A Welcoming Garden

Celebrating the annual blooming of their wisteria with family and friends is just one way the Alleys make their two-home Oak Bluffs property an inviting place.

Tucked away near the Lobster Hatchery in Oak Bluffs is a home that was, sixty years ago, the only one for acres around. Kerry Alley’s grandfather owned it – a campsite with a basic house, a crude toilet, and a water pump. Kerry Alley and Pat Hurley graduated one year apart from the Oak Bluffs High School, he in 1955 and she in 1956, each in a class of about twenty students. Though the couple, now married for forty-seven years, weren’t sweethearts then.

“No, we were just friends,” Pat says. “We Island girls couldn’t compete with the pretty summer gals. The boys only had eyes for them until fall came and they started to look at us again.”

Pat and Kerry finally got together in Cambridge, when he was a grad student and she was attending teachers college. Kerry then enlisted as a lieutenant in the Air Force and served as a psychiatric social worker. Six months into that stint, he and Pat married, started their family, and decided to return to the Vineyard when his tour of duty was over. They rented an Oak Bluffs gingerbread house in 1963, while they worked on the campsite and turned it into a home that would welcome hundreds of people – and plants – over the years.

“Our grandkids call this place their camp,” Pat says, while pointing to an outdoor banner that says “Camp Alley.” “They come often and bring lots of friends. I never know who I’ll find in my living room when I return from the beach at the end of a summer day.”

This welcoming spirit starts right in the yard, and Pat’s wisteria party is emblematic of her celebration of life. For the past few years, when the wisteria blooms in early June, she calls everyone she knows.

“I can’t keep this to myself,” she exclaims. “It’s just too beautiful.” She and Kerry pour wine, and they all celebrate the blooming of the awesome wisteria. “People come just as they are,” she says, “in bathing suits, in gardening clothes – just as they are.”

Draped over a pergola built two years ago by their son Chris, the purple and white flowers – simulating a waterfall – drip down through the latticework of the canopy. All this wisteria comes from three braided pieces of trunk at one end of the deck. “The wisteria started as a little bush that Kerry moved from his mother’s backyard years ago,” Pat says. At ninety-seven years of age, his mother, Elizabeth, still lives in her nearby Vineyard Avenue home.

“Her wisteria is very stubborn,” she continues. “It makes its way under the deck and out the other side. I have to cut it every couple of days. It just wants to grow and grow, like the ivy.”

The ivy is the hallmark of the yard. It grows tenaciously, a hearty and sometimes monstrous plant, one that Hitchcock might have featured – for the ivy started somewhere mysterious and forged a drama of its own.

“I never planted it,” Pat insists.

Somehow it rooted and then crept along the yard and over to the century-old garage that bows today under its weight. Used to store bikes and a canoe, the igloo-shaped edifice evokes scary images of a witch peeking around the doorway and beckoning little children into the darkness.

“Every year I vow to take that garage down,” Kerry admits. “But then the ivy turns green and hearty, and I just never get to it. We kind of like to look at the creepy thing. Besides, all around the garage are two beautiful white azaleas and evening primroses and daisies and mums and sedum and forsythia that wouldn’t be happy to have their environment disturbed.”

But the ivy doesn’t give up at the garage. It creeps to the house and along its perimeter. Not long ago, Pat says, it broke its way through the wall above the side door and grew into the living room. It covered an inside wall and traveled around the room, latching onto the curtain tops.

“What a job to get rid of that!” Kerry adds.

“But look,” says Pat, as she points to a window near the door, “it’s trying to get in again!”

Other plants in the garden have actually been invited: a Japanese maple, a Japanese quince, and yew trees planted fifty years ago. Near the garage, a lacy blue hydrangea blooms spectacularly in late July, and a climbing hydrangea spreads horizontally for more than twenty feet across a now-hidden fence.

“We don’t do anything,” Pat says. “We don’t prepare the soil at all – just plunk the plants into the ground. They love it here. These climbing hydrangeas were from a dear friend.”

The plants are not the only ones that feel welcome. Behind a magnificent dogwood beyond the patio is a new vacation house built by their daughter, Sarah, and son-in-law, Jack, a few years ago.

“We just got too big to fit into our house,” Kerry says. “There are fourteen of us now – kids, spouses, grandkids.” Five live here on the Vineyard, five in Glastonbury, Connecticut, and four in South Hadley. But, wherever they live, the Vineyard beckons them each summertime. They spill over from Pat and Kerry’s place and into Sarah and Jack’s.

At the entrance to the vacation home is an antique piece of post-office furniture once used to sort letters and small packages. Next to that is a basket of flat rocks. Within the slats of the postal piece are individual rocks, each with a name written on top – Claire, Matt, Andy, etcetera. Pat explains that whenever a new person comes to dinner, they write their name on a blank rock from the basket. The rock is used as their place card. After dinner the rock is stored in one of the slats until the guest returns and uses it again.

Seems that Sarah and Jack have inherited Pat and Kerry’s sense of welcome.