Daniel Webster Inn,
Sandwich, Cape Cod
Enchanted Faerie Castles
Scotts Lawn Service
For many, work is just a job and they leave it behind at the end of
each day. Others are fortunate to work in their area of passion. In
this show we meet such a person. Don Milbier realized 20 years ago that
it was time to put his passion to work as a landscape designer. Now Don
brings his work home everyday. His amazing talent and passion for
gardening come together beautifully in his own backyard workshop. And
this setting is made even more special because of its beautiful setting
in Cape Cod. Don's work inspires and energizes us to try to duplicate
this in our own backyard. Magazines, pictures and books are great but a
one on one conversation with this landscape designer is hard to beat.
Jill Morgan Mason is what you would call a Harwich townie. Her
grandfather didn't grow up here but she was born in Harwich on Cape
Cod. And, this is a beautiful place. It has 3 harbors, which is unusual
for the area. The town is now a little bigger than when Jill was
growing up and things now don't end on Labor Day like they used to. It
is a tourist destination and if you haven't seen it, you should.
They're in close proximity to the backside of the Cape, where the
mighty Atlantic Ocean is rolling in. Nantucket Sound is very sheltered,
a quiet kind of environment with warm waters and shallow beaches. Dogs,
kids and families all enjoy swimming in these waters. Most of the time
winters on the Cape are not as severe as the rest of New England,
although they do get their share of snowstorms and they sometimes get
significant ice flows on Nantucket Sound. But generally, the weather is
pretty nice. It's a little colder than the Carolinas but doable. There
is an influx of a new, year-round population and these people are
bringing in new ideas. For example, the Cape Cod lawn has gone by the
wayside and people are introducing new kinds of landscaping ideas. Jill
likes these new landscape looks, they give her new ideas. Specifically,
the house and yard we'll see today is extraordinary.
Don Milbier is a landscape designer. We meet him on the street next to
his front yard fence. Joe feels that if this is any indication of
what's behind the fence we're in for a real treat. Don tells us a
little about his background. About 25 years ago he decided he needed a
career change. He had always had a passion for landscaping and the
outdoors. So, he was at the right place at the right time and had the
opportunity to meet Frank Patrissi who owned a landscaping business.
Don eventually purchased this landscaping business and has been
following that dream for 25 years. Don had some skills in place at that
time. He had a solid educational background but the industry offers
certifications and licensing which he has diligently pursued over the
A lot of his landscape look has been created through experiences and
through working with clients. He tries to get to know the client, their
space, their needs and how they live. Some people have children and
they want play areas; others want small intimate areas; others,
entertaining areas, music, water features, etc. So, Don tries to plan
and incorporate those things into appropriate spaces.
Joe and Don walk into Don's backyard. Joe is speechless. It's
beautiful. When Don started this was a vacant lot and was a flat, open
area filled with poison ivy and brambles. They decided to create a
space that is special and unique. And it is. This was originally one
level. The first area we visit was dug out, they literally used buckets
and dug the area out by hand and created a huge sunken area. Don has
utilized materials that were readily available as well as things he's
collected. For example, there is a fountain he found at an antique
store and the fencing was from a house in Hartford, Connecticut that
had been demolished. The fence is now used as a wall topping. It then,
inspired the walkway. When looking from above down into the grand view,
Don imagined a serene space. He envisioned sculptures, interesting
plants, viewing areas. He wanted to create a sense of space, something
that would be inspirational, but not necessarily religious. And he did
just that. He has created wonderful views all the way down. And there
are many different spaces around the top that provide views down below.
Joe is anxious to see the views from down below, looking up. They take
the path down. Don has created a sunken garden with a reflecting pond.
The reflecting pond was created by a sculptor from the Cape, Steve
Lynch. They've created a pond in which the water level comes right up
to the edge of the perimeter walkway. The water seeps through the seams
and that is done purposely. The pond has fish and it's surrounded by
sculptures. He particularly likes the otter, the hare and turtle by
Roger DiTarando from Vernon, Connecticut. Don points out another water
feature made from blue stone and copper. This area is a actually a
sitting area, which allows it to be more fully enjoyed. The staircase
was built and created by his son, Kyle, who also does stonework. Kyle
now runs the construction end of the business, the field operation,
while Don now handles the design aspects.
Joe notices a Forest Pansy Redbud tree. It's an ornamental tree and has
a maroon leaf. The maroon leaf is very refreshing and stands out
because everything else is green.
Looking up, the wall seems to go on forever. This wall evolved as they
were building it and became a climbing wall. They are, literally, able
to climb the wall, because of the spacing of the ledges. Joe doesn't
want to climb it, rather walk around and visit other gardens.
