|The original has several photos, but the
pictures from scanned photocopies are too poor to include. Their
captions follow the main story.
America's best-known author of Cape Cod tales, seafaring yarns, homespun verse, and romantic novels sits in his garden and as he writes, looks out on the sea he loves so well.
Joseph C. Lincoln at Homeby Wm. Cary Duncan
Better Homes and Gardens September 1940
Ask any inhabitant of that slender strip of Massachusetts sand-dunes, cranberries, clam chowder, and home-grown hospitality known the world over as "The Cape," and you will learn that Joseph C. Lincoln is as much a part of its local color as the fishing smacks that line its moss-grown piers or the graceful gulls that wheel above them. No "native" worthy the name ever calls him "Joseph C"; he's always just plain "Joe."
If you know your Cape Codders born-and-bred and know the man they swear by, you understand why. When he writes:
"The dear old Cape, I love it! I love its
hills of sand.
The sea-wind singing o'er it, the seaweed
on its strand,"
everybody who is anybody from the Canal to Provincetown believes he means what he says and loves him for saying it.
When you meet him, you believe him, too. As he settles back in his big armchair on the lawn in his little gem of a garden, pulls reminiscently at his well-charred briar, turns on that whimsical smile of his, half closes his eyes in a nautical squint, and starts spinning yarns of the days when ships were ships and men were men, he's as "salty" as ocean spray.
He has a right to be. Bom and brought up in Brewster, only eight miles from "The Crosstrees," his present home in Chatham, on his father's side three generations of deep-sea captains sailed their square-riggers on the seven seas; and his mother's brother was an old sea-dog, too. As you look at him today, hale, hearty, and red-cheeked at a youthful seventy, with just a hint of hidden fire in his kindly eyes, you feel that, born in an earlier era, he in his turn could have been a deep-sea skipper and weathered a gale or "shivered his timbers" with the best of them.
That, you say to yourself, is what he might have been. What he is is as gracious and genial a gentleman as ever lifted a latch to pass the time of day with a neighbor or greet a welcome guest. He likes people and people like him — and "people" includes the humble dwellers in the fisherman's cottages on the wind-swept dunes, the cranberry pickers on the bogs, the windmill — and lighthouse — whittlers, whose quaint philosophy and clever jack-knives he made famous in "Shavings," and the bluff, weatherbeaten successors of "Cap'n Eri" and "Partners of the Sea [sic]." who long since quit reefing a topsl to sit in the sun, smoke their malodorous old pipes, and talk and dream of more adventurous and prosperous days.
So you believe him when he tells you, with a twinkle in his eye, that the towering green hedges that all but hide his attractive, hip-roofed house from the near-by street aren't there to keep people out but to keep himself in. Without them, he confesses, his lively interest in the friends and local "characters" that pass his door each day might prove a magnetic too powerful to resist, and lure him from his work — a consummation devoutly to be shunned, for the author of over forty novels, every one a best seller (the latest, "The Ownley Inn" which he wrote in collaboration with his son, Truman [sic], was published in 1939), not to mention no end of lilting, homespun verse, is no idler.
In this connection, his garden has been a godsend. He loves his flowers as he loves his human friends and understands them as he understands his fellow men. That's why, when planting or caring for his seedlings or walking or seated among his growing plants or fullblown blossoms, he's at his creative best. Alone with his thoughts, his imagination stimulated by the natural beauty about him, he not only revels in the colorful blooms, but looks on and beyond to see in his mind's eye the equally colorful characters that fill the pages of his books to become your friends and mine.
The spot he has chosen for this dual propagation of flowers and fancies is ideal for the purpose, Immediately behind the house — so close you can reach it from the sunroom by a single stone step — is a cleverly planned triptych, three gardens on three different levels, each complementing the other two to form a symmetrical whole. Each, too, is in reality a square or rectangular lawn with flowered borders, rather than the conventional formal type with beds and paths; and each has at its center a little pool of crystal-clear water that mirrors the blue sky and drifting clouds.
In this respect it differs from ordinary terracing and gives to all three units a common and interesting characteristic worth a line or two. Your run-of-the-mill landscaping for formal or near-formal plots calls, as already said, for comparatively narrow pathways between beds laid out in some simple or elaborate geometric design. Such arrangements necessarily suggest motion. You walk along the pathways, stop here and there to gather a bouquet or admire the growing flowers, and, when you have completed the circuit, find yourself at an exit that naturally leads you out and away.
This isn't true of the Lincoln layout. Its rectangular lawns with borders provide ample room for chairs, as well as a small table or taboret on which to put a tin of tobacco, a box of cigarettes, a book or two, or a cooling drink when the weather is warm. In a word, they're outdoor living-rooms rather than floral picture galleries.
Most men and women who write for a living dream, even more than the rest of us perhaps, of some hidden retreat where intruders cease from troubling and their brains are at their best. The garden at "The Crosstrees" makes that dream come true. The complete and blessed seclusion; the tonic tang of the salt air; the song of the surf on the beach, just far enough away to be sensed but not obtrusive; the perfume of the flowers; the buzzing of the bees; the soft green grass underfoot; the limitless expanse overhead - what a setting to bring clear, wholesome, worth-while thought, to be woven later into interesting and inspiring words! And for rest and relaxation after a busy day at a desk indoors, could anyone ask for surroundings more satisfying to body and soul alike? No wonder the wells of "Joe" Lincoln's wit and wisdom have never gone dry.
