Sunny June continues, showcasing gardens all around me in the Seacoast region of southern Maine and coastal New Hampshire. I’m back to Salem today, and then off on other adventures, but first I wanted to share some photographs of gardens along (or not too far away from) the York and Piscataqua Rivers, including an absolutely stunning private garden which is cultivated by friends of my parents. It is behind a gate, which reveals nothing of the wonders within, so I feel very fortunate to have been granted access: the garden was in its last stage of late-spring bloom, but I’m sure you can discern its full-blown glory even with my amateur photographs. A bit further down (up?) the York River, the “old-fashioned” garden at the Elizabeth Perkins House, now the main office of the OldYork Historical Society, has always been one of my favorite York gardens: this year it is untended due to the pandemic, but I have no doubt it will rise again.
A spectacular private garden along the York River and the Elizabeth Perkins House and grounds.
Over in Portsmouth, I found refuge from a largely-maskless crowd on Juneteenth in the city’s pocket gardens and on the grounds of the Governor Langdon House, which belongs to Historic New England. So again, not a lot of garden-tending, but good bones!
What a bright and glorious June: quite the contrast to the dark and challenging time we find ourselves in. I’m in York Harbor for most of it, gardening, reading, taking long walks: it feels far from the maddening crowd. I feel very fortunate: my only concerns are whether or not the gardens are getting enough water, both in Salem and York, and what’s happening in our evolving kitchen renovation in the former—thankfully my working husband is managing that, and he’s probably seeing to the garden as well. That’s just a small pocket garden so not too much time or effort: here we have gardens spread out over a much larger area so it’s a bigger task, but still a pleasurable one. This is context for my post today, which is not going to be the product of rather of deep thought or research, but rather simply existing in a beautiful place: flowers and houses shot while gardening (indirectly) and walking. My father and I were driving to the dump with all of our lawn and garden refuse last when we came upon a field of lupines, the perfect (with roses) June flower. What a gift: so I thought I would share it here. This is the way lupines are supposed to look, not one or two or three or even fifteen in a cultivated garden, but a field:
Lupines in a field on Route 91 in York, Maine.
More eye candy: some of my favorite houses on my favorite street in York, Lindsay Road. This is a way that runs from the center of York Village to the river, and though it’s not going to be apparent from my pictures, there is in fact some architectural diversity on this old street: there are “colonials”, old and new, a perfect Federal, a Greek Revival or two, some modern “country club” houses (as the golf club of the York Golf and Tennis club is adjacent, and even a bungalow. It’s a great street, ending up (if you’re coming from the Village), at John Hancock’s Wharf and Marshall’s Store.
I feel a bit selfish and indulgent featuring my garden during this troubling and tumultuous week, but I really don’t have anything else to offer. My dear readers and followers seemed to like last week’s garden post, and though I am no Marianne Majerus or Stacy Bass, it’s almost impossible to take a bad photograph of some flowers, like my beloved Trillium and Lady’s Slippers, both “out” this week! Our big kitchen demolition/renovation is starting very soon and there will likely put a lot of sawdust in this adjacent garden, so it’s the last we’ll see of it for some time. I’ll miss my garden this summer, but I’m off to our family house in Maine, where my father want to put in a new garden, so that project will be somewhat compensatory: soliciting all tips from Maine gardeners—-for a site with full sun but lots of ledge (we already have a rock garden).
Meanwhile, here’s my little city plot this past week:
It’s a bit wild but that’s how I like it—contained chaos. But I will say that the anemones are MONSTERS this year.
I’m sorry that the Lady’s Mantle hasn’t popped yet but I do have Lady’s Slippers to show you!
And flourishing ferns, trillium, and one of my very favorite plants, lungwort, which looks like this all summer long, not just at showstopper time.
