Hartford Blooms at CHS


Plan Showing Location of Trees on Lands of Messrs J. J. and F. Goodwin (detail). Drawing, 1898. The Connecticut Historical Society, 2012.312.164.

At the end of the nineteenth century, much of the west part of Hartford was still farmland. Cows grazed in the meadows along the Park River, where small boys went swimming in the summertime. But the area was beginning to build up, primarily with great estates, but also with more modest homes in the neighborhood that would later be known as the West End. One of the grandest of the great estates lay must outside the West End at the corner of Woodland Street and Asylum Avenue. This property belonged to Francis and James J. Goodwin; James Goodwin’s huge mansion was locally known as Goodwin Castle. The Connecticut Historical Society has many photographs of the house and a plan showing the location of trees and shrubs on the extensive grounds. It must have been lovely in May, when the cherry trees and crabapple trees were in blossom. Other flowering trees such as tulip trees and sourwood bloomed later in the summer. The red foliage of the sourwood and maples would have stood out against the green of the arborvitae and pines in the fall. The original plan for the Goodwin estate and other garden plans and architectural drawings will be on view at the Connecticut Historical Society from 9:00 to 5:00 on Saturday June 28, in conjunction with Hartford Blooms, a nine-day showcase of Hartford’s gardens and historic architecture. Stop by and see what this part of Hartford was like one hundred years ago.

Flowers are Blooming!

Summer is right around the corner – the weather is getting warmer, the grass has turned a brighter green, and flowers are popping up in gardens all over the state! Perhaps one of the most amazing Connecticut gardens to view at this time of year is the Rose Garden at Elizabeth Park (Hartford, CT). The garden was created in 1904 by Theodore Wirth and spans just over 2 acres of land, filled with approximately 800 different varieties of roses.  Continue reading

The Mountain Laurel is in Bloom Again


Sara E. Sill, Drawing of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia), 1883. The Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of Newton C. Brainard

Certain flowers remind me of certain people. Trailing arbutus reminds me of my father, who knew where to find it growing in the woods around Manchester, where I grew up. Hybrid tea roses remind me of my mother, who grew them in her garden. Mountain laurel reminds me of a woman I never knew, who lived in Old Saybrook more than a century ago. On June 21, 1883, Sara E. Sill drew a picture of a sprig of mountain laurel. Sara was an amateur artist and an amateur botanist, but she drew her sprig of laurel with great precision and detail, giving it its Latin name, Kalmia latifolia. The mountain laurel was not yet Connecticut’s state flower—that wouldn’t happen until 1907—but it was admired for its showy blossoms and evergreen foliage, which was widely gathered and used in holiday decorations. It was one of over two hundred flowers that Sara depicted that year, mounting them in an album that today is in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society. Rather than arranging the flowers according to their scientific classification, or grouping them by color, as is most often done in modern guidebooks, Sara presented her drawings in chronological order, day by day, as the flowers came into bloom, so that her album shows that progress of the seasons, from early spring through autumn, starting out with pussy willow catkins and ending with holly berries. Mountain laurel was beloved of many artists, including the Connecticut Impressionists, who depicted it in numerous canvases of the ledges along the Connecticut River, but for me, the sight of the clusters of tiny pink umbrellas always evokes the memory of Sara Sill and her fascination with Connecticut wildflowers.

Summertime and the living is easy

I just got back from a trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, which got me thinking about the value of parks. National parks are the crown jewels in our country’s network of public spaces, but state and local parks are great alternatives when all you’ve got is a weekend or an afternoon. One of my main goals in life is to be in a reclining position as often as possible, and parks are a great place to achieve this.

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