Crowds fill garden for Lilac Festival

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PARIS – The day was sunny and warm enough to spread the signature scent of lilacs throughout McLaughlin Garden. Hundreds of people toured the garden and its 200 varieties of lilacs and native woodland flowers and plants Sunday for the annual Lilac Festival.

The nonprofit garden’s executive director, Michael Desplaines, led a tour through a woodland filled with plants in what was Bernard McLaughlin’s private garden. Desplaines said when the garden gate was open it signaled visitors that they’d be welcome.

After McLaughlin’s death, the property was up for sale when concerned people called the garden a treasure that must be kept for public viewing. The property was eventually bought to be kept open. The nonprofit organization operates mainly on proceeds from flower sales and membership.

Desplaines said it also gets some grant money and conducts fundraising activities, but needs at least 600 members to keep up the two-acre garden. Volunteers do most of the work.

Desplaines took the tour through the garden filled with native wildflowers of white trillium, hosta, day lilies, astilbes, iris, phlox, sedum, yellow lady slippers and a variety of perennials. He explained why the May apple blossoms are near the ground rather than on top as most plants flower. He said caterpillars, not bees, pollinate these flowers and that’s why the blossoms are under the leaves.

Kristen Perry gave tips to a crowd in the old barn on how to plant and care for lilacs. Pruning is best done in winter or after flowering in the spring Perry said.

The plants in the garden are not labeled. Desplaines explains that McLaughlin is a historical cultural garden, not a botanical garden.

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