Shaped privet hedges meet untamed swathes of periwinkle hydrangeas and layer upon layer of herbaceous plantings that sway in the Atlantic salt breeze. Greenwich, Connecticut–based landscape designer James Doyle and his team at James Doyle Design Associates have cultivated a Nantucket sanctuary here on the island’s bluffs.

The clients had very specific needs and wants because they spend a lot of time on the island from mid-summer into the fall. The large family gatherings that they host form the mainstay of their season. “Much of the landscape design was programmed around their need for outdoor entertaining and coastal views. The plant palette was dictated by varieties that flower at the height of summer,” explains Doyle. Another consideration was the heartiness of the plantings, which would need to be sufficiently salt-tolerant to withstand the moodiness of a seaside climate.

Doyle and his team began conceiving and installing the garden before the original residence was fully demolished and the foundation was laid for the new structure. The timeless shingled beach house, complete with a tranquil screened-in porch and multiple viewing decks, was designed by Nantucket-based architectural firm Botticelli & Pohl. As a result of this process, the home’s design truly responds to the landscape and the natural environment—and most importantly, to the ocean’s presence, which permeates everything. 

Because the clients’ goal was to maximize Atlantic views, the new home was constructed two feet higher in elevation than the original structure. That decision dictated the garden’s functional layout and all the transitions from the driveway to the cabana, posing unique challenges to planting on gradation and preventing erosion. Additionally, Nantucket has strict regulations for all renovation projects, so Doyle’s plans had to meet the approval of the island’s Historic District Commission.

The front of the home is far more formal and manicured than what awaits behind. Guests are welcomed by a broad driveway paved in crushed clam shells that were sourced locally. Amelanchier lamarkii trees add both height and structure. Doyle says, “One of our goals was to create many separate conversation spaces within the landscape.” To that end, a welcome garden is framed in manicured hedges, and there is also a grouping of Adirondack chairs for greeting friends upon arrival with glasses of cold lemonade. Though the lot is less than an acre in size, the distinct seating areas give an expansive effect. 

An oyster shell path leads through a white picket side gate—and it’s at this point that the landscape begins to spill over onto pathways with a blurry softness that channels Impressionist brushstrokes. Lavenders, lacey whites, and sage greens come together in easygoing botanic harmony. On the other side of the home, a similar path is carpeted in thick lawn and equipped with a double gate that can be opened wide to allow for event planners or caterers to easily set up for an event. 

The serene rectangular swimming pool with inviting spa headlines a backyard just waiting to come to life with friends, family, and music. “The challenge here,” explains Doyle, was to make sure that the space wasn’t overwhelmed by the functional [Bluestone] hardscape. “We’ve added jointed pavers, just to bring some softness to the area with grass.” A luxurious seaside cabana expertly hides the engineering of gradation behind, surrounded by abundant green lawn. Hydrangeas, the quintessential New England summer flower, bring a classic feeling to the space. Doyle brought in varieties including Endless Summer, Lanarth White, and Tardiva, much to the delight of the clients who had specified their preference for this summer shrub. 

On the edge of the property is an intimate firepit seating area—the perfect place for enjoying s’mores with the kids or late-night drinks and stargazing. The landscaping, which includes bayberry, a plant native to the area, feels so organic that it becomes challenging to distinguish it from the wild grass that layers the sand dunes beyond.

Doyle says, “These garden spaces are not just great physical experiences outside, but also, as you move through the interior of the home, you’re looking out over all these different areas. You can see the color in the foreground and yet you’ve also got the long, distant views of the ocean.” The playful serenity of the landscape is unforgettable. 

For more information, visit James Doyle Design Associates; Architect: Botticelli & Pohl Architects; General Contractor: Hehir Group Custom Builders; Landscape Contractor: Wisentaner, Inc.