We next visit a bird sanctuary, a place of serenity, a place that
allows Don and his guests to enjoy not only the birds but additionally
the plant material. He tries to keep in mind water, food and protection
when creating a space like this. There are birdbaths. All are fed from
the water spigot, so the water doesn't become stagnant. The bird
feeders all prevent squirrels from invading and the abundant plant
material provides protection and a place for the birds to hide. The
birds not only have protection overhead but the surrounding plant
material offers protection and additionally is a source of food for the
birds throughout the year. Don has incorporated plants like viburnums,
hollys and winterberries and Cardinalflower (Lobelia cardinalis) which
is great for hummingbirds.
Next to this area is a blueberry and blackberry area. It is caged and
the birds love to eat any of the blackberries that make their way
outside the cage. This area, too, has sitting areas that allow one to
sit and enjoy the birds and plant material. Joe agrees this is a
peaceful area. He could sit here all day. Don has created spaces to do
just that. In this area there are benches, chairs, there are areas that
one can come and have a cup of coffee, read the paper, listen to the
birds, take in the whole feeling.
Joe notices there are a lot of birdfeeders but additionally there are a
lot of birdhouses throughout the property. Don has 60 birdhouses of
different sizes and shapes placed throughout the property. Some are
architecturally featured, some are just tucked away. Different
birdhouses attract different types of birds. Some of the birdhouses are
just for looks, others used as architectural elements.
We next visit Don's vegetable garden. Joe thinks this is the most
attractive vegetable garden he's ever seen. He has always believed that
vegetable gardens must look industrial. They're never pretty. This is
great looking. Don has tried to make it interesting because vegetable
gardens do oftentimes look basic and functional. They get ratty
looking. He has done that by utilizing vertical pieces. He has created
arbors and created an area for espaliered apple trees. The vertical
pieces give an additional depth to the landscape and garden.
Additionally it provides an area to grow plants on vertical pieces and
provides more space in the garden. It has been designed with bark-on
Don also grows vines on vertical pieces. He has a trumpet vine (Campsis
radicans), the Dutchman's pipe (Aristolochia durior) and the five leaf
akebia vine (Akebia quinata). The akebia vine is an aggressive vine.
Don has stripped the leaves off the lower 6 or 8 feet and created a
braided look. It's an impressive architectural feature.
The vegetable garden is next to to the work shed and potting area.
These work areas are important for a garden and gardener. Whether it's
a compost pile or a storage area for ones tools, this is where one
keeps supplies and does much of the garden work. It has a sink and all
the other elements normally used in a garden. Joe believes that Don has
a knack for making things look good. This work area and compost pile is
one of the most attractive he's seen. It's important for Don that as
you pass through you feel comfortable, not be confronted with anything
negative about the area.
Don also has beehives that help cross-pollinate. This is important for
any vegetable garden or flower garden. The bees help contribute to the
success of the fruit and flowers.
Joe notices that we've walked from garden room to garden room and so
far he's had a sense of enclosure. How big is this property? Don tells
Joe it is less than an acre - .93 acres. Joe now feels like he has
entered into a huge open space. The spot we enter is a large, grassy
area yet is less than a quarter of an acre. Don has purposely created
this space and it does provide a feeling of an open area and is used
for a wide variety of reasons. For example, it has been used for a
wedding for his niece, they've had 190 people for a fundraiser for the
Family Pantry in Harwich, it has been used as a volleyball court, for
croquet, Frisbee, for slip and slides or whiffle ball. But it can also
be used for relaxation. They have hammocks, Adirondack chairs, an
adjacent hammock area and a fountain that has an enjoyable sound.
Interestingly, by changing the level of the water the tone changes.
Here there are beautiful colors and textures. The wind goes through and
the rustling of the leaves is enjoyable. In the hammock area, because
they don't have 2 natural trees close together, they took 2 bark-on
cedar posts and created a structure to support the hammock. There are 3
entrances to the area, 1 off the driveway, which has an arbor that is
brownstone and steel, 1 entrance is from the vegetable garden, which
has a cedar arbor with vines on it and areas for birds and the 3rd is
actually a reproduction of an arbor from Elizabeth Park in Hartford
Connecticut that is a steel and cedar post arbor. It is filled with
Kiwi vines and the Kiwi's are edible. The leaves are variegated so it
gives a whole different feeling and look. As big as this area is, it's
still enclosed. Don has taken plant material and built walls around
creating the enclosed space, yet it's open enough to attract a large
crowd. Joe likes the fact that Don has created a beautiful garden, yet
one that's very functional, one can relax in it or play in it or
entertain in it. It has it all.