Since the beginning of the corona quarantine, I’ve been contributing to an initiative called #salemtogether which has focused on past episodes of challenge and adversity in Salem’s history in an effort to kindle some context, and perhaps even resilience. There has been a flurry of social media posts on the great Salem Fire of 1914, the Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919, and this week it’s all about World War I. I wish we could go back farther, but I do have to say that I have developed great respect for the people that lived in Salem in the second decade of the twentieth century: through fire and flu and war. They really got going, without too much whining (that I can detect). I’m at a bit of a disadvantage compared to my partners in this project as they are the keepers of archives and I’m just armed with a few digital databases, so I have to be a bit creative in my search for portals into the past. Just reading contemporary newspapers made it very clear that the primary responsibilities of citizens during 1917-1918 were to: 1)produce; 2)conserve and 3)buy liberty bonds. As the first two obligations were focused on FOOD first of all, I then browsed through as many gardening publications as I could find, as I don’t have access to the records of the Salem Public Safety Committee on Food Production and Conservation (wherever they are!) and settled in for a delightful afternoon with TheGarden magazine, which was issued between 1905 and 1924. This magazine was entitled Farming before it became The Garden so it’s a bit more practical than some of its contemporary sister publications, but still, before the war it was far more focused on aesthetics than produce. Then comes a stark change in the spring of 1917: from flowers to vegetables, from conservatories to cold frames, from sundials to tools, from the “hospitable garden” to the “patriotic garden”. And then back again, when the garden can be “demobilized” after the Armistice of November 1918, and attention can return to perennials and pergolas.
Garden Magazine Covers 1916-1919
I’m not sure that this national publication can capture the Salem scene but at least these covers can (decoratively) symbolize contemporary attitudes. As you can see, the messaging gets increasingly strident until the Kaiser ends up canned! The more I read about the homefront during the First World War, the more I realize just how important canning was: “turn the reserves into preserves”!
The granddaughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hildegarde Hawthorne (Oskinson) followed in the family business and published a wide variety of works over her lifetime (1871-1952), including children’s books, travel books, poetry, and biographies. I posted previously on one of her “rambles” books, Old Seaports of New England, because it features Salem prominently, but it is not my favorite of her titles: that preference is her garden book, The Lure of the Garden (1911). Gardening books by society ladies such as Hildegarde are a dime a dozen in this era, but The Lure of the Garden is different: it’s not a practical tome or simply an appreciation of the botanical beauty, but rather a series of essays on different cultural aspects of the garden, in her time and over time: from “Our Grandmother’s Garden” to “Childhood in the Garden” to “The Social Side of Gardens” to “Gardens in Literature”. It’s beautifully written (I think shorter-form essays are her strong suit) and beautifully illustrated, by Maxfield Parrish, Jules Guérin, Sigismond de Ivanowski, Anna Whelan Betts, and others, with plates in both color and black and white, paintings, drawings, and photographs. Throughout the book, the theme of the garden as a private refuge and true reflection of one’s inner self emerges, both very literally in considerations of enclosure and garden gates as well as through textual and visual illustration, as she shows off her connections and takes us into the “Gardens of Well-Known People” such as Parrish, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Cecilia Beaux, Edith Wharton, and Stephen Parrish. For all this (and because I am dealing with the menace of powdery mildew right now), I think my favorite chapter is “Some Garden Vices”, in which the garden is portrayed as an autonomous entity, showering “pity and love to its ugliest weed” to a touching though infuriating extent: it will spare no pains to convey to this voracious plant all the delicately prepared food destined for your lilies or your phlox, will discover the utmost art in draining its water toward the thick roots of its favorite, give it sun and shadow, sweat and labor for it. If you snatch the hateful progeny from its arms, leave only the slightest portion of root behind, that patient, devoted garden will nurse the battered and wounded thing back again to life and health, to flaunt triumphantly in bed and border. As this is Hildegarde’s extravagant prose in reference to weeds, you can imagine her descriptions of more covetous cultivations.
