• Dorothy and tulips

A blind date between Dorothy Orr and Frank Cole in the 1950s evolved into a 65-year marriage, ten children, and a spiritedness and commitment that left a mark on communities, gardening organizations and all who knew them.

Dorothy grew up on an Oregon farm commercially harvesting strawberries and black raspberries in summer, and walnuts and hazelnuts in fall. She received a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Oregon, and a Masters at Syracuse University. She worked for the National Park Service at Crater Lake National Park.

In 1986 after 20 years in Asia, the couple moved to North Hampton on coastal land they turned into a floral and vegetable oasis. Daughter Cathy says “we all spent hours as workhorses helping my parents” develop the gardensweeding, planting vegetables and annuals, trimming rose bushes, mowing lawns, and mulching. “Best of all [was] blackberry picking from dads abundant blackberry bushes.” Fruits and vegetables were mainly Frank’s domain and flowers were Dorothy’s. In North Hampton, says Cathy, was the first time they had many distinct garden areas to work with on the property.” Her mother, “was a creative person. Flower arranging and her gardens…were her canvases.”

Another daughter, Christine says, “Mom went through different themes. She would come across something new, go learn all about it and create a whole new garden.” Dorothy volunteered at North Hampton’s Fuller Gardens and learned about roses. “Mom was most proud of her roughly 90 rose bushes.” She worked them on hands and knees for hours. “Sometimes we didn’t get to eat until 9 o’clock,” says sister, Claudine.

After attending a lecture on moonlight gardens, all white gardens with fragrant flowers viewed best at night, Dorothy did more research. Then she planted stargazer lilies, hydrangeas, liatris, daylilies, and Montauk daisies along the front of property, which faced the ocean and had a bench for viewing and smelling.

Cathy guesses Dorothy’s love of flowers arose from studying Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, while living in Hong Kong. “After moving back to the U.S., she became an accredited flower-arranging judge and was very active in New Hampshire and Massachusetts flower judging circles.”  Dorothy entered competitions “and was always bringing home ribbons.”

Christine says, “Mom was always designing spectacular flower arrangements and so happy when the flowers came from her own gardens. I just found an email from her back in 2015 (at age 85) where she describes agreeing to be responsible for 25 table flower arrangements for the regional meeting of National Garden Clubs. There was no challenge too big for her.”

Edible harvests were also important. “Mom and I canned lots of applesauce from apple trees, and canned grape juice, grape and peach jellies, blackberry and raspberry jams,” recounts Claudine, about the harvest of fruits the Coles’ grew.

Cathy says, “My parents were active gardeners both at home and in the community.  Mom joined every single garden club — Exeter, Atkinson, Dover, Boars Head — and took a leadership role in many.”

Dorothy and Frank became Extension Master Gardeners during the early years of the program. For 15 years they also were UNH Extension Marine Docents at the Isles of Shoals, Frank lecturing at the marine lab and Dorothy in Celia Thaxter’s garden. 

Dorothy passed away last October. In addition to cultivating soil in Hong Kong, San Francisco, Washington, D.C and New Hampshire, she has left a lasting legacy within the UNH Master Gardener program. She was instrumental in the formation of the N.H. Master Gardener Association, now N.H. Master Gardener Alumni Association.  She served as the first treasurer and continued on the board until all the offices were filled and the association was running smoothly. She remained active with the Master Gardener program into her late 80’s, until the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to get together.

We are grateful for Dorothy’s service, and for cultivating a love of gardening among her children and countless others. Dorothy and her dedication “live on in some form in all of us.” says Cathy.


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