Monday, October 7, 2013

A Connecticut Gardener Visits Nantucket

I just returned from a weekend on Nantucket island. My husband and I attended  the wedding of my godson. It was what they call a "destination wedding". People came from everywhere to share in this happy occasion. We arrived Friday afternoon.

I have never been to Nantucket before although I have been hearing about how quaint it is for years. The minute we stepped off of the high speed ferry, I was enchanted. It is a garden-lover's paradise. I could imagine what it looked like in the summer when everything was in peak bloom. I have never seen so many hydrangeas in my life! Every house, every business, every public space had hydrangeas. The flowers of the mop head hydrangeas were past, but they were plentiful and it didn't take much imagination to picture how beautiful it looked a few months ago. There were fall blooming Hydrangea paniculata varieties everywhere as well. Welcome to the Hydrangea capital of New England! The cobblestone streets, the clipped hedges, the climbing roses and vines, the cute little courtyards- sigh....

But what really got me was the windowboxes. Every single store and just about every house had lush, imaginative container plantings. As my husband and I took our first stroll around downtown, I could see that he didn't have the patience to stop with me as I took pictures. I made a plan.
I loved the maidenhair fern in this lush, shady windowbox

Saturday was a free day as the wedding wasn't until 5:30 p.m. I left my husband in the room reading and relaxing and went out for a walk with my camera. The sky was overcast, perfect for taking pictures.
One plant I noticed everywhere was the grass Stipa tenuissima, Mexican Feather Grass. This is a plant I don't use much in my designs as it is only hardy to Zone 7. Now I want to try it in my container plantings. It was so soft, I had to pet it. I also saw it in many gardens. Above it was used in a traditional design with geraniums and variegated English ivy. Below it was combined with dwarf evergreens and Algerian ivy, a much more contemporary look. I saw both styles everywhere I went.

Many of the windowboxes looked as if they had just been freshly re-planted for the fall tourist season. Others were so abundant I could tell they had been growing for months. I was very impressed with the design talents of the Nantucket gardeners.
One thing I noticed were the dog bowls filled with water outside of every shop. Nantucket is a dog lover's paradise. They are a integral to the local color as the flowers.

I purposely strayed off the main shopping streets and wove my way through side streets and nearby neighborhoods. I peered in through gates to the most charming little gardens. Clipped, carefully pruned and tended shrubs formed the bones of these landscapes. Besides the ever-present hydrangeas, there were roses (mostly pink, narry a 'Knockout' in sight). The seed pods of sweet autumn clematis smothered buildings and roofs.
Lichen hung in great clusters from the trees, similar to the way Spanish moss drapes from trees down South. I saw Vitexes with big, thick trunks, bigger than I ever imagined they could get in the North. Boxwoods were everywhere, in every shape and size as were other formal shrubs such as Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil'.
The little spot above was a combination of tender perennial Eugenia triple-ball topiaries, evergreen Liriope, yellow sweet potato vine, and Bacopa. The fence enclosure was also common. Door yard gardens held in by picket or iron fences were in the smallest of front yards.
The containers that were used were varied, but invariably high end. I saw quite a lot of faux boise concrete, from planters to benches, chairs, and tables.
Of course, aged cedar to match the signature cedar shakes on all of the houses was very common.
The modern look was also easy to spot. Black fiberglass containers or metal pots filled with succulents, black mondo grass, Phormium, and other foliage accents drew me like a magnet.

The yellow plant in the middle of this pot is Euphorbia 'Sticks on Fire', a really striking form of pencil cactus. The flowers were coming from an Aloe tucked in amongst the Sedums.

I recognized almost all of the plants I saw, but I was inspired to use them in many new ways. I wish I had a few more days to wander on a bicycle and really take in all the beauty Nantucket has to offer. I was dying to ride out to the large cranberry bog which I knew would be ablaze in red fall color. I wanted to see some of the more naturalistic, wilder places on this pretty island.

I loved this windowbox and didn't recognize the grass-like plant below the fuchsia with the spiky golden yellow flowers. I need to look this up and learn how to use it in some containers next year. What fun!
When we finally arrived at the wedding venue on Saturday evening, even the front of THAT establishment was decked out in proper style. Champagne bottles bedecked with beads graced the windowboxes and the cherub was wearing a pink chiffon skirt.
Sunday morning we went out for our last long ramble through the cobblestone streets. My husband rolled his eyes every time I dug out my camera to take pictures of more horticultural goodness but I just couldn't help myself.

Herbs were growing in wine boxes near the dock
My favorite peppermint scented geraniums were combined with pink roses and zinnias outside of a shop

These wooden trellises were stuffed with soil and moss and planted from top to bottom. Notice the dog bowl in the background, of course!

Delicate, lacy scented geraniums had a spicy smell.
This was the outdoor sales area and courtyard of a gemstone jewelry store
The windowboxes were filled with giant, lush ferns. I saw ferns of all types used everywhere.
Ruby red chard added an edible element to this street side combination.The cobblestones were actually round rocks, very hard to walk on but oh so charming.

As we were waiting for the ferry to go home, I spotted a fairy garden installation outside a tourist shop on the dock. A young man and his mom were admiring it and we chatted about fairy garden building for a while. The shop owner encourage him to participate and he ran off to the water's edge to collect some shells to add to what I realized was an ever-changing fairy landscape.

I want to go back to Nantucket some day and spend a few days in the summertime traveling around and seeing the gardens in all of their glory. I had better start saving my pennies now. It is a lovely, but very expensive place to visit. I am so lucky to have had the chance to discover and explore this beautiful island.