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Daisy Helman's Hidden Garden Might Just Be One of The Prettiest We've Seen

This walled oasis enchants everyone who passes through its gates.

“There is magic in there—good magic, you know, Mary. I’m sure there is,” says Colin, a sickly boy who comes alive watching flowers bloom in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s novel "The Secret Garden." When you walk down the path from Daisy Helman’s Martha’s Vineyard beach house and push open the giant doors to her walled garden, you understand just what he means. Flanked by tall, dense hornbeam hedges, they reveal a hidden world vibrating with life. Winding vines of clematis snake up stone walls; the sweet, clove-y scent of lilies floats in the air; and bees zigzag from sweet peas to lavender to phlox, feasting on nectar. Good magic, indeed.

Helman, the founder and CEO of the online magazine Garden Collage, designed the space 17 years ago with landscape architect Diane McGuire as a way to share her love of nature with her then-young children, who adored the classic story. Since day one, it’s been both a family retreat and a personal sanctuary. In summer, it’s the first place Helman goes when she wakes up, still in her bathrobe, coffee in hand. From that moment on, she says, “I’m watering, snipping, and snapping a little of this, a little of that.”

To keep it humming when she’s not there, Helman has enlisted landscape designer Melissa Thomas of the local firm Seascape Designs, who recently added a vivid colorwheel cutting garden in the front yard. “It’s a collaboration,” says Helman of her landscape. “There’s a little bit of everyone in it.” That includes the wildlife, which encourages growth by pollinating flowers and seeding new plants such as Queen Anne’s lace and Verbena bonariensis, which pop up in surprising spots every year. “Each garden is unique and personal,” she says. “Ours isn’t perfect, but in our eyes, it’s exactly what it should be.”

[On-page image caption for hero: The Big Reveal- A wooded path lined with native huckleberry leads the way. The cedar doors have large, branchlike metal handles, designed by local craftsperson Whit Hanschka.]

Passion Project

Helman founded her online magazine, Garden Collage, in 2014 to inspire others to start planting. “It’s easy and fun, and there are so many good things that come out of it,” she says. Here, a fragrant, ever-blooming pink rose climbs up an archway over beds of lavender and Verbena bonariensis.

Natural Wonders

  • sarah helman portrait white flowers

    Helman sits in a nook that is planted solely with white flowers.

  • stone retaining wall

    A gently tiered retaining wall on Helman’s lawn was crafted by Tea Lane Nursery.

  • queen ann's lace

    Ethereal Queen Anne’s lace seeds itself.

  • clematis rooguchi

    Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ can grow five to eight feet in one season.

  • stewartia tree white

    A Stewartia tree flowers in summer.

  • pool house

    Smooth stones around Helman’s pool house absorb drainage from the roof.

  • sarah helman portrait white flowers

    Helman sits in a nook that is planted solely with white flowers.

  • clematis rooguchi

    Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ can grow five to eight feet in one season.

  • stone retaining wall

    A gently tiered retaining wall on Helman’s lawn was crafted by Tea Lane Nursery.

  • stewartia tree white

    A Stewartia tree flowers in summer.

  • queen ann's lace

    Ethereal Queen Anne’s lace seeds itself.

  • pool house

    Smooth stones around Helman’s pool house absorb drainage from the roof.

On the Up and Up

Archways with climbing roses and clematis connect two beds and romantically frame a pathway.

Strong rebar posts hold the heavy limbs of espaliered apple trees (meaning they’re trained to grow twodimensionally, as if up against a wall)—“I love the way it looks. If I could, I’d espalier everything!” laughs Helman.

Wood tuteurs, or trellis structures, made from young cedar trees that were limbed and stripped, support sweet peas and edible scarlet runner and pole beans.

A Full Spectrum

Last year, Helman and Thomas planted a color wheel solely for cutting and arranging. “I rarely cut flowers in the walled garden; for some reason, it makes me feel bad,” Helman says.

  • advance red gladiola

    'Advance Red' Gladiola

  • yellow cosmos flowers

    'Sunset Yellow' Cosmos

  • meadow rue flowers

    Meadow Rue

  • calendula flowers

    Calendula

  • blue fortune agastache flowers

    'Blue Fortune' Agastache

  • pandora poppy flowers

    'Pandora' Poppy

  • advance red gladiola

    'Advance Red' Gladiola

  • calendula flowers

    Calendula

  • yellow cosmos flowers

    'Sunset Yellow' Cosmos

  • blue fortune agastache flowers

    'Blue Fortune' Agastache

  • meadow rue flowers

    Meadow Rue

  • pandora poppy flowers

    'Pandora' Poppy

The Golden Hour

Helman entertains friends under an arbor made from wood sourced on her property, but admits that when she’s alone, she rarely relaxes there. “It’s a never-ending project, like the Everlasting Gobstopper,” she laughs. However, she’s evolving: “After you clean up and put away the tools, the garden is quiet, and the light is gorgeous. I’m starting to sit more and take it in.”

Rock Climbers

Pink ‘Etoile Rose’ clematis winds along wires (attached with hooks and eyes) on a dry-stacked stone wall.

Well Contained

“I love the order of French gardens, but I want the freedom to add whatever I want,” says Helman. “Edging the beds with boxwoods keeps them controlled and allows for a little chaos with my plantings.”