Only in my mind

Thursday 21 June 2018 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — The Summer Solstice

You’ve heard, dear readers, of an “armchair quarterback”? Well, I’m an armchair gardener. 

It was not always so. I still watch the gradual progression of plants coming into bloom. The cycle repeats, year after year. No matter what chaos or catastrophe is being reported in the news, nature turns in its predictable pattern. I find comfort in this. 

I went outside today at precisely 6:07 a.m. to greet the rising sun at the exact moment of the summer solstice. There was a rainbow (see the cover of this Anchor edition). 

By medieval reckoning, it’s midsummer. Summer is half over. We moderns, however, maintain summer has only just begun. The medievalists knew better. 

I’ve designed, planted and tended my fair share of gardens over the years — vegetable gardens, herb gardens, sunken gardens, raised-bed gardens, container gardens, and courtyard gardens. I’ve even landscaped an entire city block. 

At the summer solstice, my gardens are in full bloom. They’re lovely. I take care to visit each one — but only in my mind. Many of those gardens no longer exist anywhere but in my mind. No matter. I enjoy them anyway.

My very favorite garden is actually a whole series of some 30 small gardens in Coventry, Conn. It was called Caprilands Herb Gardens. It was a magical place — a mini paradise, a compact Eden.

I’ve visited Caprilands many times over the years, in all five seasons (the fifth being Advent/Christmas). Now, I understand, Caprilands has become something else. People say that it’s but a shadow of its old self; that the gardens are overrun with weeds; that the buildings are in disrepair. Never mind. I remember.

What I remember most is the aroma of the herbs drying in the rafters. It was a pleasantly earthy smell. Experts say that aromas are what we remember longest. 

After my first visit to Caprilands, I became hooked on herbs (the legal kind, of course). I read every handbook on herbs I could get my hands on. Some 50 of those books and pamphlets were authored right there in Caprilands. The author was Adelma Grenier Simmons. It was she who owned and operated Caprilands Herb Farm. Adelma was a friend of mine.

Adelma was born in Vermont in 1903. During the Great Depression, her parents bought a foreclosed 100-acre dairy farm in Coventry, Conn. Growing produce proved impossible. The ground was too rocky. They sold off half the farm to survive. The family then tried raising goats, but that didn’t work out either.

Adelma, who had a job traveling the world as a buyer for an upscale department store, married first in 1935. It was a disaster. The couple soon divorced. Two years later, she married George Simmons — just 11 days after George’s divorce from his first wife became official.

George and Adelma were more than a little eccentric — an odd couple, they said. They had one child together (a son) who grew up, married, had several children, and then ran off to join Hell’s Angels. 

One day, Adelma decided to plant a kitchen garden. She began experimenting with herbal cooking. George didn’t like his wife’s cooking, so she served her herbal dishes to a weekly gathering of friends. 

Adelma began touring the world researching herbal folklore, especially its long-forgotten religious symbolism. She loved the celebration of saint’s days. Although Adelma was firmly rooted in the earth, she was a very Spiritual person.

Adelma’s husband George died of cancer in 1971. Their only child was murdered two years later in a gang war.

Such an unfortunate life could have broken another person’s spirit. Not Adelma. Her spirit soared. Her personality bloomed. She became a world-acclaimed herbal expert.

At Adelma’s luncheons in the 18th-century wood-framed farmhouse, she entertained a hundred guests six days a week! People came from far and wide to tour her gardens, hear her often-humorous lectures, and enjoy lunch. Herbal living was not only a passion for Adelma, but a million-dollar business. 

At the age of 86, Adelma married a third time to a man 35 years her junior. The family was aghast. Family and staff arguments became frequent. The police were sometimes called.

After a period of failing health, Adelma died at Caprilands at the age of 93. Her wake was held in her home, on St. Barbara’s Day.

Adelma’s will, notarized the day before she died, was contested by various family members. The nonprofit educational institute she was said to have envisioned on her deathbed wasn’t incorporated until a decade later.

On this, the longest day, I visit Adelma’s enchanting gardens in my mind. They’re lovely still. They always will be.

I am sure that when I die
I shall ride on the back of the wind.
And when you hear it cry,
You’ll run to let me in.

But I shall wave my hand and say,
I’ve always wanted to run away,
To perch on the back of the wind
And ride,
Never to come in.
Never to look aside.


Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts