More than 70 homes on Cape Cod will open their garden gates to the public during the eighth annual Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival, which will take place July 8-17 and benefit more than two dozen nonprofits helping local people and animals.
The yearly flower extravaganza features tours of private gardens from Falmouth to Provincetown, along with a schedule of talks, gardening demonstrations and workshops sponsored by local businesses and green-related organizations. Besides the home tours, Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich is inviting visitors to view its own gardens of hydrangea blooms during the festival and will host Hydrangea University on July 8. Information: https://heritagemuseumsandgardens.org/hydrangeafest/.
The dates also coincide with the Provincetown Art Association and Museum’s annual Secret Garden Tour, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 17, with secret instructions given to participants on the day of the tour. Information: https://paam.org/event/secret-garden-tour/.
The private garden tours offer a rare opportunity for visitors to “actually go in and look around” these off-the-beaten-track garden spaces, says Greta Georgieva, who administers special projects for the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. The multi-colored hydrangea blooms, famous for their stunning variety and beauty on the Cape, are the focus of the tours, though they share the stage with other flowering borders, berms and beds on view during the festival.
Fifty of the locales open for tours are new this year, says Georgieva, while the repeats remain popular year after year, often showing dramatic changes. “The gardens are evolving” each season," she says.
Tours are mostly informal and self-guided, says Georgieva, although some will offer how-to demonstrations or talks pertaining to a specific area of gardening.
Entry to each venue is $5, and each of the 70 locations is paired with a non-profit organization that will receive 100% of the admission proceeds. A complete description of all tour locations, listed by date, is posted at the festival website connected to the chamber: CapeCodHydrangeaFest.com.
Containers and borders
It’s Linda Coven’s seventh year opening her West Yarmouth garden (121 Camp St.) for tours. With a neighbor’s enthusiastic participation, Coven, a former president of the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society, was able to expand her gardening expertise over two adjacent properties, where hydrangea-centered plantings share space with colorful and hardy perennials and succulents.
A walk through the gardens offers the delights of colorful, wide borders and unique container arrangements. Coven displays an array of containers, and will offer how-to demonstrations from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during her tour days (July 10, 11, 13, 14 and 17).
Coven credits the expertise and ideas of mentor Mal Condon, curator of hydrangeas at Heritage Museums & Gardens, for developing the idea for “pot in a pot” containers, where a large “outer” pot of perennials remains year-round while a smaller, “inner pot” is exchanged during each season. That displays winter greens in cold weather, daffodils in spring and hydrangeas in the summer and fall.
Coven became hooked on hydrangeas after first summering on Cape Cod 20 years ago and attending a hydrangea camp on Nantucket. In 2015, she moved to the Cape, where she started her own business, Strictly Hydrangeas, helping the eye-catching flowers thrive in the 57 gardens under her care.
She’s volunteered alongside Condon over the years, helping care for thousands of blooms and multiple varieties of hydrangeas at Heritage.
Why this love of hydrangeas? One reason, she says, is that they offer “the longest reward for the season,” blooming from July until the first hard frost, taking on a different look in autumn during their “antique” phase, as they acquire more muted hues.
The ‘Garden Lady’ and founder’s garden
C.L. Fornari’s Sandwich home has hosted tours since the festival’s outset in 2015. She gardens on 2 ½ woodsy acres that she describes as “situated on a downward slope toward Lawrence Pond.” The longtime garden expert cultivates 25 to 30 hydrangea plants of many varieties, alongside dozens of perennials and annuals.
“Like most gardens,” she says, “mine changes from year to year as I add new things and try out new combinations.” Fornari’s garden at 2 Lawrence Pond Lane will host visitors on July 10, 11 and 13.
Known to many as Cape Cod’s “Garden Lady,” the podcast co-host and longtime consultant for Hyannis Country Garden nursery also hosts the weekly radio program “Garden Line” that attracts scores of listeners. The show often gives special emphasis to hydrangeas and Fornari says she takes seriously her role as “the voice of gardening on Cape Cod,” experimenting with different hydrangea varieties.
“I want to know what they’re going to do,” she says. If one plant blooms only sporadically, out it comes, to be exchanged for another, more “bud-hardy” variety.
Fornari founded the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival, she says, to promote horticulture on the Cape and showcase the many area garden centers that feed an ever-growing market for the showy plants. It’s important, she says, that it’s a fundraiser for more than 25 nonprofits that can benefit from the “out-of-town money” the festival attracts.
Why the widespread love for hydrangeas here? “They thrive in our maritime climate,” Fornari says. Most of the rest of the country “has to jump through hoops to get these plants to bloom,” and their “outrageous blue” attracts people from far-flung places. She’s hosted visitors from as far away as Australia and Beijing, China.
These beautiful flowers, she adds, “give us all something to smile about.”
What to do for the festival
The festival will kick off with a free, opening night party from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, July 7 at Cape Cod Beer, 1336 Phinney’s Lane in Hyannis. Then throughout this gardener’s dream of a festival, visitors can participate in a variety of events at venues across the Cape.
Besides the popular private garden tours, festival highlights include strolls through the grounds at Heritage Museums & Gardens to view more than 170 varieties of the showy blooms at their height. Master gardeners will talk at various sites, including horticulturist and writer Lorraine Ballato from 4 to 5:30 p.m. July 8 at Highfield Hall & Gardens in Falmouth.
Visitors can enjoy daily Pollinator Pathway Walks (designed by Fornari) on Hyannis’ Main Street, or see hydrangea art and artistry at the Artist Shanties at Hyannis Harbor (Ocean Street; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily), Falmouth Art Center (137 Gifford St.; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 16) and the Artists in Bloom Marketplace at Red Jacket Resort in South Yarmouth (1 S. Shore Drive; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 14).
There’s a workshop on designing native New England plant gardens hosted by the Barnstable Clean Water Coalition in Osterville (noon to 1 and 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. July 8), and numerous how-to talks at venues from Falmouth through the Mid-Cape. Details on all related activities are available at the festival website.
Join the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival
When: July 8-17
Where: various venues from Falmouth to Provincetown
Schedule and information: CapeCodHydrangeaFest.com
This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival: tours of 70+ gardens, talks, workshops