Celia Thaxter’s Island Gardens Appear in Colorful New Book

By Will Grünewald
Excerpt from our July 2022 issue

The daughter of a lighthouse keeper in the mid-1800s, Celia Thaxter grew up on islands. Until the age of 12, she enjoyed scattering marigolds in the thin soil sheltered in the crevices of New Hampshire’s barren White Island. Then her family moved to Maine’s Appledore Island, six miles off Kittery, where her green thumb thrived. Her father built a hotel there and she maintained a garden that continues to grow. Phyllis Root and Gary D. Schmidt, the authors of a new illustrated biography, Celia planted a garden (Candlewick Press; hardcover; $18.99), revels in reciting the singsong names of its sweet peas, hollyhocks, foxgloves and larkspur. Eventually, she married and settled on the mainland, though she still tended to her island garden. She also began writing poems, essays and books, many inspired by her coastal background, which transformed her into a national literary figure – “her words opened like flowers”, write Root and Schmidt. Their book is short and charming, accessible to elementary school students but enjoyable for everyone, made even more beautiful by the folkloric watercolors and gouaches of Portland illustrator Melissa Sweet, among which excerpts of Thaxter’s own words are interspersed. . Thaxter wrote in 1894 An island garden“The very act of planting a seed in the earth has something beautiful about it for me.”


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