Selected Writing - Features

Public Relations  ~  Media  ~  Creative  ~  Scripts  ~  Corporate  ~  Web
Feature article published in the East Bay Papers

Behind the Garden Gate - The Making of a Garden Tour

“ is an exercise in juggling a vast array of logistical activities...”

It’s not rocket science, but it’s not far off. For those who take on the task of designing a private garden tour, and making it special, it is an exercise in juggling a vast array of logistical activities, calling on resources of horticultural knowledge and maintaining a sense of humor. Such a venture requires a rare ability to organize an infinite number of details ranging from attending to the needs of those homeowners whose gardens are the focus of the tour, whizzing e-mails back and forth to those colleagues who are handling logistics, public relations, poster and ticket printing and of course, facilities. But two who have taken on such a task, Virginia Purviance and Marty Halyburton, seem to handle it all with grace and aplomb. In fact, they’ve done it twice. These two women, both successful landscape gardeners, devote a vast amount of time to bolstering the success of Blithewold’s newborn management team, Save Blithewold, Inc. (SBI). And this is their latest donation to Blithewold’s increasing success.

Purviance and Halyburton have long been staunch and committed supporters of Blithewold Mansion, Gardens & Arboretum. Both were instrumental in the birth of SBI, and now sit on the board. Their energy seems boundless and immensely creative as evidenced by the outstanding success of their first fundraising Gala in 1999. “Inside Outside, Upstairs Downstairs” was a spectacular evening of dining and dancing under an elegant tented canopy on Blithewold’s great lawn. They are a unique combination of creative talents.

When asked why do a garden tour? Purviance replied “because of the sheer pleasure of looking at gardens that are beautiful and well maintained.”

Purviance and Halyburton were the principal players in the launch of last year’s series of private garden tours. This was a first for Blithewold and proved very successful not only as a fund raiser, but also as a public relations coup. The 1999 three-series tour took place over the summer, on three separate dates and in three separate locations: the first in the East Bay and Providence, the second in South County, and the third in Newport County. This series of garden tours proved to be so successful it was decided to go for it again and create a series for 2000, but in different locales - in Watch Hill and Weekapaug, RI and Westport, MA.

When asked why a garden tour? Purviance replied “because of the sheer pleasure of looking at gardens that are beautiful and well-maintained. We can learn so much from other people’s gardens. Even if it’s a fantasy garden, like a huge estate, it’s just so dreamy...” Of course the dreaminess goes hand in hand with the problems of scheduling, and of scanning the weather stations for any potential weather disasters. Hurricanes and drought are not a plus on a garden tour. “We also want to spread the word about Blithewold, of course,” added Purviance. “Introducing people to this treasure is just so rewarding.”


“Introducing people to a treasure is just so rewarding.”

For Halyburton much of the rewards come also from “the people part of it - people who share a common interest in and love of gardens and of Blithewold.” She finds their enthusiasm truly inspirational. The headaches, however, come in the form of minor details and last minute chnges. “One of the hardest aspects of organizing something like this,” says Halyburton, “is finding enough volunteers to ‘sit’ the gardens. We want to take care of the gardens and so it’s essential to have someone on hand to look after them.” She was very quick to add that anyone reading this article who is interested in gardening and in Blithewold might find this an excellent opportunity to both see some lovely gardens and at the same time donate a little time to a “good gardening cause.”

Then of course there’s always the painful problem of culling through so many choices to find only eight gorgeous gardens out of the many gorgeous gardens in the area. But both Purviance and Halyburton agreed that doing the research was not too much of a hardship. Visiting prospective gardens is important, even in the dead of winter, and neither wind nor hail has stopped these two intrepid gardeners from doing this serious research.

“When else can one drive into a private home?”

Louis Raymond of Renaissance Gardening, has also been a tremendous friend to and advocate of Blithewold for many years, and took equal pleasure in doing a great deal of the up front research to find the gardens. Raymond lives in nearby Hopkinton and designs a number of the gardens in Watch Hill and Weekapaug. In fact, one of the gardens on the tour is an example of his work. “Doing this helps me as well,” says Raymond. “I love this area and I get to drive around and peek into people’s gardens.” The work gives validity to his driving nonchalantly up an enticing driveway. “I can always say I’m looking for the owner. When else can one drive into a private home uninvited?”

The gardens for Series I, Watch Hill and Weekapaug, will be open both June 23 and 24, and for Series II in Westport, MA on August 18 and 19.

Watch Hill and Weekapaug at the southern-most tip of Rhode Island, in Westerly, are two of the most stunning areas in an already beautiful state. Those ambitious enough to make the journey to these gorgeous coastal spots will be well rewarded as they make their way around the eight gardens highlighted for this very special private garden tour. The gardens range from small but abundantly planted to large and lavishly landscaped. Almost all boast dramatic water views. Coastal plantings and deer proof plantings are high on the list of many of the gardens featured.

Many of these ocean-side gardens are designed to peak in the summer months when the owners are in residence. Whether it be for the heaths and heathers, the cottage gardens, or the ocean vistas, visitors will delight at this rare glimpse of some of Rhode Island’s most sumptuous private gardens.

Westport, Massachusetts. a beautiful small harbor town in the southern part of the state that borders Rhode Island is the location for Series II, later in the summer. These Massachusetts gardens will be open August 18 and 19. Water views also play a prominent part in the varied scenic make up of this area. Gardening and horticulture are primary past times in this area and visitors are often heard to comment on the gardens viewed from the road. A private garden tour, however, gives you the opportunity to peek behind those garden gates.

Two months can make such a difference in a garden and the height of summer is a perfect time to see some of Westport’s most gorgeous gardens as they reach their peak. The stunning backdrop to many of these gardens is the beautiful Westport River and surrounding marshlands, ponds and ocean. A charming moss garden, an iron-fenced village garden, and glorious rose and vegetable gardens will inspire all who visit this idyllic part of Massachusetts.

An added bonus for gardeners on the Westport tour will be the opportunity to visit Quansett Nurseries in nearby South Dartmouth. Quansett is a wholesale nursery of New England grown plant material and is not normally open to the public. Visitors will be able to purchase plants at wholesale prices.

All gardens on both Series will be open from 10 am to 4 pm. Tickets are limited and advance purchase is highly recommended. A joint ticket for both Series is $40 for members of Blithewold and $50 for non-members. Tickets for a single Series in advance are $20 for members, $25 for non-members, and for a single Series on the day of the tour the price is $30. Box lunches will be available at two of the gardens, with a reservation only.

You can set your own pace, leisurely or otherwise, as the tours are self guided with the help of a detailed map, which is also your ticket.

For more information on membership, or to purchase tickets, contact Blithewold at 401-253-2707 or visit the website at: