Cape Cod Landscaping Ideas

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Cape Cod style homes are a classic Northeast design dating back to colonial days. With a steep, pitched roof, symmetrical windows flanking a centered front door, little ornamentation and either no front porch or a small one, Cape Cod homes were designed to stand up to the severe weather conditions of the New England winter. The typical Cape Cod home has a weathered shingled roof, shutters over the windows, and is painted white or a subtle gray or tan. Setting off the austerity of the architecture is a brightly painted front door, often with the window shutters painted to match.

The Cape Cod style is calm, with a somewhat shabby, yet never tacky, flair. Relaxed and easy, there is still a feeling of sophistication and culture. Touches of ocean influence are everywhere, with beach colors of blue, green and sandy tan and white predominant. If you are lucky enough to live in a Cape Cod style home, you can continue that carefree, casual yet styled look throughout your landscaping and garden. Colonial and cottage homes also look great with the same landscape style. Bring the casual, cheerful feel of the coast to your garden with the following Cape Cod landscaping ideas.

Cape Cod Driveways, Walkways & Patios

Dark asphalt or concrete are out of character for the coastal style. Your walkways, driveways and patio surfaces will look best with brick, flagstone, crushed stone, crushed shell or cobblestone. Natural materials complement the coastal feeling of the Cape Cod style. Straight lines are formal and reflect the symmetry of a Cape Cod home, but a gently curving walkway can add interest while softening the look.

Use stone or brick to create any low retaining walls needed to hold back a slope or hill. A white picket fence is a classic Cape Cod design, and looks charming bordering your front or side yard. Even if your picket fence is purely decorative, it will set off your home beautifully, and serve as a trellis for vines and roses. A fence with a wave-shaped silhouette, rather than a single-height fence, will break up the hard lines of a typical Cape Cod house and bring to mind the waves of the ocean. To reduce maintenance, use vinyl for your fence. It’s more durable than wood and doesn’t need annual repainting or sealing.

cape cod landscaping ideas cape cod landscaping ideas

If your backyard is big enough, consider a white gazebo, arbor or pergola. Even a small garden structure provides a focal point, breaks up monotony and serves as a wonderful place to sit and admire your yard. If you have a small yard, consider a pillar, small arch, or trellis attached to the wall.

Choosing Your Cape Cod Trees and Shrubs

Most Cape Cod houses are small, and easily overwhelmed by large trees planted too close to the house. Plant trees along the outer edges of the property, or centered in the lawn where they are close enough to the house for shade or a windbreak, but not so close they will overwhelm the architecture or drop branches onto the roof.

Some trees that do well in the Northeast and are typical to the Cape Cod style include:

  • Red maple
  • Dogwood
  • Linden
  • English oak
  • White Birch
  • Balsam fir

Cape Cod houses do not have a high foundation that requires concealing with shrubbery, as many other styles of architecture have. Don’t overwhelm your cottage-size home with large shrubs out of scale with the property. Hydrangea is a Cape Cod favorite, staying a manageable size and covered with beautiful flowers through much of the year. Dwarf viburnum and junipers are also good choices.

Some other good shrubs for foundation planting are:

  • Inkberry
  • Spirea
  • Dwarf fothergilla
  • Rhodendron
  • Dwarf blue spruce
  • Boxwood

Once your trees and foundation shrubs are in place, it’s time to add color and interest with perennial and annual flowers.

Roses are a mainstay of the Cape Cod and cottage home, and are particularly beautiful as climbing roses along your white picket fence, or spilling over a low retaining wall. Use roses to create the backbone of your perennial garden, then fill in with beauties such as:

  • Foxglove
  • Phlox
  • Delphinium
  • Yarrow
  • Monkshood
  • Columbine
  • Astilbe

Colorful annual flowers add the final punch of color, and can be changed twice per year to provide color spring through late fall. Liven up your Cape Cod home with window boxes affixed under the front windows and spilling over with flowering beauties such as geranium, petunias, impatiens, dianthus or pansies. Paint a wooden window box to match your house’s trim, or purchase plastic pots that match.

Cape Cod Garden Accessories

Once your hardscape and landscape are in place, it’s time to add garden decorations and furnishings. A birdbath is always a cute touch, and adds the fun of bird watching to your garden enjoyment. A rustic wooden table and a few Adirondack chairs make it easy to enjoy a meal in the garden or just enjoy the outdoors. Add a portable fire pit to warm up chilly nights and provide a spot to roast marshmallows. To celebrate the coastal origins of the Cape Cod style, consider a small garden statue in the shape of a lighthouse, dolphin, anchor or boat.

Remember not to go overboard when landscaping your Cape Cod home. Keep the easy, relaxed feeling alive with a well-maintained but simple selection of trees, shrubs and flowers that are in scale with a small home and low-maintenance in your area. Add a few touches reminiscent of the coast, and you’ll feel like you are looking over the craggy coastline of New England, even if you live far away from the ocean.

Last Updated: April 26, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening and home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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