Sunday, June 12, 2016

Cape May's Secret Garden Tour

 My usual sidekick couldn't make it to the garden tour because of an illness in her family. Pneumonia scares me, so I actually encouraged her to stay home even though this would mean I'd have to navigate the tour and the lunch following at the Chalfont Hotel by myself.

Or would I? I stopped at the Washington Street Information Booth to pick up my tour packet and I was aware of a name-tagged garden tour official giving a big welcome to a pair of women who had arrived just after me. Before I claimed my tickets and packet, I realized that one of the women was Janice Wilson Stridick, who is a second-generation celebrity in Cape May. She wrote a stunning book called Light, Particularly about her mother, painter Alice Steer Wilson, and Alice's watercolors of Cape May. If you love Cape May, gardens, or watercolor paintings, you should probably have this book. If you love all three, you should definitely have it.

Janice and I run into each other periodically in Cape May. I offered her my extra ticket and we were off to visit the ten gardens with Janice's niece, Kim. The houses were in parts of Cape May that I don't frequent often--outside of the touristy beach and historic areas. I'd seen some of the homes from the front and admired their public, front-facing gardens, but being allowed in the private back gardens was a treat. These are the outside places where residents enjoy their homes in privacy.

All ten gardens were gorgeous: "One more beautiful than the next," as my mother would have said. There were begonias, ferns, magnolias (I bragged about the giant magnolia my father planted here), geraniums, and hydrangeas, all of which love the Cape May climate and sandy soil. I learned from Janice about lobelia, a plant featuring small blue flowers that grows very well in Cape May and looks great in blower boxes and planters.
Janice also pointed out the Japanese ferns and mentioned that they are quite hardy. At the Aurorean Cottage on Corgie Street, we learned about the pair of Harry Lauder Walking Stick trees in the front. The branches of these trees are twisty as you can see from the picture.
Harry Lauder Walking Stick Tree
In-between gardens, Janice and I caught up. I met her when she was teaching English Composition at Bucks County Community College because being a librarian there, I work with that faculty often. She's not teaching college courses anymore but filled me in on what she is doing, besides touring for the book about her mother. Click on her name in the first paragraph to see what she's cooking up. Kim and Janice were both very interested in Cape May's Sherlock Holmes Weekend which I have participated in a few times. No, I assured them, you do not have to wear a costume. I blogged about that experience here.

Many of the gardens included on this tour featured garden "rooms." Under an arbor covered with old, hardy wisteria might be a lounge chair and end table for reading,
That's some 'established' wisteria!
but tucked away in a corner might be a sunnier bistro area. If you keep looking you might find a hammock among the ferns, hosta, and elephant ears. One garden featured a waist-high raised bed which seemed to be growing all of the ingredients for salad.
Really raised bed

The ornaments! Gardeners seem to love whimsy judging by how they decorate their gardens. I saw frogs, a frog fountain, a patchwork pig, mesmerizing artistic whirligigs catching the sea breezes, and antique statuary. There were gazing balls and stepping stones. Did I mention there were flowers everywhere?

Each garden also boasted a painting of the garden in which it was displayed by a local artist. These paintings were being silent-auctioned off. These were marvelous and showed how much thought and planning went into this day! Most of the artists were around to greet admirers, and how lucky am I: Janice knew almost all of them and the garden hosts, too!

After we visited the ten secret gardens, we were to report to the Chalfont Hotel for lunch. I was looking forwardto seeing the inside of the Chalfont Hotel,
and I did, sort of. The luncheon in the Magnolia Room was mobbed. On the one hand, this shows how popular the Garden Tour was, and it was good to see how many people turned up for it. Proceeds were to benefit a good cause--the Cape May Forum--and it is satisfying to see cultural Cape May celebrating itself. On the other hand, I was wondering how I was still standing after all that walking in increasingly sweltering heat when I hadn't been properly hydrating. I didn't want to be impolite, but it was going to be a while before we got to the buffet I said good bye to Janice...and ghosted out...

As luck would have it, right near the stitchery store (where I picked up some DMC 3345 for a current project), I discovered Cione Gelato. According to the woman who scooped my Stracciatella and Chocolate, they have been there eight years. HOW have I not noticed that shop before, especially when it is sandwiched between the stitchery store and the gourmet shop which makes its own fresh pasta? Maybe it was a mirage, but I'm pretty sure that gelato (or the idea of it) saved my life!

So here's a round-up of Saturday's discoveries:
  • JAPANESE FERNS are hardy
  • STRACCIATELLA means chocolate chip
I'm inspired!

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