Nineteenth Century Poet Celia Thaxter Gardened in Victorian Style

After 1870 Americans adopted the Victorian garden from the English style of the day.  The home landscape had to have colorful flowers, often in carpet bedding, but the essential was color, and lots of it.

On Appledore Island, ten miles off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire you’ll find the Victorian garden of nineteenth century American poet Celia Thaxter (1835-1894).  Though her house is gone, the garden has been restored.  Mainland NH garden club members now maintain it.

For the garden enthusiast it is joy to see the original site of the Thaxter garden with so many of the plant varieties she used.   Dr. John Kingsbury of Cornell University restored the garden in 1977 as closely as possible to the garden plan that Celia presented in her book, An Island Gardenwritten in 1894.

Celia Thaxter

During the summer you can take a boat excursion, sponsored by Cornell, to view the garden. When you arrive from Portsmouth at the garden, which is a few hundred yards from where the boat docks, each visitor receives a diagram of the original garden.  It is amazing how close the restoration has been made.  You see the hollyhocks rise above the poppies and other flowers at a corner of the fence near the rocks.

At Appledore  Thaxter entertained writers and artists at the summer hotel her family ran on the island.

Childe  Hassam (1859-1935), the American Impressionist from Boston, was a frequent visitor to Appledore at that time.  He was a friend of Celia’s and agreed to illustrate her garden book.  When you stand in Celia’s garden, you can pick out the large rock along the shore that appeared in so many of his paintings.  He began coming to Appledore in 1870.

 

Celia Thaxter's garden on Appledore, off the coast of NH, has been restored and now NH garden club volunteers maintain it.

Celia ‘s garden expressed the Victorian middle class woman’s preference for bright colors in both the annuals and the perennials she chose to plant. Each spring the seed catalogs provided her with flower selections.  The seed catalogs, like James Vick’s from Rochester, NY,  both encouraged and enabled her Victorian garden at Appledore.

 

 

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  1. Thomas-Garden tour participants are encouraged to follow Celia Thaxter’s Garden news at:
    https://www.sml.cornell.edu/sml_reservation.php
    Tours are offered late June through early August each summer.
    This is truly a unique (albeit small!) New England garden and a must see for all garden historians. We highly encourage folks to read Celia’s ‘An Island Garden’ before there visit!

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