Gardeners teach and learn from hosting tours

Special to the Union Leader
July 01. 2013 7:24PM

A blooming lotus in Bonnie Curtin's garden. (COURTESY)

Comments from tour visitors seeing the garden beds originally cultivated in the 1930s by a beloved local schoolteacher have given their new owners, Marcia and Jim Duffy, a better insight on Keene history. COURTESY

When June Scott started out, she had a backyard freshly cleared of trees with a swimming pool. Little did she know, that her Bedford backyard was really just a blank canvas.

These days that yard is home to more than a half a dozen elaborate gardens through which she can stroll with her cat and place where the public is invited during semi-annual garden tours.
A hardy water lily in Bonnie Curtin’s Fremont garden makes a relaxing rest spot for a frog. COURTESY 

Scott is just one of myriad garden lovers who open their backyards to the public on garden tours held every summer throughout the state.

When she was first asked to show her gardens —which she spends 20 to 25 hours per week maintaining — for a tour, she was shocked. After all, no one can see them from the road and she had always sort of done it just for the joy of doing it. But once she did open her gardens to the public, she made a new discovery.

Bonnie Curtin of Fremont likes to create plant labels and lists of the plants in her water garden for tour visitors. Reactions from guests make the hard work that goes into preparing for a tour gratifying, Curtin says. COURTESY

"I love showing off my gardens and I love talking to people about them," she said. "It gives me great pleasure and I love letting someone else enjoy it too."

As she was growing up, Scott's father was into gardening, but she didn't pick it up in a serious way until much later. But when she did, the habit took root.
Daylilies and hostas share space in "Grandma's Garden." COURTESY 

"I started with an herb garden and kept moving," she said.

She kept moving until she had several large plots which include an English Garden stocked with mainly perennials that are just getting ready to bloom as well as already-bloomed roses and delphiniums.

An evergreen bed in the Hampstead garden of Pam Boulter. COURTESY

Then there's the shade garden seen from a moss terrace that meanders through. "I think of it as my secret garden," Scott said. "Because you don't see what's coming. There are a lot of hostas and ferns, all shade-loving plants. And there's some astilbe and campanulas."

Let's not leave out her frog pond with an arbor, a poolside red-orange-purple perennial garden that allows swimmers to see what's in bloom as they take a dip and another garden with a weeping cherry tree as a centerpiece.

Getting ready

But hosting a garden tour isn't all peaceful walks through arbors. It's work, too.

"It's a little like having a bunch of people over at Christmas: You have to get the house prepared," said Marcia Duffy of Keene, whose gardens have also been featured on tours, most recently in June. "And I really appreciated it, even though it was a lot of work. We're now relaxing. …We don't have to do a thing now (that the tour is over)."

Duffy said she and her husband Jim spent six weeks worth of weekends preparing their garden for the recent tour — mulching, weeding, pruning and generally tidying. In the past, an impending tour was also a great motivator for putting in the gravel patio the couple always wanted.

For this tour she installed flagstone paths on the advice of another garden tour host in an attempt to help bring people into the gardens and give them a way through. Along the way in Duffy's garden, folks were able to see her ancient apple tree and 13-year-old peach tree, a beauty bush, her stone meditation garden and a "wild" patch of flowers and grasses left that way in order to be a habitat for wildlife.

One of the highlights of the tour for her is talking to people who knew the original owner of her 1932-built home, Bertha Davis, who was a Keene schoolteacher. Davis started what the Duffys call an "hourglass garden" in the backyard. That garden, named for its shape, includes, among other specimens, phlox and cranesbill geraniums.

"At the garden tour, somebody came here that was in her second-grade class," Duffy said. "I've met so many (former students) who are now in their 70s. She must have been a great teacher."

And when all was said and done, Duffy said the work was worth it.

"I loved hearing, after you do all this work, people admiring it," she said. "And I had someone come out and say 'It's so peaceful back there.' And that's really what we want. We want to make it an oasis for us, or for people who come over."

Plant guides

Bonnie Curtin of Fremont said she, too, does a lot of prep work at her home before her gardens are ready to show, including labeling her plants and printing out lists of what's in her water garden. Curtin said some people also print out labeled photos for tour guests to take home so they can replicate what's in the garden.

And there's much to admire and aspire to in the acre of flowers and veggies on Curtin's land.

There's a sunny perennial garden featuring daylilies and a variety of plants chosen to bloom throughout the summer and into the fall, including columbines, peonies, poppies, perennial phlox and hyacinths to name a few. That's in addition to her hosta-heavy shade gardens, perennial borders, vegetable gardens, knockout roses by the porch and, of course, window boxes.

She likes to trim and edge her borders to keep things looking natural, but neat.

Hosting a garden tour is "really interesting," Curtin said. "Because people who have never done a garden tour before are really enthused and rejuvenated by the excitement that other people bring to their garden.… It's an amazing feeling that you get (from the tourists) and it's a wonderful surprise."

Human InterestGardeningBedfordFremont

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