As with everything else in this world worth having, creation of this "sailors' snug harbor" presented plenty of problems and a deal of hard work to be done. The necessity for the three levels, for instance, is, of course, obvious. The land at the rear of the house originally fell away far too sharply for successful retention of suitable soil or proper cultivation of growing plants. Terraces with high retaining walls were the only sensible solution, but by no means a simple one.
Professional landscape gardeners were called in, but each in turn shook his head dubiously. The hillside was too steep, they said, and the available space at their disposal allowed too little width. Retaining walls, built to the required height, would be unsightly and the level lawns much too small to be in proportion.
Lincoln was disappointed but unconvinced. With characteristic optimism, he tackled the problem himself, and with the assistance of a crew of local workmen, solved it. Despite the actual disparity between the size of the lawns and their elevation above the ground below, you never sense it. At no point in any one of the three little gardens do you get that uncomfortable "up-in-the-air" feeling. A trim picket fence, spotlessly white and set well inside the retaining wall, prevents it. But if you were careless or absent-minded enough to walk into the center of the border, you couldn't look over the edge of the terrace. Your only view would be either a distant and delightful one — the bay [sic], dotted here and there with sails — or a comparative close-up of dark green hedges at your right.
Now for the flowers themselves. They're nearly all annuals; yet despite the fact that I saw them in mid-September, practically every square foot of every border was gay in blossoms. You'll find a similar and still more effective display in April and May, when the crocus, jonquil and hyacinth bulbs sent up their welcome to spring, on to June and July with their wealth of summer flowers, to be followed in August and September by the new arrivals that gave me such a pleasant surprise.
You'll realize all this means clever forethought, a thorough knowledge of varieties, repeated plantings during the season, wise use of plant foliage and intelligent and painstaking cultivation. This is especially true for the Cape, where the salt air and none-too-favorable soil conditions make these essentials doubly necessary.
With characteristic modesty, Mr. Lincoln disclaims the credit for this garden of his. He assures you, with much conviction as his conscience will allow, that Mrs. Lincoln is really responsible for it. This, of course, I am in no position to deny. Certainly the talented and exceptional attractive mistress of "The Crosstrees", must be, like her famous husband, a lover of flowers. No woman with her culture and character could fail to be sensitive to beauty in any form; and she would be infinitely less the congenial and sympathetic wife and mother she is if she didn't enter wholeheartedly in everything contributing to either the comfort or pleasure of her husband and son.
But when you see the Cape's most distinguished and best-loved resident walking in his garden leaning to look at a favorite blossom here or carefully removing a dead leave or stray weed there; when you see his eye light with enthusiasm at the discovery of some new-born member of his family of flowers, you take his protestations that he's merely the party of the second part with mental reservations. By no stretch of the imagination can you picture him as either an "innocent bystander" or "casual observer' when gardening is going on.
I wish I could give you an adequate idea of the house and grounds that form a fitting frame for this little picture I've been trying to paint, but "time is ticking away." That the house, without and within, not only has individuality and atmosphere plus, but is luxuriously livable as well, goes without saying. With such a master and mistress it couldn't be otherwise. As for the grounds, cleverly grouped flowering shrubs and vines, and in June a riot of rambler roses, add to the pictorial effect of the well-trimmed hedges to make an unpretentious but alluring ensemble.
Just as we were leaving the garden I noticed for the first time five or six small cedars that shut out the one glimpse of the middle foreground you might otherwise get, leaving only the distant view of sea and sky already described. When I asked Joe if this placing was intentional, his response was revealing of the man he is.
"Yes," he said, "it was intentional. As it happens, the bit of landscape hidden by those little trees isn't particularly attractive."
Then he half hesitated a second, and for the first time his eyes lost their almost mischievous twinkle and met mine with a suggestion of sadness.
"But now they serve a still more useful purpose," he added slowly. "You see, I want to write optimistic and healthy books, and to do that I must keep my optimistic and healthy outlook on life, if I can. With most of our poor, stricken earth torn by strife as it is now and ruled by force and injustice and forgetfulness of all that is real and fine, I can't help feeling God's grand old sea and glorious blue sky offer a more inspiring outlook."
I wonder if that isn't, indeed, a thought well worth remembering.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Under a Photograph of Lincoln and the author
Joseph C. Lincoln (on your left) is a yarn spinner - particularly so when he and his old friend, Bill Duncan, author of this tale, get together for a session in the garden. A friendliness as fresh as the Cape Cod breeze fills his home and his numerous books.
Under a Photograph of Lincoln's Home:
"The Crosstrees." The hedge that all but hides the attractive hip-roofed house from the street, Lincoln tells you, isn't there to keep people out, but to keep himself in. When he has work to do, it's too tempting to pass the time of day with strollers-by.
Under a Photograph of the Interior of the Home.
You like at once the inside of the Lincoln home — as much as you like the garden by the sea. Broad-beamed and spacious, it seems to fit the sweep of ocean and shore.
Under a Photograph of the Garden Pool.
Each pool in the ground at "The Crosstrees" — close enough to the beach to feel the salt spray occasionally — is the center of a little garden or outdoor living-room that invites you to stop, have a seat, and visit a while. Annuals add most of the color.
Under a Photograph of the Ocean View.
Views like this from the Joe Lincolns' garden are inescapable — and so is the smell of salt air. The garden, as full of flowers as it seems to be, and the sea that he knows so well help to keep the outlook and writings of the 70-year-old author eternally fresh and optimistic.
Photographs by Harold A. Willoughby
Thanks to Richard Curry for transcribing this.