McLaughlin Garden & Farmstead launches “Storytelling in the Barn” this Saturday at 4 p.m. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — Although COVID-19 forced McLaughlin Garden & Homestead to cancel its entire calendar of events this summer, with a little creativity Managing Director Karla Horecky has managed to add new fall programs leading up to Halloween.

This Saturday, McLaughlin Garden will host Storytelling in the Barn, featuring J.T. Turner as he narrates the classic Halloween thriller The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Tickets are required for reserved seating. The event starts at 4 p.m. This will be Turner’s third performance in Oxford Hills.

Storyteller J.T. Turner portrays Washington Irving telling his most famous tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at McLaughlin Garden & Farmstead on Oct. 17. Taking on all the roles of this Halloween tale, Turner has adapted the piece to keep all ages entertained. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Performance will be held at 4 p.m. this Saturday. Supplied photo

“The next day we are holding Autumn Pumpkin Flower Arranging, a workshop where participants will create a centerpiece arrangement using dried flowers from our gardens,” Horecky said. “We have two sessions scheduled, one to start at noon and the second will be at 2 p.m. There is a limit of 12 people per session, so tickets must be purchased in advance.”

McLaughlin Garden’s Jack-o’-lantern Spectacular has been cancelled. The event normally attracts 1,200 visitors. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

One of the biggest disappointments of a cancelled year at McLaughlin Garden is the loss of its annual Jack-o’-lantern Spectacular, which regularly draws a crowd of 1,200 people of more.

“Unfortunately, we just don’t have the resources and manpower to make sure we could properly social distance everyone,” Horecky explained. “I am taking inquiry calls daily about it. I put out the Spectacular sign, with a notice that we will see everyone in 2021.”

But in its place, McLaughlin has added two days of Pumpkin Carving Workshops, on Oct. 24 and 25.

“Participants will buy their pumpkin over at our Curtis House property and bring it here to the barn,” Horecky said. “We will have ‘pumpkin-gutting stations’ in the barn to clean the pumpkins out and people can use our tools and stencils to carve their own pumpkins. They get to take their pumpkins home and we will clean up the mess.”

The 2020 calendar for McLaughlin Garden can be viewed online at: The page lists ticket information and pricing for its October events.

The grounds of McLaughlin Garden & Farmstead have been quiet this year. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

“We can’t hold the Jack-o’-lantern Spectacular, but we have the tools to at least share the fun of pumpkin carving,” McLaughlin explained. “And we will hand out instructions on how to roast pumpkin seeds so anyone who wants to take their innards home with them is welcome to. We just ask that they bring their own container because we will not have bags available.”

The biggest financial pain for McLaughlin Garden was the loss of its annual events, including sponsorship revenues. All summer visitations were down – leading to fewer donation box contributions, gift shop sales and plant sales.

“We were able to stay open, as an agriculture enterprise, but did much less business,” said Horecky. “We wanted to do plant sales online for curbside pick-up, but didn’t have the resources to pull it off. But we held plant sales outdoors and people were good about masks and social distancing. They could not enter the house without a mask. We did a sale from the porch. We used a few tricks to bring our customers in safely.”

Horecky hopes to bring back the foundation’s regular signature events in 2021, at the mercy of COVID-19 limitations.

Among the innovations McLaughlin Gardens managed this year was an art fair, produced in partnership with Western Maine Arts. They also opened a gallery and hosted an Artist of the Month throughout the season.

“The fair was well received and we will repeat and expand it, probably in early September next year,” she said. “The other new events we started this fall, we will assess and if they go well we will add them to the calendar, too.

“Our mission is this: To cultivate a beautiful environment where discovery creativity and connections are nurtured. Everything we do is with that mission in mind – connections to the earth, to people. Discovery of plants and science, and creativity through the art and beauty of gardening, of flowers and of the natural world.”

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