PARIS — McLaughlin Garden and Homestead’s master plan is complete and fundraising and work will begin soon to enhance the historic property to not only bring visitors to Paris, but help economic development blossom in town.
Since October 2016, Executive Director Donna Anderson, the Board of Directors and representatives from Richardson & Associates Landscape Architects and Barba+Wheelock Architecture Preservation Design have hammered out details for the 15- to 20-year plan for the Main Street property. It debuted at the nonprofit’s 20th anniversary party held during its popular Lilac Festival last month.
The master plan – which is a multi-million dollar project – consists of three phases, according to Anderson. The first focuses on building the Visitors Center and cafe at the neighboring Curtis House property, which will help integrate the two parcels of land. The second phase includes erecting a greenhouse and atrium, creating more parking, enhancing glade gardens with sculpture, rehabbing Bernard McLaughlin’s historic garden and managing the woodland.
The third phase centers around revamping the use of the historic homestead and upgrading the barn, which will continued to be used as the organization’s “premiere seasonal event space,” Anderson said. The historic homestead has the possibilities for exhibits, artists in residency and intern spaces.
The first priority of the plan is the Visitors Center, Anderson noted. It will include a larger meeting space, gift shop and cafe – the latter is something patrons have requested for some time now. There will be additional parking alongside the new building and the entire property will be fenced in.
The front of the Visitors Center will feature a gable to mimic the architecture of the historic barn.
“[It’s a] middle balance between unifying with the rest of the site but being contemporary in different ways so it doesn’t look like we’re recreating something in the past that wasn’t there,” she said.
The meeting space, the gift shop and eventually the four-season atrium will connect to the orientation center, which could have a short film about “who we are, what happens here [and] the history of the garden,” Anderson said.
The center will also feature education and staff offices and space for exhibits.
“The idea is that we wanted to be sure that this is a place that community events could occur,” Anderson said, adding a catering support kitchen will also be part of the structure.
The new two-story building will be built into the hillside and give access to woods up the hill.
“That does a few things – it takes advantage of the slope. … Having two stories allows people to move up by stair or elevator so they can go out into the landscape,” she said. “In the springtime it’s full of trillium. They’re really beautiful underused spaces.”
On top of the hill will be the children’s discovery area, which could take the shape of a fort, but has yet to be designed.
“It will be a more child-focused interactive kind of area that will be then be accessible up there,” Anderson said.
Down one side of the slope running alongside the Visitors Center will be the large new garden, sporting rocks, ferns, sedge and moss.
“The new garden … is essentially drift garden – densely planted [with] kind of swaths of color that will come up and change during the year and in the winter it will be really textured,” Anderson said. “It’s a new way of gardening that is kind of more painterly.”
She noted the Visitors Center features a lot of glass.
“Our intent is if you’re outside or looking towards the Visitors Center from the outside that it really fades back and the garden really comes up to be the central feature,” Anderson said.
There will be a large viewing deck over the new garden, but it will also offer vistas of the historic garden. The cafe will also have a terrace to overlook the garden, which will be separated by a pool with aquatic plants. There will be connecting pools of water throughout the grounds, which could be colored differently throughout the year.
As part of the 20th anniversary project, a historic irises garden will be planted on the grounds.
“The master planners were intrigued by the idea when Bernard was alive, he was an experimenter,” Anderson said, noting this includes him hybridizing irises, bringing in numerous varieties of lilacs and growing “plants marginally hardy for this area … to see [what would happen].”
As a nod to McLaughlin’s experimental spirit, a trial garden will be planted at the bottom of the slope and if the modern day experiments are successful, those plants can be moved to permanent beds.
The beehives will also be moved and the compost pile expanded to this experimental and now educational area.
“We can really talk about the hands-in-the-dirt gardening that a lot of our visitors are interested in,” Anderson said. “We can improve [the compost pile and beehives] and make them more accessible to the public in terms of what they do and why they’re important.”
Managing the woodland area of the property falls under the second phase. Anderson noted she and the Board of Directors tapped into the professionals’ expertise in guiding this portion of the project.
“We turned to the landscape architects to figure out what the best use of the woodland would be, how we could balance out some really necessary visitors services like parking with the landscape and the building,” she said.
The first step in the woodland management is utilizing the Project Canopy grant funds to remove dead, diseased and damaged trees, along with invasive species.
“[We will] establish these paths, so we can begin to get people walking through there and eventually we’ll have these little pocket glade gardens in the woods,” Anderson said.
To coincide with these smaller woodland gardens, sculptures – which are yet to be determined – will be installed in this area.
This will also allow for people to enjoy the wildflowers that grow up the hill and the birds that live in the woodland.
“Right now we have a lot of birds you hear but you don’t see like wood thrushes and beautiful song birds. We might then be able to encourage people to not just stop and look and smell, but listen,” Anderson said, adding three viewing pavilions will be incorporated through the property.
Before any serious economic development can get underway, the capital campaign to raise funds for the multi-million dollar project must occur.
Anderson noted she only has soft budget numbers right now, but has began speaking with potential fundraisers.
The plan is to launch the capital campaign later this summer. She will take the project on the road to speak with the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce, community members and business owners to “build the kind of excitement, community support and business connections we want.”
Anderson and the board want to stimulate economic growth by creating better public/private partnerships and attracting people to the area.
“What our goal is … we do lease out the cafe and maybe the gift shop and maybe even some nongarden events to outside businesses so we have more of a public/private partnership here,” she said.
“I think the goal is we use every square inch that we have and we really think about the many ways we can improve a visitor experience over time and really make this a gem of the community and really an attractant for people to come visit South Paris … through the whole year,” Anderson continued. “[We want to] get people to see our glowing greenhouse and stop and be in this community, not only [to] experience what we’re offering in the garden and the Visitors Center, but also visit some of the businesses in the area.”
For more information and updates, visit www.mclaughlingarden.org/.