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Courtesy of Jennifer Thayer

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The Spirit of Celia Thaxter Blooms Brightly

A Community Collaboration Continues to Thrive with Gardener's Supply Company and Shoals Marine Lab Working Together to Preserve The Pioneer Work of our Local Heroine

Poppies, hollyhocks, dahlias, sweet peas, foxgloves, and more bloom brightly on Appledore Island every summer as a living legacy calling to their “Island poet,” creator, and most famous resident, Celia Laighton Thaxter. 

A poet, artist, and darling of the Boston literary scene in the late 19th century, Celia grew up in the Isles of Shoals, living much of her life on Appledore, where she designed and tended to her beloved pocket garden. With poets akin to rap stars today and Celia taking center stage, her artist’s salon at the family hotel on Appledore hosted great writers and artists like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry David Thoreau, and impressionist painter Childe Hassam, whose paintings made her garden famous.  

For 47 years, the Shoals Marine Lab (SML) has recreated her garden as it was during Celia’s lifetime, dutifully following the plan outlined in her book, An Island Garden. However, recreating this garden year after year, seven miles off the Maine coastline, is no small undertaking. It is a labor of love for those involved in this collaborative effort where Art meets Science, and the past mingles with the present. 

In 2018, with the greenhouses closing at the University of New Hampshire’s Thompson School of Applied Science, SML needed a new growing partner to source and cultivate Celia’s heirloom flowers from seeds. Few growers in the region had the resources and expertise to take this on. Enter Rick and Beth Simpson, owners of Rolling Green Nursery, now part of the Vermont-based Gardener’s Supply Company. As community advocates and horticultural enthusiasts, the Simpsons stepped in to carry on the mission and eventually bring Celia’s garden from Appledore to the Seacoast community. Today, Gardener’s picks up the baton, ensuring this vital work and the legacy of Celia and the Simpsons lives on.

 So just as Celia, over one hundred years ago, carefully sowed her garden seeds in at her Portsmouth home before transplanting on Appledore, every Spring, Terry Cook, Celia Thaxter Garden Steward & Master Gardener with SML and Tammy Hathaway, Nursery Manager at Gardener’s, nurture Celia’s garden back to life with their loving hands and watchful eye. 

It’s a partnership where Terry oversees the planning and transplanting, while Tammy and team work on sourcing and starting the heirloom seeds in their greenhouse. In March, the “babysitting” begins as Tammy describes overseeing the production of 250 plants and over 20 varieties to recreate Celia’s English cottage-style cutting garden. “It’s a couple of nerve-wracking, nail-biting months tending to the seedlings daily—a little water here or there,” Tammy explains, but “it is magical when you hear about the visitor’s immersive experience walking in Celia’s footsteps.”

 At the end of May, Tammy and team surrender their babies. With Terry at the helm, Celia’s flowers embark on their journey home to reunite and bloom brightly again on Appledore Island. Throughout the summer, master gardener volunteers care for the garden while docents lead visitors on garden and island tours. 

Don’t worry if you cannot make the journey to Appledore. Another legacy from Rolling Green that Gardener’s continues is also providing the flowers for a dedicated Celia Thaxter Garden in Prescott Park. They also sell the plants and heirloom seeds in their retail store in Greenland so local gardeners and Celia enthusiasts can enjoy her flowers at home.

 As a poet, artist, gardener, and pioneer woman who seeded one of the first artist colonies, Celia would be delighted to witness the commitment and ongoing collaboration between Art and Science this annual project represents. In her words, “There is Eternal summer in a grateful heart.”

  • Photo by Melissa Koren Photography
  • Courtesy of Terry Cook
  • Courtesy of Jennifer Thayer
  • Courtesy of Jennifer Thayer
  • Courtesy of Jennifer Thayer

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