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June 22. 2013 2:34AM

Isle of Shoals

Celia Thaxter's garden on Appledore still blooms 120 years later


With 100 species of plants blooming throughout the season, Celia Thaxter's Historic Garden Tours offer beauty and history for the one-day tour seeker. (Courtesy photo by Priscilla Chellis, Little River Windsors)

NEW CASTLE — If you are looking for a one-day getaway with beautiful gardens, a ride on the open ocean and sights rich in history, then a tour of Celia Thaxter's Appledore Island Garden off the coast on the Isles of Shoals may be your perfect destination.

Offered by the Shoals Marine Laboratory, a partnership between UNH and Cornell University and led by UNH marine docents, the tours are all inclusive from parking in New Castle to round-trip boat transportation to and from Appledore Island, a buffet luncheon (including beverages and dessert) and a full day of guided tours.

Pamela M. Boutilier, coastal coordinator and assistant to William E. Bemis/Celia Thaxter's Garden caretaker, said each tour allows up to 35 participants who enjoy a journey like no other. July, she says, is the best month to take the tour, though the garden is always beautifully in bloom.

“The most glorious time in Celia's Garden is during the month of July when the garden is at its peak. However, depending on certain varying peaks of particular flowers of interest, any time from the end of June through mid-August, the garden will be very colorful,” Boutilier said. “There are approximately 100 varieties of plants, and most of them are annuals (blooming one year). The garden is planted according to Celia's plan of 1893 which is included in her book, “An Island Garden.” It was at the urging of Celia's dear friend, Sarah Orne Jewett, that Celia included a plan in the book. This plan has allowed us to re-create Celia's garden as close as possible to how the flower beds were planted during Celia's day.”

Celia Laighton Thaxter (1835-1894) was born in Portsmouth and moved to White Island, Isles of Shoals, with her father when she was 4 years old. He was the lighthouse keeper there for eight years, then resigned his keeper's job to build a large hotel on Appledore Island. This would become one of the first resort hotels to be built on the New England coast and a gathering place for the literary and artistic greats of New England in the end of the 19th century.

Celia married Levi Thaxter, but after his health failed, Celia returned to the islands to care for her mother and the hotel. There she became famous for her poetry and in the last year of her life published her most famous book, “An Island Garden,” in which she describes her garden and all its blooms.

Celia's cottage burned along with the Appledore House Hotel in 1914, but Celia's cottage foundation remains. The garden has been re-created according to the plan Celia explained in her book. It remains a true replica of how it looked long ago to guests of the hotel.

Boutilier said the tour cost is $100 per person and includes boat transportation to and from Appledore Island aboard the R/V Gulf Challenger. Passengers meet the vessel at UNH's Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex at 29 Wentworth Road, New Castle. As part of the tour package, a fully catered luncheon courtesy of Shoals Marine Lab is served in the Kiggins Commons Dining Room offering expansive water views and an open deck for outside dining.

For more information, visit www.sml.cornell.edu/sml_reservation.php or call 430-5220.


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