STONINGTON — Candy Sanford and Deb Kotchen are not necessarily keeping state secrets in Stonington but they are keeping the locations of the seaside gardens to be showcased during the Stonington Garden Club’s triennial Gardens by the Sea walking tour close to the vest....or under the flowerpot.
“It’s part of the excitement surrounding the tour,” said Kotchen, who co-chairs this year’s triennial tour with Sanford. “We’re showing secret seaside gardens. Gardens that visitors would otherwise never get to see.”
Gardens by the Sea, a traditionally well-attended walking tour of 10 private gardens in the village of Stonington, will take place on Friday, June 13, and Saturday, June 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event, held every three years, raises funds to support community programs, said Sanford. Programs like the Children’s Garden at the Stonington Community Center, and the NatureScapes program offered to all third-graders in the Stonington Public Schools.
“And last year,” added Kotchen “We made a donation to Denison Pequotsepos to help purchase Coogan Farm.”
Stonington Garden Club members also help with a number of other beautification projects throughout the town and borough, including the redesign of the grounds of the historic lighthouse, the square surrounding the library, the wetlands adjacent to the COMO. They also make holiday arrangements for local nursing homes, and they bought and recently planted trees along North Main Street to replace those damaged by Superstorm Sandy.
Kotchen said the tour, a 20-year tradition, typically attracts close to 3,000 visitors who come from throughout New England and New York to see the Stonington gardens, which are known their seaside roses and lush hydrangea.
“And the seaside vistas,” added Sanford. “The gardens overlooking Little Narragansett Bay.”
The 10 gardens featured on this year’s tour offer a surprising variety of sizes and styles, said Sanford, who also serves as president of the club. They range from one small, intimate, “hidden” garden with espaliered shrubs along an enclosing fence, to a stately garden with panoramic views over conservancy land and the water.
One garden is entirely open and flooded with sunlight, said Kotchen, while another transitions from deep shade to full sun. One of the most personal and unusual gardens features a variety of groundcovers and steppingstones, rather than traditional grass, as well as an area for contemplation and meditation.
All the gardens showcase the owners’ personal style and taste through the use of decorative stone and brickwork, fountains and water features, and sculpture, said garden club member Joyce Pandolfi. “Seasonal accents are provided by annuals, containers, and hanging baskets and several gardens incorporate pergolas, pavilions, and artfully sited seating areas for the relaxed enjoyment of summer’s beauty.”
Kotchen said the roughly 75 members of the garden club work tirelessly to prepare for the tour, always searching for new gardens to share and new ways to enhance the event. This year there will be a tented “marketplace” located in the Wadawanuck “Wad” Square, said Kotchen. It will feature about 20 vendors selling everything from garden accessories and ornaments, to plants, crafts, clothing, jewelry, and home decorating items.
Ticketholders will be invited to enjoy complimentary iced tea and cookies, which will be served under tents and in one of the more stately gardens surrounding one of the borough’s historical houses on the village green.
“But we certainly hope that visitors will take advantage of our wonderful restaurants and retail shops,” said Kotchen.
“We have an amazing cross-section.”
Sanford said that the origins of the Stonington Garden Club date back to the early 1900s.
An account published in The Stonington Chronology notes that on July 6, 1926: “Mrs. Frank L. Henderson won 1st prize in a rose contest at the Stonington Garden Club.”
During World War II, she said, the club was disbanded, then reorganized in 1958 with 30 members. Its purpose at that time was “to stimulate interest in gardening, to encourage civic planting and to promote measures for the protection of wild flowers, native plants, birds and wildlife,” she said. Kotchen said that club members include residents of Stonington, Westerly, Charlestown, Ledyard and Mystic. Sanford said membership requirements include participation in club activities, attendance at meetings, and service on committees.
The Gardens by the Sea Tour will be open to the public each day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance, and $35 day of the tour, and are valid both days. Free parking is available and parking attendants will be plentiful and visible, said Kotchen.
For information and to order tickets visit www.stoningtongardenclub.org or call 860-531-TOUR (8687). Tickets are also available at Bank Square Books in Mystic and Tom’s News in Stonington.The Stonington Garden Club is a member of Garden Club of America.