PARIS — Visitors to the McLaughlin Garden and Homestead will be able to view more than 125 varieties of lilacs, most in full bloom, at this weekend’s festival celebrating the flower that signifies spring to many.

The 18th annual Lilac Festival will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday through Monday at the garden at 97 Main St. in South Paris. Each day, Horticulturist Kristin Perry will give tours of the garden at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and will also give a talk on the lilacs at 1 p.m.

The event is free, though donations will be accepted. A tent will be set up next door for picnic lunches, serving salads and sandwiches, so people can enjoy an entire afternoon at the garden.

During a rainy tour of the grounds Tuesday morning, Perry said recent weather has been ideal for the lilacs.

“The good thing is the lilacs should … peak this weekend. … They tend to pop up by the day,” she said. “The rain will help. I hope we get a thunderstorm and an inch of rain. I’m greedy. It’s been really dry.”

As a precursor to the event, an opening reception will be held at 5 p.m. Friday for Norway artist Suzanne Hardy’s Art in the Barn exhibition, “The Camera and Creation.” Light refreshments will be served.

“The exhibition explores how the artist uses photography as a starting point for her creative process. Photographs and a pencil sketch are hung beside final works of art to illustrate how the photographic image inspires focus on essential features,” the garden’s website stated.

While strolling down the lanes where tall plants stand, Perry said garden founder the late Bernard McLaughlin gave an interview before he died, saying there were more than 125 types of lilacs on his property.

“We don’t have names of the lilacs (but) Bernard knew what all of them were,” she said, adding that old name tags were found but some of the descriptions and plants didn’t match up, making her believe some of the lilacs were moved. “There’s a huge variety. After we went through and did the descriptions, I was really impressed.”

Perry added there’s roughly 2,000 different varieties of lilacs in the world, including a California variety that doesn’t need as much of a cold period to help the plants bloom.

“People love lilacs, even Californians,” Perry said with a smile.

But the majority of lilacs at McLaughlin Garden are of the French variety. Most of the world’s lilacs originated in Eastern Europe and the first hybridization was done in France, hence the reason for the variety’s name.

Also as part of the garden’s collection is the Korean lilac, known as Miss Kim, which blooms about a week after the French flowers. Perry noted Miss Kim had a different smell than its French cousins, which have a bit more spice than the typical sweet scent that is often used in perfumes. There are other, later-blooming lilacs on the grounds, which include the tree lilacs that bloom latest of all.

“These already look really beautiful, Kristin,” Executive Director Donna Anderson said to the horticulturist Tuesday morning. “It’s interesting, the color differential in all of them.”

Indeed, there were some white lilacs which stood out against the green stalks holding them up. But not all lilacs are created equal when it comes to the various hues of the flowers. Perry said that these mostly taller, leggy plants also have different types of blossoms. Some contain flowers within flowers and others are smaller and clustered closer together, like grapes.

There will be lilacs, among other plants, for sale during the festival.

“We’re really all about satisfying every lilac owner,” Perry said, smiling.

For more information about the Lilac Festival, visit www.mclaughlingarden.org/home.html or call 207-743-8820.

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