Don feels when designing it's important to find things you love, then
incorporate them into the landscaping. For example, when shopping or
salvaging, if you find a grate or an old space heater floor grate, use
it as a coffee table, then for legs use old cast iron downspouts. Use
pig troughs or old urns as planters. One doesn't need to spend a lot of
money to do this. Find things that are classically beautiful, accent
the positive. For example, the patina on old items can't be reproduced;
these type things are what make a landscape rich looking.
Don next shows us his horseshoe pit. It is in a much smaller space.
Don, once again, has a sitting area and sculptures that are
interesting. Part of the area is for horseshoes but people may be
congregating, observing and waiting for the next game. Here they can
sit on lounge chairs, benches, stone benches or wooden benches. Thus
6-12 people can wait, which is oftentimes the making of a party,
certainly a relaxed atmosphere.
Don now shows Joe a trail. Don describes it as a passageway from 1 room
to the next. He has tried to create curved areas because curves create
intrigue. When one can't see what's ahead but see more and more as you
go further down the walk, it creates excitement and interest. That's
important to Don; don't tell the story all at once. Don also addresses
elevation change. It's not just mounds, it's really changing heights of
an area. Here one goes from a lower patio to an upper patio; one goes
from a a sunken garden to a play area. All are on different elevations.
Remember, this lot was originally flat. Joe agrees it does make the
area feel much bigger, one feels that there are different rooms with
different pathways as well the tree material on the sides creates a
sense of enclosure. Don feels sculpture and creative plant material is
important. Whether it's a cutleaf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum
'Dissectum'), the fernleaf new moon maple (Acer japonicum
'Aconitifolium'), a seven sons tree (Heptacodium miconiodes) with its
color, bark, texture or flowers, it's all important.
Another important element in landscape design is maintenance. Bartlett
Tree has been helpful in this regard. They come out and root fertilize
the trees. Don utilizes an IPM (Integrated Pest Management) program to
make sure all the plants, which are a big investment, are protected.
Don has used an extensive lighting program in his yard; up-lights, down
lights, flush lights. It's not just for safety, he has created an
atmosphere, whether romantic or just ambience, good lighting does that.
Another aspect of landscape design is framing pathways. This can be
done a number of ways. Steel arbors, wood arbors and trellises or any
combination of those, all add interest. Plant material is another way
to frame a view. Plants provide a charming and interesting viewpoint
and they're economical. The framed pathway emphasizes the view. It
draws attention to the space you're going into. So, if going from a
driveway out to the play area, it's a transition area and the view
draws you into the space. Don shows Joe a dramatic view draws you out
to the water. Plant material and an arbor are utilized to emphasize
this water view. And it is a fantastic view.
Don and Joe are walking in an area just off the house. They do a lot of
entertaining here. Here Don has used evergreen screening and it's a
raised area. This walkway and surrounding plants were designed to
provide a sense of intimacy and some relief from the fact that the
property line is anywhere from 3 to 16 feet away. By staggering the
plants, rather than putting them in a straight row and by mixing the
varieties, which provides interesting texture and flowering at
different times, it creates interest and a sense of enclosure. The most
important design technique in this area has been to change the
elevation. The space behind the patio wall was created, it wasn't that
way previously. When you raise the level 3 to 5 feet, instead of
purchasing 8 to 10 foot plant material specimens you can then purchase
4 to 6 foot specimens. With the raised area you're achieving the same
thing. But, you get more plant for the money.
Joe feels every garden room has been beautifully designed which stands
to reason because Don is a very skilled landscape designer. But, if a
homeowner wanted to save money, should they invest in a landscape
designer? Don feels that all depends on the scale of the project. A
landscape designer offers an incredible choice of textures, materials,
selections and varieties that the average homeowner may not know
exists. For example, drainage may not considered; the pitch of things
is ignored. When that occurs, long term problems may surface. Don feels
the most important thing a landscape designer has to offer is insight
into new ideas or trends. But first, the landscape designer needs an
understanding of the lifestyle of the particular client. What do they
have in their life - children, do they like music, are they big
entertainers, etc. A good designer should try to get to know as much as
possible about the client, so they can design for them and make sure
that designed space is something they can use and enjoy for a long
time. A landscape designer should provide more options, provide a wider
perspective. And that's important.
Joe thanks Don. Joe has learned a lot and gained a great perspective
walking through his garden. Joe now has a lot of ideas to take home.
This is a beautiful place.
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