I had just finished a light read, A Memory Between Us, by Sarah Sundin, and have been slogging through The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, when the urge to spend some time in one of my gardening books came over me. I needed the tender words and love of gardening of a woman who lived in another time and another place but whose words were still relevant today and I was hungry for the beautiful paintings of one of the great Impressionists. Celia Thaxter and Childe Hassam were tucked into a beautiful book sleeve, sitting, quite nicely, on a shelf, just waiting to be enjoyed.
Does this ever happen to you? Piles of books all around, several with bookmarks peaking a third of the way through, with nothing to really satisfy you but a treasured volume hidden upon a shelf?
An Island Garden was reissued about ten years ago, reproduced with the art nouveau cover of its time with an introduction by none other than Tasha Tudor. The book follows the island garden, in the Isles of Shoals off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, through a year. The prose is poetic and beautifully crafted and the illustrations are by a friend of Celia Thaxter’s, Childe Hassam, who came summers to stay at Appledore House Hotel, where Celia worked with her family, who owned the hotel, acting as hostess. The hotel was a haven for artistes of the day, Hassam being one. Hassam and Thaxter became friends and he returned to the Isles of Shoals many times, painting some of his most memorable works there.
He who is born with a silver spoon in his mouth is generally considered a fortunate person, but his good fortune is small compared to that of the happy mortal who enters the world with a passion for flowers in his soul. Celia Baxter, An Island Garden, page 4
From her earliest memories, Celia loved flowers. When she was four years old, her family moved to White Island, in the Isles of Shoals, where her father was the lighthouse keeper. A lonely place for a young child, young Celia grew to love the natural beauty of the island. The experience cemented not only her love of gardens, but, the islands themselves. That she shared her garden in 1894, near the end of her life, with words and images that still resonate today, is a gift to the reader; a time to reflect, to slow down, to listen to the rhythms of the wind and the soil and the seasons. That her friend illustrated it with such remarkable splendor only makes it all-the-more-special in An Island Garden.
I’m glad I acted on that urge to delve into one of my gardening books, to visit a nearby shelf, to slip the book out of its booksleeve and open its wondrous pages. It is good to be refreshed and renewed with the beauty of good words and beautiful paintings, is it not?