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Houses open and gardens bloom for weekend visitors


The season for house and garden tours is here, and next weekend will be especially busy with tours listed in Virginia, West Virginia and Washington.

Historic Garden Week in Virginia opens Saturday for a full week of house and garden tours -- 37 separate tours throughout the state. It is billed as "America's Largest Open House," with more than 250 handsome homes, plantations, farms, townhouses and historic sites open to the public, the country's oldest garden and a world-class horse farm. Block tickets range in price from $7 to $20 or from $2 to $5 for individual homes.

On Saturday and Sunday during the Winchester-Clarke County tour visitors can see houses that were owned by the family of George Washington as well as a garden filled with 30,000 daffodils and 2,000 tulips. Opening-day tours are also available in Alexandria and Roanoke. The tour in Fauquier-Loudoun County next Sunday and Monday takes you through horse country, through the town of Middleburg and the historic villages of Upperville and Paris. One of the grandest homes on the tour is Peace and Plenty at Bollingbrook, containing 21 rooms with 20-foot high ceilings.

Edgar Allan Poe will be the focus of the Richmond tour April 27. The day includes houses that Poe visited, gardens and flower arrangements inspired by his poetry, readings from his works and an evening dinner cruise on the James River featuring entertainment based on his writings.

Homes in Virginia's Tidewater are featured during the tours in Portsmouth and Franklin (April 23); Virginia Beach (April 24 and 26); the Northern Neck, Hampton Roads-Newport News and Suffolk (April 27); Norfolk (April 28); Gloucester-Mathews (April 29); and the Eastern Shore (April 30).

Historic Garden Week was organized by the Garden Club of Virginia in 1929 and has been held every year since, except for an interruption during World War II. All tours are detailed in a

200-page guidebook, available for a $2 donation to the Garden Club of Virginia. Write Historic Garden Week, 12 E. Franklin St., Richmond, Va. 23219, or call (804) 644-7776.

Tea and history

As part of Garden Week festivities, Gunston Hall Plantation in Lorton, Va., will offer tea and a living-history performance Saturday and next Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Living-history players will perform "Spring Fever," a glimpse of plantation life in April 1789. A fee of $7 for adults, $6 for seniors lTC and $2 for students through 12th grade includes admission to the house and gardens and the performance. A $13 ticket includes an elaborate three-course tea as well. Reservations are recommended. Home of Colonial patriot George Mason, the plantation is off Interstate 95 and U.S. Route 1. Call (703) 550-9220.

West Virginia houses

The Shenandoah-Potomac Garden Council of Berkeley and Jefferson counties will hold its annual House and Garden Tour Saturday and next Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Eight homes in Charles Town, Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown and Martinsburg, W. Va., built between the early 1700s and 1893, will be open to the public. One of the tour stops is the oldest surviving structure in Harpers Ferry, and another was occupied by the founder of Martinsburg. Tickets for the complete tour cost $10 for adults; $5 for children 12 and under; single houses cost $3 for adults; $2 for children. Call (800) 624-0577.

Georgetown tour

Twelve homes in Washington's prestigious Georgetown section will be open for tour Saturday and next Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The tour features six different homes each day. Afternoon tea will be served at St. John's Episcopal Church, 3240 O St. N.W., which sponsors the tour. Tickets cost $20 and can be bought at the church on tour days. Call (202) 333-2628 or (202) 338-1796.

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