Founded in 1916, volunteer members of the Rye Beach Little Boar’s Head Garden Club can be seen regularly tending plants, grooming shrubs and beautifying one of their picture perfect gardens just north of the fish houses on the ocean side of Route 1A.
Long before New Hampshire’s coastal road was designated a “scenic” byway, Ocean Boulevard was sand dunes and private property. After the Dudley Survey in 1899, the road was laid out along the entire 13 miles between Massachusetts and Maine. Shortly thereafter, a small spirited group set out to cultivate a scenic pocket garden just north of North Hampton State Beach that was really just a pull-off then, more noticeable for occasional litter than the roadside attraction it is now.
It started with a hand-written note:
“You are invited to attend a meeting at the home of Mrs. George Allen on Friday, June 30th, 1916, to consider the formation of a local garden club.”
The ladies gathered and the Rye Beach Little Boar’s Head Garden Club became a reality. There were eight members initially. Their mission statement encouraged growth horticulturally and agriculturally; improvement of the neighborhood; and specified that members should have plenty of frivolity and elasticity. Who wouldn’t want to belong to such an organization?
Meeting minutes recorded from the 1930s describe planting the window boxes at the North Hampton Railroad station and the planting of the garden at the north end of the fish houses. In 1935, Mary Frye Frost, who lived across from the north end garden, began to tire of the many cars parking along the road, blocking the views of the ocean. She cleaned up litter when the picnickers did not and started thinking about discouraging such goings on. She considered the possibility of a rock garden for people to enjoy.
Miss Frost secured permission from the authorities, and at her own expense, started what is now North Garden. She continued maintaining it until her death in 1939, when “some of the members felt that it would be very nice as well as a fitting move for the Club to take over the care and maintenance of the roadside rock garden which was started five years ago by Miss Mary Frost.”
Today the ladies of this 100-year old club have traded their white gloves for green thumbs. The nearly 60 members of the Rye Beach Little Boar’s Head Garden Club, a non-profit organization established in 1964, have faithfully followed the Club’s mission for a century. For many years, the staple plantings were red salvia, purple petunias and yellow marigolds. Four garden areas were created and maintained with “hired help and plants donated from members’ gardens.” As time passed, club members took over the responsibilities of maintaining the gardens because the expense of professional gardeners became too prohibitive for their modest dues to support.
In 1978 a yard sale, entitled “Antiques and Attic Treasures” was held. The club raised $1500, and several club members, including Katherine Southworth and Helen Coorsen delivered the club’s donation to Dr. John Kingsbury, Director of the Marine Lab at the Isles of Shoals, for the restoration of Celia Thaxter’s garden on Appledore Island.
At one end of the north garden, a small formal planting of green scrubs with rocks provides an oasis of calm and a pleasing contrast. A gravel path was installed in a gentle curve through the center to provide a way to walk through the garden. Each year a different theme for the gardens are implemented with displays of gem-like annuals and perennials planted in sparkling, intense colors.
Thousands of visitors have walked, cycled or motored by the gardens each summer. Some pedestrians stop to chat or call out how pleased they are to see flowers fluttering in the breeze coming off the Atlantic. The tradition of making our community more beautiful makes our membership very happy. One club member, Leslie Asadoorian, who lives in the same house Mary Frost spent her summers keeping an eye on litterbugs, takes enormous pride in watching people admire the garden she helped to plant. The Club hopes that many more visitors will delight in coming upon these botanical beauties by the sea.
Warren, R., 1980: Little Boar’s Head – Rye Beach Garden