Hartford is about to have the largest garden event in its history. The 20th anniversary celebration of Hartford Blooms will run from June 21 to June 29. It will include garden tours, lectures, receptions and more at locations all over the city, from Elizabeth Park to the Butler-McCook House & Garden and the many hidden gems in between.
The idea comes from two trips. The first trip, 20 years ago to Ireland, inspired the original Hartford Blooms program, which spreads flower planters around the city and has been successfully managed by the Knox Parks Foundation. A second recent trip to Buffalo, N.Y., led to the idea of creating a citywide celebration to showcase Hartford's beautiful gardens, architecture and history.
"Garden Walk Buffalo is as much a community beautification program as it is a tour of gardens," said Jim Charlier, a board member of the Buffalo garden walk. That program was started in the 1990s by a Buffalo couple who brought the idea back from the Shefield garden walk in Chicago. Today, Garden Walk Buffalo, part of that city's six weekend National Garden Festival, has become the largest garden tour in the country, with 350 gardens open over one weekend. Organizers are kindly sharing details and experience with Hartford.
Hartford officials had a similar reaction on a trip to Ireland in 1994. Mayor Mike Peters, members of the city council and members of Hartford's Irish American community visited New Ross, County Wexford (Hartford's sister city). Struck by the beauty of Irish gardens and landscapes, Mayor Mike instructed me, then a city councilman, and my wife, Marguerite, to bring some of that sense of nature and beauty to Hartford, which led to the Hartford Blooms program.
Creating a Hartford garden walk is a logical extension of Hartford Blooms. Imagine following a garden tour from Elizabeth Park to Cedar Hill Cemetery, from the Butler McCook homestead to the plantings at Nook Farm — public gardens thrive. Add to that the church gardens at St. Patrick-St. Anthony, Trinity Episcopal and Grace Lutheran. These will join dozens of private front yards and backyards throughout the city.
All this has come to the attention of a group of involved citizens who want to take Hartford into the next phase of using gardens as a vehicle for Hartford's progress. As Mayor Pedro Segarra said recently, " A paint job could be expensive, a new porch could be beyond someone's reach, but most everybody can afford a few flowers that will beautify the street and the neighborhood."
With this in mind, Hartford Blooms will create a nine-day series of tours, talks and walks throughout the city. Many city groups, including Hartford 2000, Knox, Northside Institute Neighborhoods Alliance, the Elizabeth Park Conservancy and others, are joining to conduct historic tours that will increase investment and pride in the capital city.
A major benefit to Hartford will be the potential physical transformation of streets and whole neighborhoods. Sigourney Square will see about 10 properties professionally designed and planted. Laurel Street will see porches and gardens spruced up, Columbia Street has plans to participate, and property owners throughout the city will be encouraged and supported in their efforts. Knox and its green team will plant trees and the city's public works department will go all out to dress up city property.
A typical tour will include a city attraction, lunch, four or five gardens and a reception at the Butler McCook House. Included also will be a "farm tour" of Hartford's numerous large market plots and walking tours of Riverfront's Lincoln walk, the Wallace Stevens walk, Trinity College's Long Walk and a downtown stroll.
Tours in the West End, Asylum Hill, Sheldon-Charter Oak (Coltsville), Blue Hills, North Hartford, South End (Cedar Hill) and other neighborhoods are coming together. Gardeners throughout the city are invited to participate.
And nobody needs to follow a straight path. The tour book will give directions for those who want to mix and match tours.
All this is developing with city cooperation and modest funding from the city, foundations, corporations and interested citizens. Hartford will certainly bloom this spring.
Mike McGarry of Hartford is the founder of Hartford Blooms.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun