PARIS — Nowhere is the renewal of spring more evident than on the grounds of McLaughlin Garden & Homestead in South Paris as it prepares a return to its traditional operation after being force to close early last year and cancel events through the summer due to the pandemic.

McLaughlin Garden’s annual plant sale starts tomorrow for members and continues for the general public through Mother’s Day Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

As gentle April showers blanketed the homestead last week, staff and volunteers were hard at work, prepping the flower beds, transplanting seedlings, cleaning the barn and organizing products for its annual barn sale.

The gardens open on May 7 and the season kicks off with a Members-Only Plant Sale from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Renewed and new members get first dibs on all plants for sale at 10% off regular prices.

March marigold is in bloom at McLaughlin Garden & Homestead. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Then at 10 a.m. on May 8 and continuing the next day McLaughlin opens up to the public with its Wildflower Celebration and Wildflowers and Whimsy Yard Sale in the barn. Complete Sharpening Service will also be on hand to sharpen tool blades for a fee.

“The barn sale is garden-themed,” explained Executive Director Karla Horecky as she provided a sneak peak at the sale items. “Everything has been donated; some things have never been used.”

Several tables in the barn are lined with tools, supplies and décor – like gnomes, decorative planters and hangers, garden furniture, books, lawn ornaments, bird houses, a work bench and mail box. There are also farm boots in various sizes, puzzles, stationery and games, a child’s tricycle, trellis poles, vases, pitchers, table linens and a number of rugs for sale.

A team of gnomes awaits a new garden and fresh coat of paint. The sculpture is one of many gnome pieces included in McLaughlin Garden’s barn sale this weekend. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

“We have fixtures and hardware that were salvaged from the Curtis House, which we had to raze last year,” Horecky said, pointing out a table with lamps, sconces and heat registers.

Outside plants have begun to pop up from the soil, many already starting to bloom. Horecky noted the flowers of Jeffersonia (twinleaf), Primula (primrose), Pulmonaria (lungwort), (yellow) Trillium luteum, Caltha palustris (marsh marigold) and Helleborus (Bayli’s blush) basking in the day’s light fainfall.

A row of tables lined the length of the barn outside in the gardens, stocked with plants ready for sale. Horecky said some have been separated from those growing in McLaughlin Garden’s own beds but many are ordered in from greenhouses and suppliers.

McLaughlin Garden’s membership drive has also kicked off for the season. The fee to join is $50 a year but memberships can be extended to volunteers who commit to at least 20 hours of their time a season, helping out in the gardens and gift shop or in support of public events and fundraising projects.

Two weeks after the Wildflower Celebration and Wildflowers and Whimsy Yard Sale, the garden will again welcome the public to visit during its annual Lilac Festival.

“Lilac Festival will be during Memorial Day Weekend,” Horecky said. “Last year we had to cancel it, along with the opening plant sale. It’s really important for us.”

McLaughlin Garden is home to 125 varieties and more than 200 lilac trees. At one time it was the largest lilac garden in New England and still is one of the region’s most important privately owned collections.

Opening Day at the garden will also serve as a coming out party for its two newest additions – a full-time and part-time gardener recently came on board.

After visiting the gardens over the years and cultivating her own perennials for sale, Becky Moening of Poland has started part-time.

“For me, it’s the perfect setting and perfect opportunity to work in these gardens,” Moening said. “I’ve always loved coming here and the chance to work here was a real draw for me.”

Corey Kotfila is McLaughlin Garden’s full-time gardener. He graduated from University of Maine Orono with degrees in forestry and horticulture.

New employees Becky Moening (third from left) and Corey Kotfila (far right) take a lunch break with McLaughlin Garden volunteers preparing to open for the season. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

“I moved to Oxford Hills for a different job,” Kotfila explained. “But it was inside work with fake lighting, it just wasn’t my speed. I would drive by here and think how cool it would be to work here instead.

“When I saw the job posting, I was like, ‘yes, absolutely!’ I had never been here before and I was blown away by how cool it is. I just walk out and see all the plants and flowers popping up every day, it affirms it was the right decision. I live in Paris in walking distance. I’m super excited for this season.”

Horecky was able to bring staff on because of continuing support from the garden’s members and community.

“Fundraising has gone surprisingly well,” she said. “People are being generous. We’re getting a lot of new members this year, a number of people have walked in to buy memberships.

“Our summer schedule is heading back to normal. We will continue to require face coverings in accordance with the governor’s recommendations. We just want to take care of our neighbors.”

“We have great ideas for the garden and for new workshops,” Corey said. “We want to appeal to a broader variety of garden enthusiasts. We’re still working out the programs, but they will be added to our events calendar and incorporated into our Thursday Night in the Garden series.”

For more information on McLaughlin Garden’s 2021 season visit their website or Facebook page.

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