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Summer in the Gardens: Upper Valley Horticulturists Show Off Labors of Love

  • Brook Stewart, of Fairlee, left, Sandra Stewart of Bradford, Vt., center, and Erin Bradley of Post Mills sit down during an afternoon tea at Lake Morey Inn, offered as part of the Cohase Chamber of Commerce Garden Tour in Fairlee yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Brook Stewart, of Fairlee, left, Sandra Stewart of Bradford, Vt., center, and Erin Bradley of Post Mills sit down during an afternoon tea at Lake Morey Inn, offered as part of the Cohase Chamber of Commerce Garden Tour in Fairlee yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sunlight reflects off the water of a garden fountain at Lake Morey Inn in Fairlee yesterday on the afternoon of the Cohase Chamber of Commerce garden tour. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Sunlight reflects off the water of a garden fountain at Lake Morey Inn in Fairlee yesterday on the afternoon of the Cohase Chamber of Commerce garden tour. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Brook Stewart's shoes mirror the vibrance of flowers next to her as she visits the home of John and Christy Durgin during the Cohase Chamber of Commerce Garden Tour in Fairlee. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Brook Stewart's shoes mirror the vibrance of flowers next to her as she visits the home of John and Christy Durgin during the Cohase Chamber of Commerce Garden Tour in Fairlee. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Brook Stewart, of Fairlee, left, Sandra Stewart of Bradford, Vt., center, and Erin Bradley of Post Mills sit down during an afternoon tea at Lake Morey Inn, offered as part of the Cohase Chamber of Commerce Garden Tour in Fairlee yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Sunlight reflects off the water of a garden fountain at Lake Morey Inn in Fairlee yesterday on the afternoon of the Cohase Chamber of Commerce garden tour. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Brook Stewart's shoes mirror the vibrance of flowers next to her as she visits the home of John and Christy Durgin during the Cohase Chamber of Commerce Garden Tour in Fairlee. (Valley News - Libby March)

Fairlee — Thirteen years ago, John and Christy Durgin’s yard was nothing but grass.

Now it’s a thriving garden with winding stone paths, a product of their own labor.

“It started from lawn,” John Durgin said, explaining how he and his wife nurtured the garden themselves. “It’s a lot of rewarding work. It’s the gratification of doing it.”

As stop No. 2 on yesterday’s Cohase Chamber of Commerce garden tour and tea event, the Durgins — whose garden was one of five featured — described to visitors the evolution from bare to bountiful.

The tour began and ended at Lake Morey Resort, with hot and iced tea, lemonade and pastries waiting for those who survived the day’s humidity and unseasonable warmth.

More than 90 people, double the number of last year’s attendees, turned out for this year’s garden tour, a $20-per-person fundraiser the Cohase Chamber of Commerce organizes to both raise money and showcase lively gardens tucked away in backyards.

Attendees were given a map of garden locations and welcomed to drive around to each spot between 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Some were romantically lavish, lined with trellises and, like Bob and Kathy Munson’s vast Bradford, Vt., garden, equipped with waterfalls and golf greens.

Six Chimneys, a white-pillared home on Orford Ridge, a line of historic properties on Main Street, displayed what owner Bonnie Reid Martin described as the English country garden look of “ordered chaos” with “plants in abundance tumbling over one another.”

But others, like the Durgins’, were small-scale and charming.

The Durgins’ red-trimmed, tan home off Terry Hill Road in Fairlee obscures their garden, but a stone path the couple laid leads to a color-wheel of perennials that hugs their back porch and reveals aview of the Connecticut River Valley. The Durgins both work full-time jobs — Christy at West Central Behavioral Health and John at King Arthur Flour — but they manage the garden themselves, in the evenings and during weekends.

The pathway is made of flat rock from Piermont, and the short wall that surrounds their flower beds are made of stones from the river on the Durgins’ property.

“You want to have enough mixture of plants so that you’ve always got something going on,” Christy Durgin said.

She said she enjoys her garden the most at night, when the strings of lights woven throughout the beds illuminate the plants and flowers.

Their vegetable garden, situated on the plateaued lawn below the flowers beds, used to be full of beans, zuchinni and carrots, but now it’s “just growing grass” John Durgin said. He said he grew up helping his father in the family’s large vegetable garden, and wanted his own three boys to “experience where their food comes from.”

The oldest two boys are now out of the house and serving in the U.S. Army. The Durgins’ youngest son, 13-year-old Austin, helps them haul mulch and spread soil.

The owners of the five featured gardens voluntarily opened their yards to onlookers in Fairlee, Bradford, Haverhill and Orford. Anne Dall, the Cohase Chamber of Commerce secretary and an avid gardener herself, said it wasn’t difficult to get volunteers and added that she’d already filled next year’s lineup.

“It’s so inspiring to see what other people do,” Dall said, who is John Durgin’s sister and has been involved with the chamber since its inception. “For us it’s a fundraiser, but we have some garden enthusiasts in the chamber. I think there’s a real resurgence of gardens in the area.”

In addition to the garden tour, the Chamber hosts a twice yearly antique show at Fairlee’s Lake Morey Resort. Lisa Avery is the director of recreational services at the resort and a chamber board member-at-large.

Only 10 years old, Dall said the chamber encompasses the Woodsville and Wells River areas and stretches south to Fairlee and Orford.

Yesterday a quartet of women from Corinth — all gardeners themselves and supporters of the Blake Memorial Library — toured the gardens together.

They said that they especially enjoyed the varying personalities that each garden offered and were proud of themselves for being able to identify all the plants they saw.

“They were each so different and special,” Susie Strainchamps said.

The ladies are organizing their own benefit tour of five “secret gardens” in Corinth and Topsham next Saturday from 12 to 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 per person in advance and $20 the day of the tour.

Katie Mettler can be reached at kmettler@vnews.com or 603-727-3234.

CORRECTION

This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. Lisa Avery is the director of recreational services at the Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee and is married to a co-owner of the facility. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described her job title.