Like humans, plants change over time. Their genes evolve, and their outward appearance shifts. An apple from 400 years ago, will not be the same apple we buy at today’s grocery store, for example. It won’t look or taste the same. And 400 years from now, people may not even recognize our apples anymore.
So when Rolling Green Nursery was approached to grow plants for the historic Celia Thaxter’s Garden, we were thrilled to partner with them. The goal was to select seeds as closely related genetically to the original plants found in her garden some two hundred years ago. Our gardening team partnered with the Shoals Marine Laboratory’s team of master gardeners and heirloom seed experts to select the plants most closely related to what she described in her famous book, An Island Garden, in order to create a reconstructed garden.
Who was Celia Thaxter?
Celia Laighton Thaxter (1835-1894) was a poet who grew up on the Isles of Shoals. Her father built a large hotel on Appledore Island (the largest of the Isles of Shoals) that became a gathering place for literary and artistic greats of New England during the late 19th century. Thaxter’s garden exists today much as it did more than a century ago, when writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Sarah Orne Jewett, and artists William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassam drew inspiration from their visits.
Her flowers served as a cutting garden for the family’s resort hotel and muse for her acclaimed book. Today the staff and students at the Shoals Marine Laboratory tend to the reconstructed garden, remaining true to the historical descriptions and methods detailed in Celia’s book. Visitors are invited to step inside the garden gate and experience the simple beauty that first graced these rock shores nearing two hundred years ago. The property has become a hotbed of various research efforts, because of this special opportunity to step back in time, and to observe the island’s unique history and ecology.
What was Grown for the Garden?
Thaxter’s garden boasts an impressive selection of plants, and our project provided nearly 50 varieties of plants to her reconstructed garden. Some of what was grown were cold-hardy, New England favorites: poppy, foxglove, dianthus, phlox, coreopsis, columbine, aster. The list also featured more vintage charmers like Love-in-a-Mist, Larkspur, Sweet Rocket, Sweet William, and Rose Campion.
The Dream Team
The heirloom seeds for Thaxter’s garden were carefully hand sewn and grown in temperature-controlled greenhouses for a series of months by Master Gardener and Thaxter Garden Steward Marie Nickerson, Garden Steward Terry Cook, and Rolling Green Nursery’s Head Grower Tammy Hathaway. Nickerson thoroughly researched the layout of Thaxter’s original garden, and carefully reconstructed its design.
Tour the Garden Virtually, and Shop the Plant Collection
This year, due to COVID-19, seasonal tours of Thaxter’s island garden have been cancelled. However, the Shoals Marine Laboratory is bringing Appledore Island to you! They are creating live and recorded media so you can tour the island virtually, and learn from interactive webinars hosted by marine scientists all summer. Sign up for their newsletter to get more details.
Additionally, Rolling Green Nursery will be making some of the plants grown for the 2020 garden available for purchase, so you can bring a little bit of Thaxter’s garden home with you. Visit our nursery to see a sampling of some of the flowers.
We are honored to be part of this project, and hope you all enjoy it. We look forward to growing for the garden in future years, when people can visit the island safely once again, and appreciate this wonderful part of New England’s heritage.