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 the same. It won’t taste the same. And 400 years from now, people may not even recognize our apples anymore.
And so when Rolling Green Nursery was approached to grow plants for the historic Celia Thaxter Garden, 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, led by Head Grower Tammy Hathaway, 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.
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 portfolio. 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. Seen below is a shot of Thaxter’s garden, surrounded by the ocean water… pretty heavenly, huh?
The Official Hand Off!
The heirloom seeds for Thaxter’s garden were carefully hand sewn and grown in temperature-controlled greenhouses for a series of months. Seen below are the team of master gardeners working for the Shoals Marine Laboratory, led by Marie Nickerson (second from right), as they received their plants from Rolling Green Nursery’s Tammy Hathaway (third from the right – go Tammy!). The man with the beard on the far right is Roger Swain, most famous for hosting the television show The Victory Garden on PBS. He is an avid member of the Celia Thaxter gardening and research team. Congratulations to the entire team – this has been a job VERY WELL DONE. What a wonderful way to preserve a beautiful part of history!