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1710 House
open by
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Who was
Ann Leighton, or
Isadore Smith?

Ann Leighton was the professional name of Isadore Smith (1902-1985), the renowned garden historian, scholar, author, designer, and landscape architect who, with Kitty Weeks, designed the colonial-themed gardens at the Weeks Brick House.

Isadore Leighton (Luce) Smith was a native of Portsmouth, N.H., and graduated from Smith College in 1923. She married Col. A. William Smith, a British Army veteran of WWI, and lived most of her life in Ipswich, Mass. While living on Argilla Road in Ipswich during WWII, she wrote While We Are Absent, a book about the challenge of maintaining home and raising her children while her husband, who once again answered his country's call in wartime, was serving in Europe.

Among many commissions, she designed the garden at the 1677 Whipple House, which is owned by the Ipswich Historical Society. Over many years Mrs. Smith combined her encyclopedic knowledge of early gardens with New England history in three volumes, the first of which, Early American Gardens: For Meate or Medicine, was published under the psuedonym of Ann Leighton by Houghton Mifflin Co. in 1970. A second volume, American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century: For Use or For Delight, was published in 1976. A third volume, American Gardens in the Nineteenth Century and After: For Comfort and Delight, was published posthumously in 1987 by the University of Massachusetts Press. The trilogy of 1350 pages of scholarship is still in print today.

Isadore Smith neatly summed up the staying power of her subject matter in a brief book-jacket teaser: "While buildings may decay and crumble, the plants of every age are still with us and need only to be collected and replanted to speak for the time and its people."

To purchase a copy of Early American Gardens by Ann Leighton, visit our Donate & Shop page.


Meet
Kitty Weeks,
gardener
& author

Katharine C. "Kitty" Weeks is the co-creator of the gardens at the Weeks Brick House and the author of Gardening With New England Colonial Plants: Their History, Uses, & Culture. (1993). Kitty has been an avid gardener for most of her adult life. She has worked on a variety of gardens, including herb and wildflower gardens in New England and tropical gardens in southern Florida. She is a member of several horticultural societies, including the Herb Society of America, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, and the New England Wildflower Society. Gardening With Colonial Plants is her third publication on gardening, and it is available for purchase at the Weeks Brick House. (For ordering information see our Donate & Shop Page.)

On Sept. 9, 2012, the Colonial-era herb garden beds were formally dedicated to Katharine C. "Kitty" Weeks, "in appreciation for her efforts in collaboration with Anne Leighton to conceive, create, and nurture the gardens for the enjoyment and edification of present and future generations."

The Colonial Gardens
at the Weeks Brick House

The gardens at the Weeks Brick House were designed in 1977 by noted garden historian Ann Leighton and Katharine C. Weeks. The garden beds comprise a typical housewife's garden of the late 17th century, which contained all the herbs and plants essential for a New England household.

These gardens were functional --- the concept of a "pretty" garden would have been alien to a woman of the 17th century. Plants were not in neat, even rows. Every inch of available space would be used, not only to yield as many herbs as possible, but also to act as a weed repellent. Sometimes small fruit trees were planted in these gardens. Because there was no order, every garden was different, planted according to the whims of the women of the household.

Every herb and plant fell into one of three categories: medicinal, household, or culinary. Often herbs and plants fell into multiple categories. For a complimentary Weeks Brick House & Gardens information sheet on colonial and modern-day herbs for culinary, medicinal, and household use, click here.

The gardens today

In the years since the garden was first planted in 1977, some orchard stock has been lost, and most of the vegetable garden area has been made available to Weeks Brick House tenants. But thanks to hard-working volunteers over the decades, many perennials survive.

In spring 2009 Leslie Stevens of Portsmouth, a UNH Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, began the restoration of our historic gardens. In preparation, she studied materials about the house and property, and also investigated our connection to Portsmouth-born garden historian and author, Ann Leighton (Isadore Smith). The herb gardens were restored according to the original garden plans. In addition, a small-scale WWII "Victory Garden" was planted, amplifying on a significant chapter of Isadore Smith's life. The vegetable harvest was donated to a local food bank. In 2010 the gardens were featured on the Portsmouth Pocket Garden Tour. In the years since, the bountiful vegetable harvest of the Victory Garden continues to be donated to the local food bank. Want to be a garden volunteer? Contact us!

A history of the Weeks Brick House gardens

The Colonial-era gardens at the Weeks Brick House began as an effort to distinguish the Weeks Brick House from the many other historic homes and landmarks in the Portsmouth region. Katharine C. Weeks, herself a lifelong gardener as well as a writer on the subject, first suggested the idea. In the preface to her 1993 book, Gardening With New England Colonial Plants: Their History, Uses, & Culture, "Kitty" Weeks explained how the idea became a reality:

"In 1977, the late Isadore Smith (a.k.a. Ann Leighton), a noted author, lecturer, and designer of historic gardens, inspired me to learn more about the history and uses of colonial herbs and plants. After attending a lecture by Ms. Smith on colonial gardening, I asked her to assist with the planning of an authentic 18th-century housewife's garden and orchard for the Weeks Brick House Association, a non-profit organization in Greenland, N.H. ... To help differentiate the Weeks Brick House and provide a unique and educational reason for the public to visit, I suggested that the Association recreate an authentic New England colonial garden, which likely existed adjacent to the house in the 18th century. With Isadore Smith's guidance, the garden was designed and planted in 1977. Nearly two decades later, members and friends of the Association still meet every spring to refurbish the garden with the same herbs and plants that thrived in the 1700s."

The photo at the right shows some of the earliest work on the Weeks Brick House gardens. It is important to note that in those ensuing decades, Kitty Weeks provided the inspiration and leadership --- as well as new plants, fertilizer, and mulch --- to maintain the garden. In more recent years, assorted board members, garden volunteers, and especially Master Gardener Leslie Stevens, have provided the leadership and the labor to carry on Kitty's vision.

Below is the original Weeks Brick House garden plan developed by Isadore Smith (Ann Leighton) in 1977. Kitty Weeks noted that "The Weeks Brick House colonial garden is laid out in three rectangular beds representing medicinal, culinary, and household herbs and plants. Although it was not common practice during colonial times to separate plants according to use, Mrs. Smith thought it would be easier for the public to find the plants if they were arranged in this manner. The layout of the garden with its three rectangular beds, vegetable garden, and orchard is a design which could have been used in a country garden during the colonial period."

Visiting the gardens at the Weeks Brick House

The gardens are open for self-guided tours during daylight hours. (Please respect the privacy of our tenants.) For a guided tour, contact us about scheduled "Garden Hours," or to arrange a tour. For a self-guided tour, download this up-to-date garden information sheet and plot plan.

The 1977 Weeks Brick House garden plan

Click here to view or print a high-resolution PDF of the 1977 garden plan by Ann Leighton (Isadore Smith) and Katharine C. Weeks.