Whether sun-splashed and sparkling or moody and cloudy, Nantucket’s rolling, heath-carpeted moors, pristine white beaches, and skyline of church steeples present such a harmoniously beguiling setting that it’s almost impossible to resist its embrace. And that’s what happened to Philadelphians Laura and Bill Buck more than 20 years ago. “We sailed into the harbor on a friend’s boat en route to Maine,” Laura recalls. “We had never been there before, and I was captivated by everything, including its whaling history, rose-covered cottages, historic preservation and land conservation ethos, and arts and culture scene.”
At the time, the Bucks were perfectly happy with their New Jersey shore house of 26 years—located less than two hours from Bill’s office, it allowed for midweek getaways when the impulse struck—and were not looking for another house, “let alone one that was a challenge to reach,” Bill says. However, during subsequent visits, he began to feel Nantucket’s irresistible pull as well, and after Laura confessed she would love to have a house there, they opted for a rental.
Then, on a whim, the day before returning to Philadelphia, they toured a property with fabulous views of the busy harbor. “Before we knew what was happening, we were buying it,” laughs Laura. In swift order, they demolished the existing, unsalvageable structure and hired Nantucket architect Lyman Perry to design a traditional cedar-shake house with fine moldings and details that would become the backdrop for their collection of Nantucket ephemera. They christened it “Bucktucket.”
As the land was cleared, Laura, a prize-winning horticulturist, envisioned a garden of undulating borders, a waterfall and koi pond, inviting birdhouses, and outdoor sculpture. After a few false starts, she collaborated with Emily Dutra, an organic gardener who uses no fertilizers or chemicals and lets nature do the pollinating. “As a local, she understands Nantucket’s weather challenges, including salt spray, enveloping fog, cool summer temperatures, and Gulf Stream–warmed winters,” Laura explains. Dutra adds, “We also have strong prevailing winds, which means you won’t see many tall trees here, and we chose salt-tolerant plants native to coastal environments.”
A confounding issue arose around the animal-loving family’s “bunny dilemma,” caused when a dozen rabbits began eating all the flowers. When nothing—including wire fencing and organic deterrents—worked, Dutra suggested planting clover in the grass. The method was “a wonderful example of regenerative design which pulls nitrogen from the atmosphere and feeds the turf,” she explains. “It means healthier, greener grass naturally, and effectively deters bunnies from the gardens, as they are totally happy nibbling clover.”
Now, the Bucks’ gardens climb on trellises and arched gates, brim from containers and window boxes, and stretch in a blizzard of blooms around the perimeter of the one-acre property. The palette of pastel pink, blue, white, and lavender feels perfectly at home at the seaside while artfully drawing on the interior décor. Outside, the muted ribbon of color and texture teems with bees and butterflies and sways in waves of hydrangeas, delphinium, phlox, and lavender. Flowering native perennials bloom from June into September when the Bucks are in residence and entertain family and friends. The planting scheme also incorporates a variety of annuals. Bill’s grilling area is a vision of tomatoes and lettuces, as well as parsley, dill, oregano, and other herbs, that transform into a fresh salad on the spot.
Besides creating a dramatic backdrop for exuberant parties, the gardens serve as breeding ground for Laura’s blooms that routinely win ribbons at Nantucket Garden Club competitions. Busy days at Bucktucket revolve around biking, golf, and picnics, as well as activities at the Whaling Museum, the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum, and other island institutions. And when summer segues into autumn and it’s time to leave their beloved place, the Bucks are already anticipating the next glorious season on the island they unabashedly love.
By Marion Laffey Fox | Photography by Kindra Clineff