These are the rose weeks of the summer in central New England: while newer varieties of roses are bred to be repeat- or ever-blooming the older varieties bloom now, so if you walk the streets of an older city or town you’re going to see bursting bushes behind and over fences and along porches and foundations. Often red or a very very dark pink. I’m not certain what cultivar these roses are: at first glance they appear to be of the gallica variety, the oldest type of rose to be cultivated in Europe which was brought to North America in the seventeenth century. Certainly several of the rose bushes in the “Colonial” garden behind the Derby House are gallica, cultivated for their medicinal and household uses as much as for their beauty. When I’m walking down the street taking photographs of rose bushes at this time of year and happen to spot a homeowner in close proximity, I always ask about their roses, and I nearly always get the answer: oh they’ve been there forever.
Salem was a horticultural haven in the nineteenth century, so it’s fairly easy to find out what people were growing and showing. When I look through periodicals like the New England Farmer, and Horticultural Register or the Transactions of the Essex Horticultural Society it is pretty clear that most people were more excited about dahlias than roses at mid-century, though Francis Putnam did have quite a collection of showy roses on hand, including La Reine, Duchess of Sutherland, Aubernon, Baron Prevost, Madame Laffey, Madame Damame, Mrs. Eliot, Devoniensis, Bon Silene, Bossuet, and Anne Boleyn, though he was a florist by trade. I have a pink David Austin AnneBoleyn rosebush in my garden, though I doubt it’s the same cultivar as Mr. Putnam’s nineteenth-century varietal. According to Alice Morse Earle’s Old Time Gardens, Newly Set Forth (1901), an even more storied English rose, the “York and Lancaster” striped gallica, could once be found on the grounds of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace in its original location on Union Street. Interest in the “old-time” roses was clearly reviving in the latter part of the nineteenth century, as was the lore attached to all sorts of flowers according to the “language” attributed to them, but serious garden writers always cautioned against mixing up the York and Lancaster with its similarly-striped cousin, the “Rosa Mundi” rose, which had even earlier “historical” origins.
John Ramsbottom’s “King Penguin” book, 1939, with its York and Lancaster illustration; Mrs. L. Burke’s The Language of Flowers, 1865; Rosa Mundi from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 1790s.
Enough of history and let’s see some more roses about town, including my own (first up) which are modern David Austin varieties: my house was a working (rooming) house for much of its life and I doubt there was space (or time) for a flower garden, so I don’t have any old rosebushes. I don’t like any red in the garden for some reason (though I love it indoors), so it’s pink and yellow and ivory for me. Then we have: one of my favorite pocket gardens on Botts Court, two very dependable displays nearby, and the particularly lush roses behind (not in) the Ropes Mansion Garden—just love these. It’s summer now.
I had high hopes for this particular September, one of the very few Septembers that I didn’t have to go back to school as a student or teacher in my entire life as I am on sabbatical. I’ve always thought that September was one of the most beautiful months of the year, and looked forward to long golden walks after I put in several hours of reading and writing. We’re halfway through the month, and so far it hasn’t turned out that way: the weather was unbearably muggy and hot in the first week of September, and last week I had pneumonia! But I’m on the mend now, so those walks will happen, and in the meantime I have been extraordinarily productive, so I have adopted a pre-modern mentality and come to the conclusion that it was God’s will that I stay inside and write. With both my lungs and the weather clearing up, however, I’m planning on a more (physically) active second half of the month.
I’m working with early modern prescriptive literature: texts on how to better “order” your health and household and garden, and feeling deficient in my own “government” of all of the above. September was a busy month for my seventeenth-century authors, who prescribe many activities for their readers: harvesting, preserving, cleaning, potting-up, sowing and sewing, among other monthly tasks. In his Kalendarium Hortense, which was published in fourteen editions from 1664, the famous diarist John Evelyn is a taskmaster for two gardens, or really three: the orchard (he was a big forestry proponent, for both timber and fruit), the “olitory garden” (a word he apparently made up) which produced plants for culinary and medicinal uses, and the “parterre” or flower garden. As you can read below, much is in prime during September so there is much to do in all three gardens.
