For the past four decades, Plants Unlimited in Rockport has been a destination for gardeners, landscape architects and plant enthusiasts. Known for its vast selection of flowers, vegetables and shrubs, owner/operator Hammon Buck reflected on the business' history, and what has made it a perennial success.

"We're here because of the hard work from all of our staff, our persistence through the recession, and our commitment to meeting the expectations of our customers," said Buck on May 21.

Born in Riverhead, N.Y., Buck moved with his parents to Searsport at an early age. Having inherited a passion for plants from his grandparents, who had managed a florist shop, and his father, who started a landscaping business, Buck studied landscape architecture at Cornell University, returning to Maine in the summers to visit his mother in Camden.

Buck opened Plants Unlimited in 1978, on a two-acre parcel of land across from the PenBay Medical Center. Ten years later, the operation had grown and needed more space. He relocated the business to its present location further down Route 1, to a site where an old drive-in movie theater had laid dormant for years. Buck renovated the property, but held on to portions of the structure; Plants Unlimited's office building is the original concession stand from the theater.

Perhaps one of the most visible owners of a landscaping business on the Midcoast, Buck is a permanent fixture at Plants Unlimited: on any given day, he can be seen tending plants, assisting customers and working with his staff — which includes his wife, Dawn, and many men and women who have worked at the business for years. His name and image grace the "Buck Bucks" vouchers which are given as part of a customer rewards program, and he can be heard reading his own advertisements on local radio stations.

"We always have new plants, we offer excellent customer service, and we're going to show you the largest selection north of Portland," said Buck. In the years following the recession in 2008, which crippled businesses throughout the state and the country, Buck said he learned how to downsize and economize the business in order to keep it viable.

"It was seven years of hell, but it taught us a valuable lesson, and it is a testimonial to my staff and our products that we're still here. If you're going to be a successful business in Maine, you need to have two things going at all time; we broadened the business by focusing on wholesale sales in addition to retail," said Buck.

Plants Unlimited now provides wholesale distribution of plants to landscapers and caretakers of properties throughout the state, and the business has moved with the times providing certified organic vegetables and a vast array of native plants. Buck explains that varieties native to the state and New England are less likely to attract invasive species of insects, or draw unwanted attention from roving deer or other animals.

As the business enters its 40th year, Buck has been anticipating further growth, and has been working with the Department of Environmental Protection to draft plans which will expand the operation to the rear of the property. By using the sites back acreage, Buck hopes to provide additional nursery space and is considering adding a new building.

The staff at Plants Unlimited are currently in the business' most busy season, and are preparing for their annual Memorial Day sale. Buck is also preparing to launch a new service called "Hand-picked For You," which will supply customers with "tried and true" varieties of plants which he personally recommends for their success in gardens and their proven longevity.

"Until the middle of July, I'll be working 16-hour days, seven days a week, but I have plenty of people to help me, workers who have shown me loyalty for years, and we all get excited. After 40 years, I still like the excitement of seeing the growth of the business, and doing all that I can for our customers," said Buck.