Secret Gardens hint at whimsy, glamour

Mirrors were used to add depth to garden rooms, such as this example in
tour location number ten.
NEWPORT, R.I. - Starlets soaked up the limelight, camera glitz and fans this past weekend during the Secret Garden Show.

The floral variety of starlets, that is.

Roses, clematises and peonies graced gardens in The Point section of Newport during a self-guided tour that raised money for cultural programs at Aquidneck public schools. Since 1983, the tour (held both in spring and autumn) has raised more than $1 million for music, theater and art programming.

Rose blooms in petite vases.
By 1 p.m. Friday, most garden locations were already logging more than 100 visitors at each individual garden. Despite a difficult winter, the gardens of Newport flourished during a limited time unveiling to the public.

It was the little details that really made a difference. In one garden, a small bud vase with petite roses graced a side table, with a chalkboard sign placed strategically along the ivy-bordered walkway welcoming visitors to a secret garden. At another locale, a pair of rabbit candlesticks danced on a table located in the shade. 

Whimsical decorations were strategically placed in gardens, even those with a formal feel. At the Sanford-Covell Villa Marina, a bed and breakfast located on Washington Street, a collection of rubber ducks lined a side of the pool that overlooked the Newport Harbor and the Newport Bridge in the distance.

Another garden featured belonged to a member of the American Rose Society, which boasted being "one of the best collections of roses in Newport" for its 79 rose bushes. With two stone lions flanking a water fountain in the center of the backyard oasis, along the perimeter a Green Man winked at attendees and birdhouses dotted the trees and shrubbery. Iron fence panels painted in white complemented pastel pink and white campanulas and cotton candy colored mountain laurel. Out front self-seeded violas added color to the cracks along the steps.

There was a lot to take in. 

Potted plants were numerous.
One garden stop on this year's Secret Garden Tour technically featured two neighboring gardens. An arbor covered in wisteria welcomed visitors to the small gardens, packed with several varieties of plants and many architectural elements, such as roses in urns, frog and rabbit statuary and the usual favorites that grow well in the Newport area: hostas, hydrangeas and roses.

Visitors had access to 14 locations, most being private gardens. A tour map was the "ticket" that granted access to the gardens - $20 if purchased in advance, $25 if purchased the day of the tours. The gardens varied in size - from postage stamp to fairly large - ranging in formal to cottage styles. The self-guided tour consisted of bed and breakfast locales, a church garden and home gardens.

There were some consistent themes throughout the tour. The first was the use of space. Most gardens had a small footprint and it was interesting how each gardener chose to showcase various plants in confined spaces. One garden stuffed plants between the house and fence line with a narrow walkway, (obscured by the plants) that led to a small shed. Most gardens had a patio or dining area implemented into the design.
The use of decorative pottery, as well as statuary, was another consistent theme. Garden statues of birds, frogs and rabbits were often used to add quaint touches to the various gardens. One small garden used a mirror mounted to the fence to make the garden look larger in size.

An decorative pot filled with geraniums, 
petunias and dusty miller along the steps

of one Secret Garden location in Newport, 
R.I., Friday. Violas bloom from the cracks.

The volunteers manning the entry tables for each locale were jovial, and some gardeners opted to remain outside at the tables to greet visitors. At one such location, a gardener offered sketched maps of her property with the plant varieties labeled. (This was helpful, since I was able to make note of some plants that I would like to grow in my own garden.) Her garden, in development since 1982, lacked grass but was packed with perennials, annuals and a water garden, all interlinked with various paths that lead from full sun to shady areas.

In addition to the gardens available for entry, there were several other "peek-a-boo" gardens, where attendees were invited to look over the fences into the gardens but were not able to enter them. At one of the "peek-a-boo" locations, I was drawn to the use of space in the fenced-in, street corner garden, and was using my iPhone to take photos from the sidewalk. At no point did I lean on the fence or touch any plants. I was disappointed when someone from inside the house began to press a car key fob which belonged to the vehicle out front, which set off several tones, as if saying, "Move along now. Your time is up." Duly noted. I continued on the tour, but I hope in the future homeowners who mark their gardens on the map for "peek-a-boo" status are more welcoming to tour attendees.

Each year different gardens sign up to be a part of the tour. The next scheduled tour is in September. To learn more about The Secret Garden tours, click here.


  1. Wow, I need to get this tour on my schedule for this year! Thanks for the heads up on this one, Jen.


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