Barbara: Once upon a time my parents dreamed of a place where they could live by the sea with their five children during lazy summers. So in the winter of 1964 my mom pored over the rental ads in the Sunday New York Times. She found a tiny ad for a summer cottage on Block Island, a place she’d heard of only in weather reports that at the time contained the phrase, “from Block Island to Cape Henlopen.” She called the number, spoke to Fran Quillan and rented a cottage by the sea for two weeks the following summer.
In August my parents loaded up the old Pontiac station wagon — a feat that would be repeated for many years to come. In piled three feisty girls, one sweet boy, a bright-eyed baby girl and a rambunctious, stinky dachshund, all of us squeezing in between boxes filled with cereal, peanut butter and tuna fish. My Dad lashed our overstuffed suitcases to the roof with knots that proved impossible to untie. Mom passed out Dramamine. The car creaked and groaned as the undercarriage scraped the concrete on the way out of our driveway. Much cursing ensued – a continuation of a days’ long stream of invective from our overworked Dad. But who cared, we were on our way to the greatest adventure of our young lives.
Thus began our family’s love affair with Block Island, the most magical of places. This first summer stretched to two and then three until my parents could finally scrape together enough money to put a down payment on their own piece of the island — a magnificent Victorian-era boarding house known as Cottage Farm House.
My father took one look at the broad lawns and saw beautiful flower-and vegetable-filled gardens. The original garden, a weedy bed hugging a stone wall by the road, was a just smattering of daisies and irises. From there my Dad went to work. Bit by bit over the summers when he could get away from the office, and later after he retired and lived on the island full time, he created his gardens working himself to the bone to bring his vision to life.
The gardens grew in size and beauty until they became a stopping point for photographers, painters, and the island tours heading down Corn Neck Road. But in his final years, they started to get overgrown and untidy. Dad still dreamed the dream, but his ticker was bad and he had trouble keeping up with the demands of the flowers and vegetables and the endless repairs on the “old gal”, as he called our house. We all helped when we could, but we had spouses, babies and careers that limited our time there.
Enter Mary Beth. A master gardener, Mary Beth loved the place and couldn’t bear to see my Dad struggling, nor could she stand to see all his good work go to seed. So she sweet-talked her husband into moving to the island for a while so they could help Dad keep his dream alive.
My Dad was delighted to see the work Mary Beth did. (Nothing ever pleased him so much as to see his children doing his bidding in and around the house.) And he loved working with her in his gardens. Together they studied catalogs in the winter, raised seedlings in the spring, planted in the summer, and harvested in the fall. They battled Japanese beetles and deer. Dad lost tools and Mary Beth found them. He said it wasn’t possible to grow roses in that briny climate; she proved him wrong. Mary Beth breathed new life into his garden and his dreams.
My Dad passed away a few years ago, but his gardens, which are now Mary Beth’s gardens, are magnificent. And I want to share them with you. I have many, many pictures taken over the last few years and for the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting some of them a few at a time. Come with me for a tour of the Cottage Farm House gardens.
In awe and gratitude. Thank you, Mary Beth.