PARIS — With McLaughlin Garden and Homestead’s 20th anniversary just around the corner, big plans are underway to not only celebrate the site’s past two decades, but the future as well.
The official anniversary of the Paris nonprofit is Sunday, April 23, but the party will be held in late May during the annual Lilac Festival when visitation to the historic garden is at its peak, according to Executive Director Donna Anderson. Besides, the garden located at 97 Main St., doesn’t open until Friday, May 12, with the kick off of the annual Wildflower Celebration. It is the first event of the season and also National Public Gardens Day.
The barn will be decorated with an anniversary banner and another banner will be located on the street. The nonprofit is still looking for a sponsor the banners, Anderson said. The 2017 season at McLaughlin Garden has a full slate of activities to honor its 20 years in existence.
“We are going to continue to make our events more entertaining, more inclusive, more family oriented,” she said.
In June, July and August there will be more hands-on workshops at the garden.
“We are trying to get people to feel more empowered and impassioned to get their hands in the soil and garden. There is something in the soil that is good for people emotionally,” Anderson said.
In addition to that, there are a lot of how to questions from garden visitors.
“The most frequently asked question here is, ‘How do I prune my lilacs?’” Anderson said.
McLaughlin Garden and Homestead is home to the Northeast’s largest lilac collection with more than 200 different varieties that grow in the 2-acre garden. In June, people will be able to learn how to prune their lilacs during that month’s gardening workshop.
In July, a workshop will share rock gardening tips, as the rock garden situated next to the gardener founder Bernard McLaughlin’s homestead was planted in fall 2015, debuted in 2016 and blooms throughout the entire gardening season.
“In August we’re going to be tackling invasives, which are a problem for us in the woods. … A well-meaning plant that somebody put in the garden and has gotten out of control is an invasive,” Anderson said, noting during the garden’s annual plant sale, they try not to sell anything that will grow out of control.
One of the first steps in implementing the nonprofit’s long-range master plan is planting the pollinators’ paradise garden at the neighboring Curtis House property.
Anderson noted the pollinator garden – which will be planted to attract bees and other pollinators – will be in its infancy. Garden staff and volunteers will plant “annuals to add color and variety because it takes a while to get those pollinator meadows going.”
In 2013, the nonprofit purchased the 1815 Curtis House next door, bringing the total land for McLaughlin Garden to roughly 7 acres. This will also be the site of the new visitors center and other features of the master plan.
Also next door will be the garden’s expanded pumpkin patch.
“The challenge we face each year is getting enough pumpkins for our jack-o’-lantern festival,” Anderson said, adding members grow pumpkins for the annual October event, along with local farms Cooper and Slattery’s, which donate the gourds. “We want to help people early in the season get on the band wagon with pumpkin growing. So as part of our springtime for scavenger hunts for families, the prizes will be pumpkin oriented.”
She added the beginning of the season will center around education on the pollinator garden and pumpkins and move into exploring the freshly planted spaces as the season moves on.
“Gardening is such a faith in the future kind of project,”Anderson said. “What we do this year is the really careful preparation and planting [and] hopefully next year we will have some blossoms.”
McLaughlin Garden has teamed up with the Maine Iris Society to plant and sponsor a historic iris garden on the Paris grounds later this season.
Currier McEwen was a Harpswell gardener who specialized in irises and was also a friend of Bernard McLaughlin, Anderson said. His daughter still maintains McEwen’s garden on the coast and some of the plants for the new iris garden will come from his original garden, among other Maine gardens.
“I think Currier McEwen was not just an important Maine hybridizer, but he was a nationally important figure in iris hybrids, which is a very painful, carefully methodical kind of thing,” Anderson said.
The historic iris garden will be located on the other side of the rock wall in a sunny spot on the lawn.
“In the iris world, the new varieties, which are showy and more elaborate, are pushing out the old historic varieties. The historic iris garden will be for plant varieties from 1985 or earlier,” Anderson said, noting this was during Bernard McLaughlin’s prime gardening period. “I think it’s a great expression of Bernard’s connection to the gardening world.”
McLaughlin Garden was recently awarded a $6,000 Project Canopy grant for its new woodland management project.
