By Patrick Szabo
For the first time ever this weekend, Loudoun residents and visitors are invited to a springtime celebration hosted by the Town of Hillsboro.
The inaugural Gardens in the Gap event will be held Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28 and will highlight the town’s ornate gardens and historic homes with thoughtful discussion and tours. Included on the schedule are five home gardens opened for public perusal, a lecture from two gardening experts, live musical performances, a southern-style tea in the garden and more.
“I hope for garden lovers it’s something that should be attractive,” said Mayor Roger Vance. “It has the potential to be a regional attraction event.”
The weekend will kick off on Friday at 6 p.m. with an Eat, Drink & Be Literary lecture at the Old Stone School’s Gap Stage. The talk will focus on the historical and social importance of the gardens at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and will be given by author Marc Leepson and Peter Hatch, Monticello’s head gardener from 1977-2012.
According to Councilwoman Amy Marasco, who is leading promotional efforts for the weekend, the talk will be modeled as a discussion of social issues in the spirit of the Chautauqua movement—a national forum for the open discussion of public issues that sprang up in the late 19th century. Hatch said his talk would be centered on the legacy of Jefferson’s vegetable garden and how the president used gardening to understand not only botany, but also social interaction.
“He believed that plants could be a vehicle for social change,” Hatch said. “He looked at plants as a means of transforming the social and economic culture.”
The event on Saturday will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., when five homes along Rt. 9 open their doors and fence gates for visitors to walk through and enjoy their historic interiors, gardens and porches.
First on the lineup is the 1793 House, which reflects a New England setting with paper birch trees, hydrangeas, stone walls, white picket fences, Northern Lady Fern Fiddleheads from Vermont and beds of perennials.
The second house is Birkett’s Tavern, a Flemish bond brick building from the early 19th century that once operated as a tavern for drovers bringing livestock through town. It features a log smokehouse and several gardens with perennials, herbs, shrubs and saplings.
The Queen Anne-style Hillrose Cottage is the third stop. Built in 1890, it is the largest house on the southern side of Rt. 9 and features multiple porches, large brick chimneys, a backyard pool and gardens full of daffodils, tulips, magnolias and pink peonies. At noon and 3 p.m. on Saturday the house will also host an Elegant Southern Tea for visitors to enjoy a cup of tea or a julep while marveling at the gardens.
Across the street and fourth on the tour is The Hideaway, which was occupied by the Hillsborough Border Guards prior to the Civil War. Commonly referred to by residents as the “Key West of the North,” the house features double-decker front porches, a stone-bed stream and small pond, a greenhouse and five acres of hostas, ferns, begonias and impatiens.
Lastly, garden enthusiasts are invited to check out the 18th-century Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast, owned and operated by Marasco. It’s here that visitors can admire four acres of daffodils, cherry trees, irises, peonies, hydrangeas and lilacs, in addition to a wildflower meadow. “[Visitors] have no idea that we have these magical gardens that are hidden from the public,” Marasco said.
The Old Stone School all day will also host food trucks, beer and wine sales, a silent auction, live music and an artisan and plant fair.
“It should be family-friendly,” Marasco said. “It’s a perfect, pre-Mother’s Day gift.”
The event-packed weekend follows months of planning. Vance came up with the idea for Gardens in the Gap last year, after multiple vendors and artisans from the Christmas Market asked if the town would ever host something similar in the warmer months. “It just became apparent that there was an opportunity there for a springtime event,” Vance said.
Instead of planning the event to rival that of other towns, Hillsboro aimed to hold it on days absent of other major county events, like the Waterford Fair or Purcellville’s Wine & Food Festival. It will take place a week after Leesburg’s Flower & Garden Festival and a day before the Loudoun Bed & Breakfast Home Tour.
Gardens in the Gap is also scheduled to switch between in-town and out-of-town garden tours each year. Vance said this would work out well, since the town’s Traffic Calming and Pedestrian Safety Project is set to begin this year and end in 2020, when the event moves back in town.
Vance, Marasco and the entire town of 120 residents are now prepared to welcome hundreds of visitors this weekend.
“My goal is that a decade from now we’ll be known like Waterford is known,” Marasco said.