Celia Thaxter's Garden on Appledore Island

Visit remote Appledore Island and poet Celia Thaxter's gardens without leaving the mainland



Part of Celia Thaxter's garden on Appledore Island
by Peter Randall

Celia Thaxter planted her first garden, mostly marigolds, at age 5, She was a lonely child, living on an island 10 miles out to sea, and the flowers were, in her words, "like dear friends to me, comforters, inspirers, powers to uplift and to cheer."

Her garden grew larger over the years, as did Celia's fame and influence. She became a renowned poet and, at her family's Appledore Island hotel, the host of literary luminaries like Longfellow, Whittier and Emerson. Famed impressionist Childe Hassam illustrated her book, "An Island Garden."

But still her life was hard — an unhappy marriage just one of her challenges — and she often sought solace in her garden and what she called its "glory of color."  You can visit where Celia lived on Appledore and imagine all that long ago happened there, but it's not easy to do. The tours are expensive and arduous for those not physically fit (see below). As a result, few people have experienced the island.

Peter Randall decided to change that. A Seacoast-based photographer/filmmaker/retired publisher — who's had "a 40-year fascination" with photographing the Isles of Shoals and Celia's garden in particular — decided to make the first-ever film about it.

He says, "While we can’t bring the salt air to you, we can provide the sounds of the waves crashing on the rocky shore of Appledore, the squawking of the gulls and best of all the colorful flowers blowing gently in the ocean breeze. We can tell you the story of Celia Thaxter and her life on the island with her creative friends." And so, after working on it over the past three years, he has.

His film, "Celia Thaxter's Island Garden," had its premiere at the Discover Portsmouth Center in December. A companion exhibit, "Flowers in Winter," with many of Randall's photographs, runs until March 8.

Aside from telling Celia's story by combining photographs (some of them taken 30 years ago) and film, Randall outlines how the garden — in shambles after Celia's cottage and the hotel burned to the ground in 1914 — was resurrected for today's guests to enjoy.


Peter Randall's Exhibit and Visiting Appledore

Peter Randall's photographs of Celia's garden can be seen by appointment at the Discover Portsmouth Center until March 8. They're part of an exhibit, "Flowers in Winter: Celia Thaxter's Island Garden." Randall will give a gallery talk on March 1 at 11 a.m. On March 7, the exhibit will be open as part of Art Around Town from 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Click here for more information.

You can visit the garden on Appledore Island this summer, thanks to tours offered by the Shoals Marine Lab through its UNH and Cornell partnership. The tours are led by UNH Marine Docents.

The trip, with 35 participants each, costs $100 per person and includes transportation to the island aboard the R/V Gulf Challenger and a catered luncheon.

A caution: Appledore Island is extremely rugged so you should in good physical condition, able to walk the majority of the day and, because space is limited, to stand for the 30-45 minute boat trip.

 

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