Gardener Poet Celia Thaxter Loved Calendulas

Gardener poet Celia Thaxter loved calendulas.

This summer I planted several calendulas in my garden.

Recently while reading The Sandpiper, a biography of poet Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), written by her granddaughter Rosamond Thaxter, I discovered the calendula was Celia’s favorite flower.Sandpiper cover

I can understand why. It is a fabulous annual here in the northeast.

From the herbal site called Sunkist Herbal, we read its role in Victorian society. SH says, “The calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a hardy annual with single or double daisy-like blooms of yellow or orange. The 3- to 4-inch flowers open with the sun and close at night, leading the Victorians to believe they could set a clock by the flower. The name ‘calendula’ is from the same Latin word as ‘calendar,’ presumably because the flower was in bloom almost every month of the year.”

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1816-1882) wrote in the October 1880 issue of his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly, “Every one knows the old yellow Marigold, for it is common as the Sunflower, and has been as long as we can remember. It is called in the books Calendula, but that makes no difference, for it is the same old Marigold that many of us have grown for half a century. That name was given because it was thought some species were in flower every month of the calendar.”

He concluded, “The Calendula will probably never take rank with the best annuals, but we are glad to see it make a bold start for the front after so long a stay in the rear. If its improvement should continue, there is no telling the future of this good old flower.”

Calendula, Mother Earth Living

Calendula, Mother Earth Living

Vick seemed to imply that the calendula was making somewhat of a comeback.

Maybe so.

At the same time off the shores of Maine in her garden at Appledore Island, Celia Thaxter too was planting it in her garden.

Celia’s family owned a hotel on the island and for many summers Celia worked there and also tended her own flower garden.

In her garden Celia grew annuals to decorate the hotel as well as her own house where she often entertained artists, writers, and musicians.

The hotel went down in a fire in 1914, but volunteers have preserved Celia’s garden which measured 50 feet by 15 feet.

Today in her restored garden you still see the flowers laid out in the same order that Celia chose. She left the details of her garden in her book An Island Garden, probably her most famous book and still worth reading today.

Celia Thaxter's island garden measures 50 feet by 15 feet.

Celia Thaxter’s island garden measures 50 feet by 15 feet.

Celia collected her seeds from friends who came to the hotel, but also from seed companies. Perhaps one of her seed sources was the Vick Seed Company because she mentioned Vick’s death in a letter to a friend. Within weeks after his death in 1882 she wrote, “Old Vick died.”

Today the total number of flowers planted in Celia’s garden is 1600, including of course her  favorite calendula.

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