June 19, 2020
Visitors to poet Celia Thaxter at her hotel on Appledore Island at the Isles of Shoals once enjoyed the vibrant conversation of their fellow guests at her literary “salons;” but they were equally entranced by her gardens. Childe Hassam, America’s Impressionist made her garden famous in his paintings and Celia Thaxter published a book with collected poems and watercolor illustrations of her gardens. Nowadays, in a typical summer season, Appledore Island welcomes hundreds of “pilgrims” who make the 8-mile boat trip to enjoy the historic Celia Thaxter Garden lovingly restored by the Shoals Marine Laboratory.
Each year over the winter, the Shoals Marine Laboratory, jointly run by the University of New
Hampshire and Cornell University, asks Rolling Green Nursery to cultivate a specific blend of
flowers from seed to recreate the poet Celia Thaxter’s garden on Appledore Island. Based
on her original design and accurate to the time period, plants including hollyhock, single dahlia,
mignonette and cleome, are grown from seed for the poet’s garden. However, this year, due to
the pandemic, the garden tours on Appledore Island were canceled which meant that the
heirloom plants grown at Rolling Green Nursery would not be used. Shoals Marine Laboratory
Executive Director Jennifer Seavey started looking for a way to temporarily relocate the garden
in Portsmouth for the summer.
“Celia Thaxter and her garden are so beloved and visitors from all over the world are passionate
about seeing it each summer so we knew we had to find the right spot on the mainland to
replant this special garden for the summer” said Seavey. “We think we have found the perfect
interim site at Prescott Park thanks to the City of Portsmouth.”
By a happy coincidence, at that moment the City was experiencing a shortage of flowers to fill the beds at Prescott Park as nursery outlets throughout New England have a reduced supply, also due to COVID-19. When the City contacted Rolling Green Nursery seeking plants for Prescott Park, they learned that the Celia Thaxter garden plants were looking for a home for the 2020 season.
Thanks to another happy coincidence, Colleen Brown, a regular Prescott Park garden visitor stepped forward with a request to make a donation to the park in honor of her mother, Margaret Mary Knox. “I can’t imagine that garden without flowers, especially at this time,” she said.
This week, the regular team of Celia Thaxter Garden volunteers alongside Prescott Park volunteers directed by Master gardener Terry Cook and Prescott Park DPW horticulturist Earle Chase, planted an authentic recreation of the historic Celia Thaxter Garden at Prescott Park. Volunteers included: Lea Sewell (Oqunquit), Joan Hamblet (Portsmouth), Haley Petroski (Portsmouth), Lisa Cote (No. Hampton, Master Gardener), Janis Kreiger (Hampton, Master Gardener), Priscilla Chellis (Berwick) and Jen Meister (Portsmouth).
Summer visitors to downtown Portsmouth’s waterfront will have the opportunity to enjoy the garden and learn more about local poet Celia Thaxter.