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Barbara: A few days ago I shared the story of how my Dad started gardening on Block Island and how my sister helped him after he became ill. Until he passed in 2004, Dad and Mary Beth worked side-by-side and built on the bones of the garden he started back in the summer of 1968. In the five years since, Mary Beth has created a masterpiece. As promised, I’ll take you on a little tour starting with the vegetable garden.

It’s been a tough growing season this year, as many of you know. The rain never seemed to stop and the sun hid behind the clouds for most of the spring and early summer, so the gardens got a slow start. Luckily the week I was there it was beautiful. (Guess I brought some of that California sunshine with me.) Most of the photos were taken when I was on Block Island in the beginning of July, but a few are from seasons past.

The view from the house

The view from the house.

The Vegetable Garden

This is at the far end of the property. I love waking up with the sun and wandering around here. It’s so peaceful and the dewy earth smells fantastic. It’s also where I can usually find Mary Beth — weeding, pruning or watering. It takes a tremendous amount of work. Good thing she loves it!

Herbs are planted in the center raised bed

Herbs are planted in the center raised bed and the vegetables are in the beds that surround it.

Misty August morning last year

One misty August morning last year.

These posts have been fun for me. I’ve rediscovered lots of old photos like the ones in the previous post and these of my daughter, Kristin with my Dad.

Harvesting tomatoes in 1982

John and Kristin harvesting tomatoes in 1982.

Kristin's prize tomato. Her grandparents are behind her with their heads cut off (?!!)

Kristin's prize tomato. Her grandparents are behind her with their heads cut off (?!!).

This flower bed sits directly in front of the vegetable garden. It’s the most beautiful of the garden beds. The perennials are artfully planted and timed so that it’s never without a magnificent display of blossoms from early spring through the first frost in late October.

The Island’s summer visitors stop by the side of the road to take pictures. It’d be fun to see some of them.

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This is the one that stops traffic all day long.

Walk around any corner on the property and you will find a lovely surprise — birdhouses and birdbaths, wind chimes, and pots brimming with flowers. It’s a never-ending delight and every season Mary Beth finds new treasures to tuck into the garden.

The slow drip of water attracts all kinds of birds

The slow drip of water attracts all kinds of bird who fight to bathe here.

Some of the best treasures are the ones we rescue. Mary Beth’s client was tossing this bird house. She brought it home and rebuilt it. After a coat of paint, it was ready for some new tenants.

Afternoon sun

Afternoon sun lights the bird condo that sits near the bee hives behind the vegetable garden.

Another spot I love. There’s nothing so soothing as sitting here with a cup of tea and a book to read.

Peaceful moment

Lovely, weather-worn bench waiting for a visitor.

More water for the birds

Terracotta frogs guarding another birdbath.

While the vegetable garden is mostly planted with humans in mind, Mary Beth always remembers to add treats for the birds, bees, butterflies, etc. I love these exhuberant, fuzzy sunflowers.

Dew like little jewels sit on the fuzzy stem of this gorgeous red sunflower.

Dewdrops highlight the fuzzy stems of this gorgeous red sunflower.

The little hoenybee is so covered in pollen that she's hard to see.

This little honeybee is so covered in pollen that she's hard to see.

The next post will focus on the flowers beds. Till then be sure to spend a few quiet moments in your garden just taking it all in.

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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.

Four of us in front of the pond by the Quillan's cottage in August 1964. The ocean was a short walk over the bluff.

In front of the pond by the Quillan's cottage in August 1964 - the ocean was a short walk away

All five of us with our Mom on Mansion Beach in 1965

All five of us with our Mom on Mansion Beach in 1965

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.

Cottage Farm House in the 1920's as it appears on a vintage postcard.

A vintage postcard shows Cottage Farm House in the 1920's

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.

Dad in his vegetable garden with just-harvested lettuce - as always in paint-spattered work clothes and a bandaged finger

Dad in his vegetable garden with just-harvested lettuce - as always in paint-spattered work clothes

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.

Dad watering some late season cuttings

Dad watering some late season cuttings

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.

Mary Beth transformed Dad's garden

Mary Beth transformed Dad's garden

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.

Roses in early July

Rest in peace, John Hobe

Rest in peace, John Hobe

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B: Remember yesterday when Mary Beth said that barring unforeseen circumstances we would have bees today? Well, we have unforeseen circumstances — sort of. Actually it was an assumption that got us, as they often do. We assumed that they’d be coming by mail, but the bees are being picked up tomorrow by an Island beekeeper from a trusted source.

So, with just a bit of luck and good weather Mary Beth will have the bees late tomorrow and be placing them in the hive on Sunday. And good thing too. The waiting is getting to all of us. The excitement of the arrival of the honey bees is even having an effect on Ray who sings Lucinda Williams’ “Honey Bee” whenever he sees Mary Beth or calls her on the phone. (Is there anything as sweet as a singing husband?)

Just a side note for those of you not living on an island. To “pick them up tomorrow” means you have to get up early in the morning, drive your car to the dock, load it onto the ferry boat and ride for an hour across 12 miles of hopefully calm ocean to Point Judith. Then you drive to the pick up, while throwing in a few errands for good measure. Later in the afternoon you arrive back at the dock to drive the car onto the ferry for the return trip — straining as you look over your shoulder, and the groceries piled high behind you, while backing the car into a VERY small space on the lower deck. It’s kind of a lovely ritual really. You get to meet with your neighbors and catch up on Island news. No one’s in a hurry, rushing off to do this and that — just riding the boat together across the sea to the other side.

Turns out the delay is for the best anyway. We had other things demanding our attention this morning. Today we sadly said goodbye to sweet Magee, our late father’s Lab. The years got the better of her and we had to let her go this morning. We will miss her.

Sweet Magee at the beach - her favorite place to chase sticks.

Sweet Magee at the beach - her favorite place to chase sticks.

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