Every year hundreds of people converge in one Vermont town to tour eight exceptional home gardens. Along the way, visitors use a guide written by tour organizers with the histories of the gardens, maps and every detail tour-goers may need. Participants often carry notebooks and cameras to chronicle plant varieties and settings, and record inspirations.
This Sunday, that town will be Charlotte as the Flynn Garden Tour swings through eight of Charlotte’s best gardens.
The Garden Tour is one of the biggest annual fundraisers for the Flynn Center for the Arts, raising more than $25,000 a year for a scholarship fund that helps bring school kids to the Flynn Center for performances.
For the past 23 years, groups of volunteers have built the day up to be a highly sought after event for the art center. There often is one final push to sell tickets after the Fourth of July, but this year tickets sold out in mid-June, just weeks after they were put on sale.
“It’s a tribute to Charlotte that the tour has sold out so quickly,” said Cheryl Dorschner, the director of the Flynn Garden Tour. “It’s such a perfect village for a garden tour.”
The Charlotte gardens each have different backdrops including lake views, rolling farmlands, Mount Philo and the village.
Choosing the garden
Planning for the tour starts a year out.
First, organizers have to pick a spot to host the tea, which takes place after the tours. Then, they scout gardens, a challenge when some final decisions are happening in mid-January during a snowstorm, Dorschner recalled laughing.
Finding eight perfect gardens for the tour isn’t as easy as driving around a town spotting who has the best garden. It takes time, just like cultivating the masterpiece gardens that are shown.
“The best part of the garden is hidden from view,” Dorschner said.
Like Joan Weed’s garden, for example. Tucked in Charlotte village, from the road Weed’s house looks like an ordinary, well-kept house with a few plants out front and a hose wrapped and placed in a red wagon.
Walk around back, and you suddenly enter a green escape. Dozens of carefully arranged flowers and shrubs fill the backyard drawing in a visitor to explore. Stone paths and stairs lead to multiple garden beds.
Weed says she’s “a mature lady with a mature garden.”
Dorschner was familiar with Weed’s garden because it has been a stop on the garden tour three out of the four times the tour has visited Charlotte.
Dorschner starts with a list of dozens of potential gardens – people who have hosted the tour before, tips from people she meets at garden supply stores, and trusted gardeners and landscapers she has built relationships with through the years. She wittles it down talking to the homeowners to find good hosts, scouting properties that would easily accommodate logistics, and of course seeking a variety of gardens.
The homeowners chosen for their gardens “don’t just shop and drop plants in,” Dorschner said. She hopes that those on the tour are equally inspired to put the time and effort into their own gardens.
Once Dorschner scouts the properties a volunteer group of about a dozen people dives into their specialized tasks. On the day of the event, about 100 volunteers help corral the crowds.
People in charge of parking figure out how many cars will fit at each stop; on tour day they advise volunteers directing traffic.
Another volunteer figures out what tents and port-o-potties are needed for each property. Someone else maps out the route between the gardens, and calculates what signs will be needed.
There even are volunteers who help each gardner write the story of their garden.The maps, information and stories of the gardens are cultivated into essentially a playbill of the tour for each of the participants.
The booklets also list all of the opportunities for donating during the event. It’s the information for boxed lunches, a list of the paintings of the gardens, and other auction items that will be available during the afternoon tea. All of those additional items to the tour add to the donations the Flynn receives from the tour.
As a matter of fact, the process for the 2019 tour is already beginning again with summer gardens in full glory for inspection even before the 2018 tour even takes place.
Weed-ing the garden
Each garden is different, though, and preparation is key before all the garden tours.
Just over a week before the tour, Weed’s garden was buzzing with activity.
A man from Roto-Router was fixing the plumbing to a fountain. Colchester artist Libby Davidson was scouting where to paint. Gardner Susan Friedberg was trimming and weeding.
The tour is a reason for the gardeners to put extra work into their outdoor spaces. Dorschner hears it every year. More landscaping, hiring professionals to help the gardeners.
Weed said she enjoys hearing people talk about her garden as they saunter through. “People see my garden and feel like ‘Yeah, I can do this,’” she said.
Her advice? Get the bones of a garden – the rock wall, the brick paths, the things that are permanent – and then for the plants “do a little something every day. I hope we have a week of nice garden weather so I can get out and fix a few things that are driving me crazy,” Weed said.
However, she knows that fellow gardeners will take the weather into consideration while viewing her garden.
A gardener herself, Dorschner explained that for 23 years it’s been the people who come together for the tour, and the students who benefit that make it worth it for all of the volunteers who donate their time, effort and homes to the garden tour.
“If I have to make a choice, it’s more rewarding to do this,” Dorschner said. “If I spent as much time on my own garden as I do on the tours, I’d have a Flynn-worthy garden.”