Celia Thaxter’s Island Gardens Spring Up In a Colorful New Book

Its authors delight in reciting the singsong names of her sweet peas, hollyhocks, and foxgloves.

"Celia Planted a Garden," a book about Celia Thaxter, by Phyllis Root and Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
By Will Grunewald
From our July 2022 issue

Alighthouse keeper’s daughter in the mid-1800s, Celia Thaxter grew up on islands. Until the age of 12, she delighted in scattering marigolds in the thin soil sheltered in crevices on New Hampshire’s barren White Island. Then, her family moved to Maine’s Appledore Island, six miles off Kittery, where her green thumb flourished. Her father built a hotel there, and she tended an ever-growing garden. Phyllis Root and Gary D. Schmidt, the authors of a new illustrated biography, Celia Planted a Garden (Candlewick Press; hardcover; $18.99), delight in reciting the singsong names of her sweet peas and hollyhocks and foxgloves and larkspurs. Eventually, she married and settled on the mainland, although she still tended her island garden. She also began to pen poems, essays, and books, many of them inspired by her coastal milieu, that turned her into a national literary figure — “her words opened like flowers,” Root and Schmidt write. Their book is short and lovely, accessible to grade-schoolers but enjoyable for anyone, made all the lovelier by Portland illustrator Melissa Sweet’s folksy-meets-fine-art watercolors and gouaches, among which snippets of Thaxter’s own words are interspersed. Thaxter wrote in 1894’s An Island Garden, “The very act of planting a seed in the earth has in it something beautiful to me.”