In 1996, I was a recent college graduate with a degree in Ecological Agriculture and Sustainable Community Development from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. I had just moved to Vermont. I was working as a baker at Klinger’s Bread Company in South Burlington, looking for an opportunity to farm and waiting for Nate—my long-time friend and new boyfriend—to finish his last year of studies in Plant and Soil Science at UVM.
At Klinger’s, I met Linda Clark. She and her then husband, Tom, had always wanted to have a farm at their home in Charlotte. In the late winter of 1997, we decided to collaborate and start a market garden together. Nate and I moved from our Burlington rentals into the Clarks’ barn. From March through October, we worked with Tom and Linda to grow two acres of specialty vegetables and flowers. We sold to local markets and restaurants and transformed the small barn into a sweet farmstand, Littlefield & Hoe. Through the farmstand, we met lots of folks from our new Charlotte community—and so many are still our friends today.
In those eight months, Nate and I learned a lot about the challenges of farming. We developed a deep sense of gratitude, appreciation and awe for those who can sustain a lifetime of growing food for others. We had a great run, but we closed the doors at Littlefield & Hoe after just one season. We moved from the Clark barn into a little apartment on Ferry Road. In 2000, we put down real roots Ferry Road. In 2000, we put down real roots in Charlotte and bought ‘The Wing House’ as it is still known by some old-timers. We were married the following summer and began an extensive renovation of the house and property.
During our time at the Clarks’, we were surrounded by Linda’s breath-taking perennial gardens. I grew up in Detroit, and although we always had a little garden, I knew very little about ornamental plants. I’d never even heard of a peony, bleeding heart or hydrangea, but Nate was on his way to becoming a certified horticulturist. Linda’s gardens sparked what would become our deep passion for gardening and creating beautiful outdoor spaces and seeded the inspiration for our future business, Church Hill Landscapes, Inc., founded by Nate in 2002.
The first year was 1997 of the Flynn Garden Tour with the inaugural tour taking place in Charlotte. Robin Coleburn—Charlotte resident from 1992-2017, stellar gardener, long-time supporter of the Flynn and regular customer of the once Littlefield & Hoe—launched the idea as a fundraiser for the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts’ children’s education programs. Each year since, the tour has raised funds to bring Vermont schoolchildren from all over the state to matinee performances and give their teachers educational materials to make those visits to the Flynn a meaningful experience. Over the years, the total has grown to some $330,000 of funding for children’s programming with this year’s tour breaking past records and raising close to $30,000. Nate and I have attended many Flynn Garden Tours, each time bringing back bits of inspiration to incorporate into our own gardens. As we strolled through many magnificent gardens in Charlotte, Williston, Colchester and Burlington, we’d always hoped that our gardens would someday be tour-worthy.
On July 15, 2018 the tour returned to Charlotte for the fourth time. And this time, the gardens at our Church Hill Road home were selected to be one stop on the tour! If you were driving the roads that Sunday, you probably noticed a few more “Sunday drivers.” Some 400 garden-lovers made their way through the town to visit eight private gardens, a home, a guest-house-turned-gallery and a tea site in a restored barn.
Visitors to our garden saw how we’ve transformed the two-thirds of an acre yard into several small outdoor spaces. Our first natural stone patio—surrounded by a shady perennial garden—was built as an outdoor eating space. A second patio—flanked by a collection of specialty conifers—was added last year as a quiet nook off our bedroom. A low stonewall edged by maidenhair ferns, lily of the valley and dwarf Solomon’s seal extends from the front yard passing through into the back and is the perfect spot for visiting with garden fairies. A stone fire pit with rustic cedar benches offers a place to cook over a wood fire. And our vegetable garden—contained in four 3-foot-tall cedar-and-reclaimed metal roofing raised beds—is the most recent addition.
Nate and our kids, Sawyer and Mavis, and I were thrilled to see many community members and out-of-town visitors supporting the Flynn’s children’s programming. And we are so glad we could share our gardens with so many of you. Special thanks goes to the entire Flynn Garden Tour committee and the volunteers who helped make the day so successful. Big special thanks goes to our Church Hill Landscapes crew who put in extra time to help us get the gardens ready and to our friends Linzy Vos and Sabrinajoy Milbury at Just Dancing Gardens and Greenhouse for their expert help with our annual plantings and containers.
Plans are already in the works for next year’s tour. Look for tickets to go on sale in June 2019. Don’t delay—this year they sold out in just a few weeks.