Beloved island garden returns to Portsmouth's Prescott Park

Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Sign with text in front of bright garden flowers

A sign near Celia Thaxter’s garden offers historical information about the popular poet, the flowers and Shoals Marine Laboratory’s efforts to steward the island’s rich cultural resources.

The colorful island garden of beloved writer Celia Thaxter will bloom at Prescott Park in Portsmouth again this summer, giving aficionados another rare chance to enjoy this cherished historic garden.

For many summers, horticultural and literary lovers of the popular poet have made the 10-mile pilgrimage by boat to Appledore Island to visit the restored garden maintained by Shoals Marine Laboratory (SML), which is jointly run by UNH and Cornell University. But in the summers of 2020 and 2021, because of COVID-19 precautions, SML made the difficult decision to cancel day trips to the island and sought a temporary site to reimagine the garden on the mainland.

“This gives those who haven’t been able to make the trip to Appledore Island an opportunity to take in the beauty of this legendary garden.”

“This gives those who haven’t been able to make the trip to Appledore Island an opportunity to take in the beauty of this legendary garden,” says Jennifer Seavey, SML executive director. “Visitors from around the world are passionate about seeing Thaxter’s garden and Prescott Park has been the perfect temporary site. We are grateful for our partnership with the City of Portsmouth.”

Each winter, SML works with Rolling Green Nursery in Greenland to cultivate a specific blend of flowers from seed to recreate the garden on Appledore Island so that it accurately reflects the time period and the original designs outlined in Thaxter’s book “An Island Garden”. As the garden grows throughout the season it changes and emerges to encompass a wide variety of plants, including many types of poppies (Thaxter’s favorite), hollyhocks, dahlias, sweet peas, foxgloves, nigella, scabiosa and many others.

This year, Seavey and garden steward Terry Cook are hosting tours to give summer visitors to Portsmouth’s waterfront an opportunity to learn more about the life of Celia Thaxter, the famous art colony the garden inspired, stewarding the garden and how this historic garden fits with the conservation mission of SML. Tours are free to the public, but advance registration is required and spots are limited. To register go to and click on the News section.

Bright pink poppy
A bright poppy, one of Celia Thaxter’s favorite flowers, blooms in the garden at Prescott Park along the Portsmouth waterfront.

Tour dates:

Friday, July 16 at 4 p.m. EST
Friday, July 30 at 4 p.m. EST
Friday, Aug 6 at 4 p.m. EST
Rain dates: Friday, Aug 13 and Friday, Sept 10

Thaxter grew up in the Isles of Shoals and became a favorite American author in the late 19th century. She lived much of her life on Appledore Island, where her cottage garden served as a cutting garden for her family’s hotel. She welcomed a steady stream of well-known writers, musicians and painters to the island to enjoy vibrant conversation in lively salons in her parlor. Impressionist painter and dear friend Childe Hassam made her garden famous in his paintings, and Thaxter published a book with collected prose and watercolor illustrations of her gardens.


Robbin Ray ’82 | UNH Marketing | | 603-862-4864