While the lush gardens behind many of the homes in Schenectady’s historic Stockade are certainly a well kept-secret, Rob Gavel, a member of the Stockade Association’s Garden Group Committee, is hoping to blow their cover by hosting their biannual Secret Garden Tour at the end of June.
Since 2000, the biannual event usually draws over 1,000 visitors who converge upon the Stockade to admire the lush gardens and historic buildings and take in the views of the Mohawk River.
Stockade resident Susanna Sherwood founded the Garden Group in 1995, and along with former neighbor Betty Lane, was instrumental in planning the first Secret Garden Tour in 2000. In addition to caring for their own gardens, members of the Garden Group also care for several public gardens, including two in Riverside Park. Sherwood recalls that in the early days there was no water spout in the park, so they would load jugs of water in a little red wagon.
One of the first things they did when they raised money from that first garden tour was work with the City to have running water installed. The group, along with ReTree Schenectady, a non-profit organization founded in 1991 that is dedicated to caring for and planting trees in the city, was also responsible for planting all of the flowering trees in the Stockade.
According to Gavel, the tour gets its name from the way the residents’ gardens and backyards are literally hidden from street-level views.
"Just like in New Orleans or in Savannah, you walk the streets and wonder what is behind the houses," he said. In fact, at his home, there is a wrought iron gate that leads down the side of the house. While spending time in his backyard he often hears passersby wondering aloud what is behind the gate.
Soon, people will be able to find out. This year, seven homeowners have agreed to open their private gardens to the public. In addition to featuring the gardens that are all within walking distance of one another, this year’s tour will also include many other components that will highlight the Stockade and its’ residents.
"This year, for the first time ever, we’re having an official floral designer," said Gavel.
Evan Euripidou, owner/designer of Anthology Design Studio in Schenectady, plans to pair art and fresh cut flowers with the natural beauty of the gardens. He is also teaming up with blown-glass artist Roxanne Becofsky who is creating flowers which will be attached to the end of a metal, sculpted leaf structure.
"It’s going to be an artistic representation of fresh flowers," said Euripidou.
What exactly will be blooming in residents’ gardens in June? While tulips will definitely be history, participants can expect to see bunches of roses, peonies and honeysuckles. And with those comes very powerful fragrances.
In addition to admiring the flowers and greenery, participants will also see elegant patio settings, and even outdoor chandeliers.
Another new component this year is a lecture series. For those who want to learn how to create professional looking floral arrangements from their gardens, Euripidou will be conducting two lectures over the course of the weekend.
"We’ll definitely focus on the basic principles of design, but also focus on when you have your own garden and you want to turn it into a picking garden, what techniques you can use to make those arrangements you have inside just as beautiful as those in your garden. We also like to talk about how you handle flowers once they have been cut so you preserve their beauty, life-span and quality."
Peter Rumora, who cares for Albany city’s gardens, will deliver his skit, "Plant a Radish, Get a Radish!", noted architect and Stockade resident Frank Gilmore will speak about urban garden design and Schenectady resident Geoff Hutch will read garden-inspired poetry.
What better way to round out a day of exploring gorgeous gardens then with some food and shopping? Snacks will be available from Bettie’s Double Decker Cupcake Stand and Deanna’s Café and Catering. Stockade resident Donna Pochaski-Thomas, owner of Vintage Chic in Troy, is organizing Antiques Along the Mohawk, an alfresco ensemble of quality vintage and antique clothing, jewelry and furniture vendors set along the toe path in Riverside Park.
Sherwood believes that the historic setting of the rain or shine garden tour makes it appealing and interesting to locals as well as out-of-towners.
"The gardens vary from tiny, tiny little gardens to those that go all the way down to the river. It’s just an interesting neighborhood to walk around in."
The Secret Garden Tour takes place June 25 from 3pm-8pm and June 26 from 10am-4pm. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 the day of event. For more information visit www.stockadegardentour.com or call Rob Gavel at 917.716.2674.