I am at that point of the New Year where I search out flowers that…
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 Garden, written in 1894.
During the summer you can take a rock dating app, 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 ‘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.