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 its future.
The official anniversary of the 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, Executive Director Donna Anderson said.
The garden at 97 Main St. opens Friday, May 12, with the annual Wildflower Celebration. It is also National Public Gardens Day.
There is a full slate of activities to mark 20 years. 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, 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.
The garden is home to the Northeast’s largest lilac collection with more than 200 varieties in a two-acre area. In June, people can learn how to prune lilacs during a workshop.
In July, a workshop on rock gardening tips. The rock garden next to the garden founder, Bernard McLaughlin’s homestead, was planted in 2015, debuted in 2016 and blooms through 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. During the garden’s annual plant sale, they try not to sell anything that will grow out of control, she said.
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 said 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.” she said.
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. Members grow pumpkins for the October event, along with Cooper Farms in West Paris and Slattery’s Farm in West Minot, which donate them.
“We want to help people early in the season get on the bandwagon with pumpkin growing,” she said. “So as part of our springtime for scavenger hunts for families, the prizes will be pumpkin oriented.”
She said 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 continues.
“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 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,” Anderson said. “The historic iris garden will be for plant varieties from 1985 or earlier.” That was Bernard McLaughlin’s prime gardening period.
“I think it’s a great expression of Bernard’s connection to the gardening world,” Anderson said.
McLaughlin Garden was recently awarded a $6,000 Project Canopy grant for its new woodland management work.
Master planners with Richardson & Associates of Saco are 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 at the back of the garden 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 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” on opening day, May 12, Anderson said. “Our goal with the plan is to use every usable inch of the garden to make it more public,” she said.
The original plan was to transform the Curtis House, which was a schoolhouse brought from Elm Hill to Main Street 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. It 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 designs for the future visitors center: 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.
“The idea is people could go from the greenhouse (at the front of the building) all the way inside,” Anderson said. People will not have to go outside once inside the new building, which 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. 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,” she said.
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.
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 in Sweden 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 more information visit 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 two 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
Every year visitors flock to McLaughlin Garden and Homestead’s Lilac Festival in late May to see more than 200 varieties in bloom. The nonprofit’s 20th anniversary will be celebrated during this year’s Lilac Festival at the garden at 97 Main St.