Words by Heather Caulfield Mills
Photos by Jenn Bakos
There are some places from childhood so exquisite they seem more legend than locale. In springtime when the snow banks began todwindle and we found crocuses at the edge of the
woods, we’d ask our mother, “When can we go to Welcome Hill?”
“Not yet, girls, but soon.”
Iris bulbs sprouted and we’d count robins in the yard. Like her mother before her, mom seemed in possession of an ancient magic for timing our annual picnic – too soon and the flowers would be just buds, too late and the riot of colors might have turned to summer green. On the right day, mom telephoned Grandma Alice and packed sandwiches. It was time.
If you’d asked me as a child where to find Welcome Hill, I couldn’t have told you. I only knew it was a bit of a drive, off a dirt road past an ancient graveyard. The gardens at Welcome Hill are situated in a steep valley, with a dirt path leading down to the hoards of daffodils. A hand-painted sign leans against a tree: “If you with litter do disgrace, and spoil the beauty of this place, may indigestion rock your chest and ants invade your pants and vest.”
The entrance, at the top of the hill, is marked by a wooden fence and the palest pink magnolia tree that drops silken petals onto a well-worn bench. A guest book rests unattended nearby for travelers to record their pilgrimage. Getting down the hill sometimes seems like an adventure in itself, as the path is lined with lush azalea bushes hung with pollen-drunk bumblebees.
There is a sense of serenity after crossing the makeshift board-bridge over the stream. Hundreds of yellow, white, and striped daffodils crowd about your feet, leaving just enough room for a well-placed picnic blanket. At the edge of the tree line, dogwood and forsythia shrubs run wild, while trillium and bloodroot grow close to the ground in marshier corners by crumbling stonewalls.It’s a quiet spot, as if springtime stands still. My sisters and I brought along easels and paint brushes (we were quite serious about our art) and tried hard to capture the complex curves of a daffodil’s stem, sepal, and petals.
When I learned to drive, we visited on our own, taking pictures of each other in our summer dresses and lying carefully on the grass talking about boyfriends who might bask with us in the warm, still air.
This place has always been a labor of love - the work of an elderly gentleman, Mr. Hadlock, who turned a cow pasture into gardens after returning from WorldWar II.
For decades, he and his family have nurturedthis plot and welcomed thecommunityinto their backyard. The guest book is brimming with names, memorializing generations of visitors.
A few years ago I brought my boyfriend Dan to Welcome Hill, and later my mom snapped our engagement photos among the daffodils. Like mom and grandma, I hope to bring children of my own here someday. They’ll eat sandwiches and draw and get pollen on their noses, and while they’re at it, perhaps begin to create legends of their own.
Mr. Hadlock passed away a few years ago, and the gardens aren’t the same without him: autumn leaves cover the grass and there’s a feeling of solitude. I don’t live nearby anymore, so making it to Welcome Hill seems more like a pilgrimage than ever.
I look through photos from recent years and see I’ve gone on cloudy days late in the season when the gardens look a bit faded.
I’m hoping for better luck this year: for flowers at their peak and swarms of happy bees. I’m still learning to time my visits.
Welcome Hill is located on Welcome Hill Road off Route 9 in
Chesterfield, NH and best visited in the spring.