The view from Celia's piazza: Thaxter garden can now be viewed from famed poet's perspective

By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent
July 06. 2018 6:11PM
Celia Thaxter's house and porch were destroyed by fire in 1914. Her famed piazza was rebuilt at the end of last summer, giving visitors the ability to view her flowers as she saw them while writing "An Island Garden." (Courtesy of UNH)
Hard to reach
Access to Appledore Island and Celia Thaxter’s Garden is limited. Shoals Marine Laboratory offers tours as part of a weekly cruise from New Castle, but those cruises are sold out for the season. For more information, visit www.shoalsmarinelaboratory.org.

Author and poet Celia Thaxter described her cutting garden on the Isles of Shoals in "An Island Garden." The famed piazza has been rebuilt. (Wikimedia Commons)

In the introduction of her 1894 book, "An Island Garden," Celia Thaxter wrote about her love of flowers.

"Ever since I could remember anything, flowers have been like dear friends to me, comforters, inspirers, powers to uplift and to cheer," Thaxter wrote.

Thaxter, who grew up in the Isles of Shoals, was one of the nation's leading authors and poets. She wrote that she was a lonely child growing up on White Island, six miles from the mainland, where her father was the lighthouse keeper.

Her first small garden bed contained only marigolds.

"Fire-colored blossoms which were the joy of my heart and the delight of my eyes," Thaxter wrote.

Thaxter's parents built a hotel on nearby Appledore, the largest of the Shoals. As an adult, Thaxter lived in a cottage with a 50- by 15-foot cutting garden and overlooking porch she called a piazza located north of the hotel.

Thaxter's garden, and the painters and fellow writers who visited her piazza, included the likes of novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, poet John Greenleaf Whittier, and impressionist painter Childe Hassam.

The cottage and piazza burned in 1914, 20 years after Thaxter's death, in a fire that started at the hotel.

Even though the garden was recreated to replicate the description in Thaxter's book, nobody has seen it from her viewpoint for more than 100 years.
Celia Thaxter's home on Appledore Island was a frequent gathering spot for luminaries of art and literature in the late 1800s. The home burned in 1914, 20 years after Thaxter's death. (COURTESY)

Until now.

Today, Appledore Island is the home of Shoals Marine Laboratory, which is jointly run by University of New Hampshire and Cornell University.

Executive Director Jennifer Seavey said Thaxter's piazza was rebuilt at the end of last summer, and now visitors can enjoy her garden the same way she and her artist friends did more than a century ago.

"The reason we wanted it was because when you walked out to the garden you had the sense that it felt funny. The piazza anchors it and gives the sense this was at a house," Seavey said.

Seavey has long-term plans to rebuild Thaxter's cottage, but said an updated laboratory is the first priority.

Seavey, who herself is a distant relative of Thaxter, views art as an important component in understanding ecology.

"Art is really good for science," Seavey said. "Science can get so bogged down with methodology and precision."

A dedication ceremony is scheduled for July 20.
A view from the recently constructed piazza, which overlooks Celia Thaxter's Garden and recreates the view she would have had from her home. (COURTESY)


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