I’m reading these texts for specific information about life and learning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries but it occurred to me that gardening and husbandry texts, in particular, are great sources for understanding climate change as the authors take careful note of the existing weather conditions. September was as much a transitional month for them as it is for us. Michaelmas is really the turning point: before that it can be either hot or cold. After our very humid early September, I was kind of relieved to read the observations of Thomas Tryon, a wealthy merchant, popular author, and energetic advocate of vegetarianism who seemed to exist on nothing but gruel in the month of September as the Air (which is the Life of the Spirit in all Cities and great Towns) is thick and sulpherous , full of gross Humidity (YES!) which has its source from many uncleanesses…..I guess they had to suffer through humidity as well, even in the midst of the “Little Ice Age”.
The more elaborate horticultural texts are sources for garden design, machinery, experimental crops–even adjoining houses. One of my favorites is John Worlidge’s SystemaAgriculturae, theMysteryofHusbandryDiscovered (1669) , which also included a “Kalendarium Rusticum” of monthly tasks for the larger estate as well as other reference materials. This is a pretty substantive text describing the workings of a pretty substantive estate: thank goodness there is an epitome! For the steward of such an estate, as opposed to the mere gardener or farmer, September is all about getting ready for the plough, mending your fences, making cider (which Worlidge calls the “wine” of Britain) and perry, drying your hops, sowing a host of vegetables and planting your bulbs, gathering your saffron, “retiring” your tender plants into the conservatory, and tending to your bees. In these early days of an emerging agricultural revolution, it’s good to see some machines to help with all of this work: Worlidge’s work–and his calendar–are aimed at more of a collective or national audience than that of the individual householder as his reference to a “System” implies.
The 1681 edition of Worlidge’s Systema Agriculturae; a more ornamental continental garden from the Nassau-Idstein Florilegium by Johann Walter the Elder, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.
In support of the summer-long celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion in Salem, better known as the House of the Seven Gables, Salem State has offered up a Hawthorne film series in partnership with the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and this week our last film will be shown: Twice-Told Tales (1963). Since we started with The House of the Seven Gables (1940), it will be interesting to see Vincent Price, who played Clifford in that film in a rather straightforward fashion, in what I assume will be his more characteristic over-the-top style. He plays key characters in all three stories of this anthology film, and Dr. Rappaccini himself in the central story, Rappaccini’s Daughter, which just happens to be my favorite Hawthorne short story (it was actually first published in book form in Mosses from an Old Manse rather than Twice Told Tales, but I’m sure this was of no concern to Hollywood). Rappaccini’s Daughter is the favorite Hawthorne tale of many, and it has inspired many visual and literary impressions and adaptations—particularly in the last decade or so. Its allegory makes it endlessly captivating for successive generations, but I think its most recent popularity is due to its rather macabre storyline: the transformation of a young beautiful woman who tends a garden of poisonous plants and in doing so becomes both immune but also a poisonous vessel herself is Gothic in the extreme.
Jesse Willcox Smith, 1900
My particular fascination is the paradox of beauty and toxicity in nature. How can plants as beautiful as monkshood and foxglove be deadly? I have neither in my garden at present, but my very first garden at this house was comprised entirely of plants used in the medieval and early modern eras as plague cures. It did not last long, as most of these plants were really unattractive and I didn’t have quite enough sun for them anyway, so I dug it up and dispersed the more attractive plants in a more conventional flower garden. My favorite survivor of the “plague garden” is rue, a beautiful and ethereal blue-ish gray shrub with yellow flowers that I just sheared off yesterday, with not a care in the world for the potential harm that its leaves could have caused to my skin. How could the “Herb of Grace” cause harm? Obviously it’s not the plant itself but ignorance of its “attributes”; it’s not the medicine but the dose. It’s not nature; it’s man (or woman).
