Celia Thaxter (1835-1894) is an intriguing character in New England history. An important figure in New England poetry, she was also a pioneering hotelier, flower gardener, and catalyst in the fine arts.
While turning her family’s hotel on Appledore Island in the Atlantic into what was probably the leading summer resort in the Northeast, she also created a famed artists’ colony with salon events featuring a who’s who of America’s leading artists, poets, novelists, and painters. There were likely more, including actors and dancers.
With its 95 acres, Appledore is the largest of the nine islands that comprise the Isles of Shoals about nine miles off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. It was known as Hog Island until Celia’s family decided to build the hotel and turned to an earlier name for the shoals, one drawn from the Old English word for apple tree. How romantic.
The shoals also include tidal ledges.
Celia’s flower garden in front of her cottage became legendary, celebrated in her lovely book An Island Garden, with glorious illustrations by Impressionist master Childe Hassam. I treasure my reproduction copy. She’s the one who convinced Hassam to use his middle name rather than Frederick as an artist.
The hotel itself burned in 1914, and today the island is privately owned, much of it by the Shoals Marine Laboratory run by the University of New Hampshire and Cornell University. Visits are strictly controlled.
Last summer, my wife and elder daughter and I indulged in a tour of the island. Among its highlights was walking through the grounds of the long-gone hotel and a replication of Celia’s garden, which is much smaller than we’d expected and less carefully tended. The fact that it needed such constant care is a lesson in humility for those of us who expect similar results on much larger tracts.
And, for those of you who have read the garden book, I’m told that garden slugs are no longer a problem.
Nearby is her grave.
In this time of social distancing and shelter-in-place, many of us would go stir crazy if we couldn’t get out for long walks. Seeing so many other people also out strolling – with or without their dogs – has been a bright side of our lives lately.
Where we live, a highlight of those treks has often come in checking out others’ gardens, landscaping, and flowerbeds. I don’t know about you who live in apartment complexes or high-rise developments, but I’m curious. Maybe something out on the deck, if you have one?
These days, I’m seeing a lot of raised garden beds going in. Fresh wood, reminding me of the time we were just getting started here. (Some of my earliest posts told of the reasons for raised beds when dealing with northern New England’s clay soils.) You’ve no doubt heard the stories of folks who have recently decided to grow their own food in the face of Covid-19. Maybe you’re even one of them. Part of it, of course, is a concern about breakdowns in our food-supply system or even long lines just to enter the supermarket. Another might even be boredom, as in give me something new to do. From questions we’ve been getting from neighbors and passers-by, they’re really green and in for a lot of surprises, some of them harsh disappointment but a few real treats, too.
We could see this coming when some of our favorite seed catalogs announced they were running out of supplies and would not be selling to new customers; they felt it crucial to serve their longstanding commercial growers first and foremost, followed by their devoted regulars. Fair enough, that’s long-term loyalty. At least, seasoned as we are, we had our orders well in hand by mid-February.
As you know, gardening is a staple of the merry-go-round here at the Barn, but my posts aren’t the detailed advice kind for beginners – more just a taste of the experience, no pun intended. I’m hoping many of the neophytes will discover those of you who post expertly on growing and harvesting. You’re such an encouragement, truly.
Maybe we’ll get them in for the long haul, too, when it comes to things like composting (remember, those two cute bunnies you’ve been seeing featured here are big helps on that front … plus they prompt me to weed daily, just to keep them supplied in greens, which they then convert into their little composter pellets).
And, I should note, we just installed a new colony in our beehive and are anxiously waiting to see it the queen takes hold. If all goes well, our honeybees will be tending pollen in gardens in a radius of up to five miles.
Should we warn people what a few tomato plants can lead to?