The Fairies Are Coming…

It’s Portsmouth Fairy House Tour time again. As new residents last year, we stumbled upon the event when we just happened to visit Strawbery Banke that day. (Click HERE to see our adventure a year ago.) Not only did we have a lovely time touring the restored village, we delighted in seeing the whimsical fairy houses tucked into every nook and cranny.  And we were enthralled by the excited, giggling children, most dressed like adorable fairies with wings and tutus, hurrying their parents and grandparents along on their journey of discovery.

This, the 10th year of the tour, organizers have gone all out. On September 21 & 22, there will be over 200 fairy houses designed by artists, garden clubs, gardeners, children, community members at three locations in Portsmouth, NH. So definitely the World’s Largest Fairy House Tour will remain so for another year.

This is the first year that Rolling Green Nursery has not entered a fairy house (see update in COMMENTS below), however, they are contributing in another big way. For weeks, my co-workers have been gathering and drying flowers and seed heads to contribute to the fairy houses being built on Peirce Island in Portsmouth. Our perennial garden ‘clubhouse’ has been transformed. Small bundles of flowers tied with string are hanging from the beams and all four walls, filling the room with aromas of mint and lavender.

Perennial Garden Clubhouse

That’s not all. Inside Rolling Green Nursery, a vast array of miniature furnishings, bridges, animals, bee hives, flags, and tiny fairies are available to make every fairy house builder’s dream come true. Ahhhh…. I wish I was seven again!

Our Magical Mystery Tour

Mister gardener really wanted to tour Strawbery Banke, see the buildings, learn the history, and enjoy the gardens since he’d missed out on my earlier visits with house guests. We arrived just before opening time to find traffic guides and congested traffic, we thought due to an annual bike tour along the coast. Nothing seemed amiss at Strawbery Banke once we parked, watched the introductory video, got our map and headed for the first buildings.

“Ummm, did you know today was our annual Fairy House Tour?,” the building’s guide asked.

“Noooo,” we answered. “What is happening?”

“You’ll see….”

And we did.

As we walked back onto the street, a flood of fairies, parents, grandparents, strollers, and wagons were heading toward us. We were soon engulfed by a sea of little people in glittering pink and purple tutus and wings, many wearing sparkling crowns and holding wands. Bubbles rained down on crowds around every corner from attic windows. Children were caught up in the spell in this fairy land…. and soon, so were we!

Fairy House Tour 2013We decided to join the fairy tour rather than see all the buildings on this beautiful day. Adorable, adorable children were so thrilled to discover the tiny fairy houses… some simple abodes and some quite elaborate. They sat on the ground and studied every fairy detail.

We could have visited two other Portsmouth locations to see more fairy houses or perhaps build one of our own but our adventure at Strawbery Banke this day filled our magic fairy cups to the brim. Next year we’ll bring grandchildren!

Not one sister, but two!

For close to two weeks we’ve enjoyed the company of my California sister, a potter, and my Virginia sister and husband, both archaeologists and great history buffs. Yesterday was the last day for them and today the house seems eerily quiet today. We’ve spent our time on the go exploring the sights of New Hampshire, Maine and a side trip to Lexington and Concord for the two archaeologists and lots of of art for the potter sister.

We visited the Portsmouth Historical Society’s Discover Portsmouth Center and the Seacoast African-American Cultural Center and learned much about local history before we ventured into Portsmouth to enjoy the rich architectural styles and plethora of shops and restaurants.

Shopping and sightseeing in Portsmouth electrified everyone’s sense of taste, touch, smell, sound and sight. We drifted in and out of buildings and up and down the old streets of this historic town for much of a day.

The Salt Cellar, The Chocolatier, Clothing Shops, and Florists

Later in the week, Strawbery Banke delighted my family.  An outdoor history museum, it’s a neighborhood first settled in 1630, then spans the next four centuries of habitation. We thought we might be only interested in the oldest house, the 1695 John Sherburne House.

Sherburne House, ca 1695

But we were surprised to discover a potter at Strawbery Banke and spent time getting to know Steven Zoldak who is skilled at intricate carving and design. Yes, he and my sisters knew several potters in common and, yes, we all bought his wares….

An adorable Mrs. Shapiro, complete with Russian accent, greeted us in the 20th-century home of Russian-Jewish immigrants. She showed us how to drink tea by first placing a sugar cube on the front teeth and sipping tea through it. The home was completely furnished, soup on the stove, dining table set for Shabbes or Sabbath dinner, and family photographs proudly displayed throughout.

We spent the next couple of hours meeting folks in character in different homes. In the Pitt Tavern, we met the owner’s daughter who greeted us and said word is arriving about the sad deaths in the Revolutionary War. Although the Marquis de Lafayette (a favorite of my brother-in-law) lodged at the tavern, the mistress knew nothing of this since she was in character for the beginning of the war, before his visit.

Among other buildings, we toured a twentieth-century grocery store, a weaving shop, and the Victorian gardens at the mansion of Sarah Goodwin, the wife of the former New Hampshire governor, Ichabod Goodwin. There we met Sarah dead-heading her flowers in her colorful garden.

Children’s Garden

Garden paths

Having been raised in Williamsburg, Virginia, I think it’s difficult not to have have a critical eye when touring other restored areas BUT we delighted in Strawbery Banke and the colorful 400 years of history. It’s a not-to-miss adventure.

Strawbery Banke…. forever

Once upon a time, the community of Portsmouth was known by other names. First known as Piscataqua, then Strawbery Banke for the wild strawberries along the riverbanks, and finally Portsmouth in 1653 in honor of the colony founder, John Mason, who was once the captain of Portsmouth, England in the county of Hampshire. Many original buildings survive in Portsmouth and much of the charm of the community is due to the wonderful and quaint New England architecture.

Within walking distance of the town is historic Strawbery Banke Museum, New Hampshire’s oldest settlement with restored Colonial, Georgian and Federal style buildings. On a chilly but sunny morning recently, we took a stroll around the grounds.

We visited before the museum was open for the season. Buildings were closed. But projects were happening. We saw mounds of topsoil being moved into place; we saw excavations and foundation work on the buildings; we watched earthmovers disappearing around corners; we spotted flats of flowers for planting and we even saw a few volunteers among the many workers, kneeling before gardens, digging and planting.This weekend, museum volunteers will arrive in mass to celebrate Earth Day by cleaning, raking, and planting all the gardens.

Most buildings looked completely restored but a few were waiting their turn.

This one had a new roof and foundation work was in progress.

This entire area was slated for demolition in the late 1950’s. It was city librarian Dorothy Vaughn who spurred on the local Rotary Club to save the homes. Local citizens were soon inspired as a community to rescue this historic riverfront area. When museum doors are unlocked on May 1 and the flowers are planted and all the soil is neatly spread where it belongs, we will again visit this 9.5 acre outdoor museum and be transported back almost 400 years through the 1950’s.