N early two decades ago at her property on Martha’s Vineyard, Daisy Helman started carefully planting flowers and foliage plucked from the pages of one of her children’s favorite books. This walled oasis flourishes today, brimming with life and color and enchanting 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 color-wheel 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.”