A Buxton Garden Makes Waves

On a hilltop, a couple’s natural pool is a haven for wild creatures — and a glorious place to cool off.

Framed by geraniums, golden euonymus, iris, lobelias, and lupines, Avery Pierce relaxes by the natural pool.

ABOVE Framed by geraniums, golden euonymus, iris, lobelias, and lupines, Avery Pierce relaxes by the natural pool.


From our Spring 2023 issue

Opalescent dragonflies hover above the lily pads in Avery Pierce and Tom Lanucha’s natural swimming pool. Nestled on four and a half wooded acres on a Buxton hill, the pool and surrounding garden of flowering perennials, hardy shrubs, and native trees sustain an informal menagerie of wild birds, pollinating insects, and small forest creatures that delights its hosts.

All this verdant beauty had yet to bloom 35 years ago, when the couple moved into a newly built house surrounded by contractor’s sand. “We weren’t gardeners back then,” says Pierce, a glass artist who owns Bunting Hill Arts. Lanucha is a pharmacist. “But we had to do something!” They planted seeds from a garden border kit. Happily, the baby perennials flourished. Sadly, the flowers could not be seen from the house. “That started our learning process,” Pierce says with a laugh.

A pair of cypress-like arborvitae flanks the entrance into a garden from a flagstone front walk.
Bullrushes and lily pads help filter the pool’s crystalline water.
White peonies illuminate a shaded spot.

ABOVE 1) A pair of cypress-like arborvitae flanks the entrance into Avery Pierce and Tom Lanucha’s Buxton garden from their flagstone front walk. 2) Bullrushes and lily pads help filter the pool’s crystalline water. 3) White peonies illuminate a shaded spot.

After more trial and error, the couple turned to Buxton landscape designer Ted Carter, who created a blueprint that they have expanded over the years. “A well-planned landscape should offer a point of entry,” Carter says. “And then create a feeling of adventure as you move through it.” Gradually extending the gardens outward from the house, the couple replaced most of the lawn with curving beds of self-seeding annuals, native or well-adapted shrubs and trees, hardy perennials, and ornamental grasses that Pierce calls “the tresses of the garden.” The remaining lawn is a mix of clover, grass, and “green weeds that can be mowed and walked on,” Pierce says. “Plants teach us what does and doesn’t work. I’ve gotten better at choosing ones that get along with each other and survive without being coddled.”

In 2006, inspired by an article in Fine Gardening, the couple enlisted Christopher Paquette, of Buxton’s Robin’s Nest Aquatics, to design and build the garden’s pond-like centerpiece. Set below the house, on an embankment secured with foundation plantings of flowering cherry trees, forsythia, Fraser firs, and junipers, it comprises a 25-by-15-foot swimming area surrounded by a “biofilter” of bullrushes, cattails, marsh marigolds, phragmites, water lilies, and yellow flag irises. The aquatic plants absorb water-borne contaminants and attract beneficial insects, as well as frogs that chirp while gobbling mosquitos. Lanucha adds natural enzymes twice a year and an occasional dose of algaecide to cleanse and oxygenate the water. A pump hidden under a juniper keeps the water circulating.

ABOVE 1) A ‘Seven-Son’ flower tree, a sugar maple, arborvitae, and many perennial shrubs surround the pool. 2) Azaleas, peonies, lacecap hydrangeas variegated hostas, and a Japanese maple flourish near Pierce and Lanucha’s front door. Most of their plants are sourced from O’Donal’s Nursery, in Gorham, and Buxton’s Snell Family Farm

Thriving in the damp soil downhill from the pool are an enormous sugar maple — “the queen of the garden,” Pierce says — a ‘Butterflies’ yellow magnolia, several ‘Cleveland’ pears, and a row of arborvitae reminiscent of Italian cypresses. “We’ve tried to create a garden that’s always beautiful,” she says.

Thus, June’s bounty of spiky cobalt and snowy irises, purple nepetas, and magenta peonies is superseded by late-summer purple and white coneflowers, blush-pink roses, and mauve Joe Pye weed that hum with pollinators. Above the pool, the tightly curled needles of a silver Korean fir sparkle in hot sunshine and cup the snow in winter. Beside it, a ‘Seven-Son’ flower tree that blooms white in late summer and produces pink sepals in September, has pale shredding bark that is stunning all year.