Master planners with Richardson & Associates of Saco are currently designing the woodland garden, which is “first step in transforming an unmanaged woodland thicket behind the historic garden into an accessible, usable and educational landscape,” Anderson said.
Prior to 1950, the slope was a depleted pasture and after 1950, Bernard McLaughlin let the slope naturalize. It now features red oak, ash, white pine, red maple and poplar trees, which are compromised by invasive species and damaged trees.
The removal of invasive species – which are taking over the garden’s native wildflowers – will begin in August. The trees, which are invasive, dead, diseased and/or damaged, will be removed this winter.
“This work will allow the woodland to be integrated with the adjacent wildflower lane as well as the historic garden at the bottom of the hill,” Anderson said. “The project will be transformative for our visitors and will facilitate further development of the woodland as an important cultural landscape, eventually incorporating learning areas for children, vistas that include sculpture, and more cultivated glades and pocket gardens that will encourage birding, potential water features, and the creation of a quiet wooded haven in this very busy environment.”
Anderson and the McLaughlin Garden Board of Directors are about halfway through the master planning process to integrate and expand the two Main Street properties.
“We will have a preview of the final plan so people can come into the barn and see what those plans are and what the details are,” Anderson said about the May 12 opening day. “Our goal with the plan is to use every usable inch of the garden to make it more public.”
The original plan was to transform the Curtis House – which was a school house that was brought to Main Street from Elm Hill in 1840 – into the new visitors center. But when a leak damaged the ell and had to be removed last year, Anderson, directors and architects realized the structure was more compromised than originally thought. This forced a revamping of the master plan.
The new visitors center complex will include a cafe, meeting space and greenhouse, along with a horticulture facility with a vegetable or trial garden. But the remainder of the Curtis House will have to be demolished to make way for the new building, which will feature two stories and be built into the slope.
“It allows us to give people access to the upper part of the wooded garden since we can’t keep our historic buildings,” Anderson said.
There are two different designs for the future visitors center Anderson and the board are considering – one more modern looking and the second more historic with a gabled roof and other elements that tie into the historic homestead next door. Both feature an atrium, though one runs alongside part of the building and the other design is more integrated.
“The idea is people could go from the greenhouse [at the front of the building] all the way inside,” Anderson said. She noted people will not have to travel outside once inside the new building, which this is important to make McLaughlin Garden a four-season property.
“If we develop this as a place where people could come to have really healthy, enjoyable green experiences – literally green experiences – in the winter that could actually help with the health and morale of the seniors here,” she said, adding there could be snowshoeing or hiking opportunities. “It will allow us to do something that no one else is doing in the area. I think we all need a dose of green in the winter.”
Other elements of the master plan include planting another garden in front of the visitors center, creating a compost pile with activities tied to it, moving the beehives, building an outdoor performance space off the barn, and fencing the properties’ perimeters, among others.
Since the cafe is not yet built and many people said they want food as part of their McLaughlin experience, the plan is to work with Pietree Orchard and other places to offer healthy snacks at the gift shop.
“We want people to know we’re listening to them and we’re thinking about how we can meet some of their goals in the short term as well as the long term,” Anderson said.
For a full list of 2017 events, see the sidebar or visit McLaughlin Garden’s newly updated website at www.mclaughlingarden.org.
McLaughlin Garden’s 20th anniversary schedule
May 12-14: Wildflower Celebration
May 18: Power Propagators, 9-11:30 a.m.
May 26-29: Lilac Festival and 20th anniversary party
June 10: Gardening workshop, Pruning Lilacs
June 15: Power Propagators, 9-11:30 a.m.
June 16: Bus trip to 2 private gardens in New Hampshire
June 21: Member event
July 8: Gardening workshop, Rock Gardening Tips
July 15: Garden Illuminated (Rain date July 22)
Aug. 6: Fairy Garden workshop
Aug. 12: Gardening workshop, Battling Invasives
Aug. 17: Power Propagators, 9-11:30 a.m.
Aug. 17: Member event
Sept. 9: Annual auction
Oct. 21-22: Jack O’Lantern Spectacular