Monday, March 23, 2009

An Island Garden

When we first moved to Candia, New Hampshire, I got a job at the tiny town library. It was housed in a lovely old two story building with a vaulted wooden ceiling, window seats, and a wonderful fireplace. Unfortunately, for safety reasons the old fireplace was never used in the years that I knew the building, but when a new library was built just down the hill a warm and welcoming fireplace surrounded by big leather wing-back chairs was included in the big reading room, in honor of the old place. 

The book collection had really outgrown the old facility when I first saw it. The shelving was crowded and poorly lit, but I have always had a fondness for libraries like that, so naturally I loved it. Each row of shelves was lit with old banker's lamps--the kind with green glass--and as you moved down the rows you pulled the little lamp chains to light your way. 

It was in this library that I found one book treasure after another. One of my favorites was Celia Thaxter's An Island Garden. It was all about the summer gardens she made out on Appledore Island, one of the Isles of Shoals, a little chain of nine islands that is ten miles off the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine. 

Celia grew up on the islands, where her father was first a lighthouse keeper and later a hotel owner. Although marriage took her away from the islands for a while, she later spent her summers on the islands in the late 1800s. She wrote of taking the ferry trip out for the first time each season, guarding the scores of little seedlings she had started back on the mainland, some planted in eggshell halves. 

Although her original gardens are gone, reproduction gardens have been built and lovingly tended by volunteers, and may be visited today. From her book, we know the kinds of old-fashioned flowers--a jumble of colors--that she raised. The list of poppies alone will make you want to go right out and start planting. There was a variety called "The Bride," and there were carnation, corn, and California poppies; and heirloom, Iceland, oriental, shirley, and peony poppies.

Her friend, the artist Childe Hassam, painted several pictures of Celia in her garden, and they are included in the book. Although I am far away from Candia and that library, and even though I haven't held that book for years, I will always remember the lovely colors of those gardens backed by the blue of the sea. 

To learn more about Celia's gardens, visit About Celia Thaxter's Island Garden.
For more about Celia's life and her book, see the lovely blog, Plant Whatever Brings You Joy.


Linda said...

I hadn't thought of Celia Thaxter's Island Garden in such a long time. I have that book. An aquaintance of mine volunteers there each summer to work on the gardens. Such fun to remember again. Thanks.

Erikka said...

i really love that you share all these little gems with the world Clair. everyone should know the beauty and charm of their own neighborhoods, and it seems like you really get to know everyone which you inhabit, for however long.

Anonymous said...

Loved your write-up. I love libraries. The book sounds like a wonderful one. I'll have to check it out.

Kathryn/ said...

Thank you so very much for referring your readers to Plant Whatever Brings You Joy! Yes, Celia Thaxter is a wonderful person to read about and ponder. Lovely post.