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CT’s Historic Gardens Announces Winner of
2017 Historic Gardens Day Poster Art Contest

Chester, Connecticut artist Leif Nilsson paints the winning image

Connecticut’s Historic Gardens, a group of 15 distinctive historic sites and gardens dotted throughout the state, is pleased to announce Connecticut artist Leif Nilsson of Chester, CT as the winner of the fourth annual Historic Gardens Day Poster Art Contest. This contest gives local artists a chance to showcase their talents while advertising CT Historic Gardens Day, an important, statewide event. The group began the contest to encourage Connecticut artists to visit and capture these historically significant homes with beautiful gardens. They hope that these sites will provide inspiring subjects for their art. Along with a cash prize, the winning artist receives widespread exposure – at the annual Connecticut Flower & Garden Show (February 23-26, 2016, booth 413), at each of the 15 Connecticut’s Historic Gardens sites throughout the year, and at Connecticut’s Historic Gardens Day itself, an event that attracts thousands of garden lovers throughout the state and beyond. This year’s Historic Gardens Day takes place on Sunday, June 25, 12-4 pm; visit for details on activities offered at each site. 

 Contest winner Leif Nilsson of Chester, CT, paints in an impressionistic style, en plein air to capture the beautiful surroundings of the Lower Connecticut River Valley where he calls home. Leif (pronounced Layf) studied art at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts in Old Lyme, CT from 1980 through 1986, and continued his education on several sojourns to Scandinavia, Asia Minor and Europe. His painting style reflects the influence of early 19 th and 20 th century painters Monet and Bonnard for their use of color; Pissarro and Vuillard for composition and Van Gogh for his energy. Leif has been a successful working artist for over 20 years. He exhibits his works at several galleries throughout the United States, as well as in his own studio in Chester, CT, Leif Nilsson Spring Street Studio and Gallery. You can see his works on his website or visit the artist’s studio at 1 Spring Street, Chester, CT, which is open weekends from noon to 6:00 pm.

The winning painting was inspired by the gardens at Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, and was painted there during the filming of the special production “Artists in the Garden, American Impressionism and the Garden Movement”.

Thankful Arnold House GardensWilhelmina Ann Arnold Barnhart Memorial Garden
Named after a direct descendent of Joseph and Thankful Arnold, the original garden was designed and dedicated in 1973. The garden was given in memory of Wilhelmina Ann Arnold Barnhart by her father Isaac Arnold, the benefactor of the Thankful Arnold House. The original garden design was created by Sally Marvin of Bloomfield, Connecticut and featured an orchard, berry beds and bench garden.

The gardens were redesigned in the late 1980's in the Colonial Revival style with granite-edged beds and gravel paths. In 2000 the Connecticut Herb Study Group conducted extensive research to select plants commonly grown in household gardens in the lower Connecticut River Valley in about 1830. Most of the garden is now devoted to herbs used for cooking, medicine, dyeing, fragrance and other household uses, with a small bed featuring vegetables common in gardens in the early 1800s and a few old-fashioned annuals. Over 50 varieties of herbs are planted in the garden, including many of the ones Thankful Arnold would have used in about 1830. Although Thankful's garden would have been larger and simpler in design the garden is an informative, pleasant, relaxing place for visitors. The garden, which has been recognized by t he National Home Gardening Club, was featured in the summer 2003 issue of People, Places and Plants magazine.

In 2009 the Thankful Arnold House Museum was invited to join Connecticut's Historic Gardens, a consortium of distinctive historic site and gardens throughout the "Nutmeg State." Membership is by invitation only and just three sites were asked to join in 2009. The site joins other distinguished and nationally recognized gardesn including Florence Griswold Museum, Harkness Memorial State Park and Hill-Stead Museum. For a complete list of Connecticut's Historic Gardens visit the Web site at


The Widow Arnold and Her Garden
“Now come out to the garden and I'll show you some of the plants we grew and used. I didn't have edged beds like you see here now, that style came after my time.. I had a big garden with plenty of vegetables to feed our family with useful herbs planted among them. The gardens are planted now with herbs used in my time for cooking, medicine, dyeing, fragrance and household uses.

I grew a lot of root vegetables, like potatoes, turnips, onions and carrots, because they would keep through the winter in our cold cellar. By the end of that long winter you can believe we were ready for some green vegetables and that made this pot herb popular because it was one of the first to begin to grow. We called it All Good, I believe in your time it is called Good King Henry, but who ever heard of a 'good king'. Sorrel is also an early green. We would usually cook them in soup and stews.”

Visit the Thankful Arnold House Museum to learn more about the Wilhelmina Ann Arnold Barnhart Memorial Garden

Visit Connecticut's Historic Gardens at

Garden Volunteers 2009
Amy Roper, Deb Rutter, Pat Hartman, Rogene Gilmor, Cindy Sullivan, Marta Moret

The garden at the Arnold House is overseen by a handful of dedicated volunteers, who maintain it from early spring to late fall. The garden is open daily during daylight hours. A guided tour of the garden is available during museum hours and by appointment. Below is an excerpt from the Widow Arnold's tour of the garden.

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