifera’ gives texture; and a windmill palm looms above it all.
Up against the patio stairs, they’ve built a raised bed and planted a collection of dwarf conifers flanked by rows of bright purple crocus. From this vantage point, you can survey the back of the property.
“This is the epitome of the winter garden — with a pin oak in the background and then the weeping bear, a cherry and the budding out of the magnolia,” says Lucinda, pointing. “That’s what I like about winter gardens — the layering and the different shapes I can see now. It’s sparse and bare, but I even like the lichen that has gotten into this Coral Bark maple.”
“I think it looks good in the winter,” Jerome agrees. “But even better in the summer.”