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Tour the Classic, Charming Gardens of Nantucket

June 16, 2020

Beloved for its beaches, lighthouses and local bay scallops, Nantucket Island off the coast of Massachusetts is also home to gorgeous gardens.

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Photo: Jamie Holmes

Picture-Perfect Hydrangeas

Thirty miles off the Massachusetts coast, Nantucket is known for its lighthouses, sand dunes and deep sea fishing. As summer unfolds, the island's gardens take center stage, stealing the spotlight with romantic blossoms. One of Nantucket’s famous bloomers —hydrangeas — glow with rich hues, thanks to the mild maritime climate. A cool, temperate summer coupled with enveloping fogs coaxes these shrubs to open larger-than-life blooms that look this good in mid-July. Acidic soil gives rise to the stunning blue shades.

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Photo: Jamie Holmes

Front Yard Garden

Nantucket residents are passionate about their gardens, cultivating every square inch possible to deliver season-long color. Many gardens feature formal hedges to corral the rambunctious flower power of mophead hydrangeas. Locals coddle hydrangeas by giving them a spot that pairs morning sun with afternoon shade. Island soils tend to yield blue flowers, but Nantucket gardeners also rely on a few tricks to shift medium blue blooms to brilliant blue or blue-pink tones. In spring after watering soil well, they apply aluminum sulfate, elemental sulfur or iron sulfate.

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Photo: Jamie Holmes

Rose-Covered Cottage

On Nantucket, high-flying roses perform like trapeze artists, defying gravity as they clamber up walls and scamper across rooftops. Strong ocean winds limit tree growth, so climbing roses provide needed vertical interest in gardens. A cedar trellis supports the roses. Stainless steel screws attach vertical trellis pieces to house and roof, with horizontals placed on top to provide air flow between rose canes and wooden surfaces. Trellises can easily be removed — with roses attached — to permit home repairs. The climbing roses responsible for Nantucket’s rose-covered cottages include 'Dorothy Perkins' (miniature double pink blooms), 'American Pillar' (single deep pink) and 'New Dawn' (large double light pink).

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Photo: Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism/

Storybook Charm

Cottage gardens reign supreme on Nantucket, the perfect complement to historic homes where whalers once dwelled. The fishing cottages nestle close together in town, leaving limited space for lush gardens. Climbing roses and window boxes take advantage of vertical surfaces and lift color to eye level. For durability, cedar is the wood of choice for window boxes, supported by wooden brackets (bolted into studs) and built with an open bottom. Plastic window box liners drop into the box and provide a cozy growing environment. This window box overflows with violas in purple shades, which pair perfectly with a purple cranesbill geranium beneath.

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