My newly-shorn rue and its illustration in my favorite Renaissance herbal, that of Giovanni Cadamosto (late 15th Century, British Library MS Harley 3736); A much more OBVIOUS poisonous plant in my garden, baneberry or Actaea Rubra: beware of those berries!
Even more paradoxical than a poisonous plant is a poisonous garden, as gardens are supposed to be places of rest, relaxation, wonder and contemplation: sanctuaries where one can find refuge from the busy (and threatening) world outside. Rappaccini’s Daughter is set in Padua, so I believe that Hawthorne was likely influenced by its famous Botanical Garden, established in 1545 and still thriving with over 7000 plant varieties including a collection of poisonous plants, “which are also in the medicinal plants sector because in suitable quantities they can be used to treat illness and diseases”. Also didactic, but a bit more menacing, is the Duchess of Northumbria’s Poison Garden in Alnwick, England, which features more than 100 lethal plants, several of which are in cages, all just part of a much larger botanical attraction and experience. The Duchess wanted to pique the curiosity of children in horticulture, and it probably doesn’t hurt that her estate “starred” as Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films. She also produced a series of books for children titled The Poison Diaries, the first of which has absolutely amazing illustrations by Colin Stimpson of venomous plants “in character”. Scary, but not nearly as scary as the Poison Tree which “stole” into William Blake’s garden, his own creation.
Alnwick’s Poison Garden; a Colin Stimpson illustration from the Poison Diaries; William Blake’s Poison Tree from Songs of Experience, 1794, British Museum.
I’m in a bit of a funk about our city right now, but still mid-June is glorious nearly everywhere in New England, and Salem is no exception: it’s time to celebrate the roses, and the lushness all around us. Roses are spilling under and over fences all over town, whether they are wooden picket, wrought iron, or chain-link. We have passed through the period of the peony and the rhododendron (not a fan of either–too lush) into that of roses, lady’s mantle, and mountain laurel. I wish I could keep the roses going in my own garden, but they seldom put on such a flagrant display after June: they just spurt, and it doesn’t matter how much Neem oil I spray on them, their leaves always turn yellow. But they look good now! Here is this year’s crop, followed by some of my favorite roses around town. Rose bushes are difficult to photograph: the one just below my collage, which is on the fence of the Phillips House on Chestnut Street, is actually more lavender than pink.
There are several of the old Rosa Gallica, or “apothecary’s rose” shrubs in the colonial garden behind Salem Maritime’s Derby House, and I also saw some in the garden of the Munroe Tavern in Lexington as I was driving by last week. I would love one, but I’d kill it. I was scouting out the site of the new archival center that the Lexington Historical Society is building adjacent to the Tavern: now I’m jealous of both Lexington’s old roses and the imminent accessibility of its archives!
Back in Salem and in my garden, the lady’s mantle is peaking, as is the rue (which lasts for most of the summer–a truly marvelous herb), and I found some beautiful variegated catmint for a new border: the cats walk right by it so I don’t think it’s a particularly potent variety. I also put in some masterwort (astrantia) plants along the border of the shade garden: their flowers look like little jeweled brooches and I hope they keep appearing all summer long.
My takeaway from the weekend’s garden tour in Salem is a renewed appreciation of structure in the garden: fences, pergolas, pillars and garden sheds were everywhere in evidence, and both the small and large gardens were oriented towards the architecture of their adjacent houses. I’ve always been a bit more botanical-based, but now I find myself desperately wanting a little garden house! It was a very eclectic tour, ranging from very small gardens on River Street to a palatial garden on Chestnut, with a beautifully structured classical garden on Federal Street in between. We toured in the morning, well before a torrential downpour in the later afternoon–which must have stranded lots of people under available porches, or some other convenient structure. As for plant material, there was mildew-free bee balm, very well-kept roses, lots of vines, and lavender that is much more lush than mine. As always, I feel grateful to the gardeners/homeowners who put themselves out there and allowed us all to trespass for a while.
Salem Gardens (+sheds) on River, Federal and Chestnut Streets.