Many may know native Falmouthite Allan Moniz from his omnipresence at parades and public celebrations as the smiling face aboard a unicycle, juggling multiple items, all while spreading merriment. He has entertained a generation of locals. What many may not know is that Alan is also a playwright. His own chef d'oeuvre, "The Princess and the Frog," was performed as a local theater production on the grounds of Highfield Hall thirty or so years ago. I had the opportunity, as a young thespian, to participate in this community event. My mom still fondly recalls the green tights and pointy shoes I donned for my frog dance.
I recollected this happy and memorable occasion when I heard about the magnificent restoration effort being undertaken by the Historic Highfield folks to restore the "sunken garden," the landscaping marvel on the grounds of Highfield Hall where Allan's play was performed. Back then, the sunken garden was just a geographic depression on the grounds of the old house on the hill. Today, as we all know and appreciate, Highfield stands as a shining example of community spirit and vision, the result of a citizen-based effort to first save, then restore, and now magnificently operate the splendid former summer home of the Beebe family.
According to Historic Highfield Executive Director Barbara Milligan, "The garden was called "The Herbaceous Garden" by the Beebe family. It was primarily meant as a show garden to have high impact on visitors coming up the hill. (Which it does.) What is also clear now that the garden has been planted, is that the house and the landscape were meant to be interdependent. With the view of the garden out many of the windows, the house itself takes on a different feel and you begin to understand the importance of the landscape to the Highfield property - and the coordinated attention that was paid to the design of both the house and the grounds."
The new guru of this community jewel further explained to me that, "Our goal in restoring the landscape is to twofold. One - the landscape is an integral part of the design of Highfield Hall, and to view the house within the context of the landscape changes the feel of the property entirely; to restore just the house without the landscape is only half the job. Two - we want to create an environment that will be appealing to the community and to visitors. Highfield Hall was saved and restored to be used, and loved, and treasured by the community. When you add the gardens, and paths, and benches, and outdoor sculpture, and outdoor concerts, and gardening programs, and nature programs in Beebe Woods, then Highfield Hall begins to be so much more than simply an historic house. It's a place of learning, inspiration and respite for all."
Treasured by the community, indeed. A place of inspiration, to be sure. Loved by the community, without a doubt. The efforts currently underway to restore this stunning landscaping feat are just the latest in an inspiring effort that has spanned a couple of decades now. I remember the early days of the restoration effort, when Pat Flynn and I, along with Town Administrator Peter Boyer, travelled to the Cape Cod Conservatory in Barnstable to negotiate the details of the "friendly" eminent domain taking that would eventually bring ownership of the mansion to the town. Sue Shepherd, Mary Lou Smith, and many other dedicated volunteers were the driving forces behind keeping the team motivated during the sometimes snarly and gnarly effort to reach an agreement. We did, and Mary Lou and others leapt into action, raising untold sums and just about as many spirits for one of the great restoration efforts in Falmouth's storied history. The restoration of the sunken garden is an appropriate next step, literally and symbolically. Literally, because as Barbara noted, the landscape and the mansion are interdependent, a synergy of yesterday's history and today's vision of that beautiful place. Symbolically, because, as the blooms and vibrancy of the perennials come forth each year, they will remind us and future generations of Falmouthites how an idea to make a community a better place can blossom, shine and sparkle when people like Pat Flynn, Sue Shepherd, and Mary Lou Smith care enough to make an idea into a dream, and a dream into reality.
This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.