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Visitors traipse village for Old Lyme garden tour

Old Lyme — Look at those monster hostas! Check out that incredible climbing hydrangea! You never see a mountain laurel like that in the wild!

Every stop along the garden tour in the historic village in the center of town Saturday revealed another variety of flower, shrub or tree that seemed better than the one before.

Owners of six impeccably manicured properties welcomed visitors into their front, back and side yards during the Child & Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut's biennial garden tour fundraiser. The volunteers who staffed each property were as excited as the visitors who strolled in and out of the gardens along Lyme Street and Ferry Road.

"They've got a little bit of everything here," said Mary Dangremond, who greeted visitors to the Children's Learning Center of Old Lyme's sensory gardens. "You have to keep looking."

The learning center garden's organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers serve as a living lesson for children on the importance of pollinators and native species and stimulation for the senses. Visitors rubbed the fuzzy silver lamb's ears and enjoyed the pungent peppermint and basil.

Further up Lyme Street, near the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, garden tourists walked through an alley of beech trees into an enormous sculpture garden at Studio 80 containing more than 120 sculptures by the owner, Gilbert Boro, and other artists. Scattered along the 4.5-acre lawn that reaches to the Lieutenant River, the sculptures, in varying sizes, shapes and materials, blend in, yet stand out among holly bushes, rhododendrons, lilacs and evergreens.

"Who would have the imagination?" a visitor asked while poring over a sculpture of baled cedar shingles in the shape of tree trunks.

Past the Town Hall, the tour offered a stop at the site of a former Greek revival-style church, now privately owned and gloriously landscaped. Visitors stepped along a stone path past a whimsical fish fountain onto a patio with bursting rose blooms and peonies. "Wait, there's more!" one woman said after discovering the stone path led to a pool and greenhouse at the back of the property.

An adjacent tour stop along Academy Lane, called "secret garden," is contained within a yew hedge and is the site of the former lot for the Masonic Temple.

Garden tour etiquette dictates that the names and addresses of those who open up their properties be omitted from garden tour maps and publications. In most cases Saturday, the second of the tour's two-day run, the owners were inconspicuous. At the sixth and final stop along the tour, however, a young boy who lived in the Victorian home helped collect tickets while his father brought mugs of cappuccino to volunteers.

The home features annual and perennial flowerbeds and, as the garden tour brochure says, exhibits an Asian influence with Japanese maples that "seem to float like clouds," hinoki cypress trees and serpentine trained evergreens.

"It's amazing how every time they have a tour, they come up with six new and amazing places," volunteer Gail O'Sullivan said.

The property owners graciously open their homes for a good cause, according to Lynn Fairfield-Sonn, director of development and community relations for the child and family agency. The agency last year provided educational, mental health and health care services to 18,000 children and their families in 79 towns in New London, New Haven and Middlesex counties.

Fairfield-Sonn, who lives on Lyme Street, said that the idea of the tour was to show the variety of garden settings within the historic village.

"Each homeowner does their own twist on gardening and lifestyle," she said. "While in keeping with the historic theme, each brings their own personality to their own home."

The agency's next tour will be in December, when Essex homeowners offer up their homes for a holiday tour, she said.


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