ORLEANS — This town is well known for its stunning seascapes, but its loveliest landscapes, hidden behind hedges, mostly go unseen.
For nearly three decades, the Orleans Improvement Association has revealed these concealed gems through its annual garden tour. On June 24, everyone is invited to walk “Along the Garden Path” to experience six private gardens.
Details about the gardens and their locations are reserved for ticket-holders, but two hosts, the Blochs and the Koehlers, invited The Chronicle for a preview stroll last week.
“We're not experts,” Anne Koehler said. “But if we like them, we plant them,” Steve Koehler added.
The modest couple preside over a 1-acre property adjacent to Orleans Conservation Trust Land. They say their garden “evolved from shade to sun” over the years as aged and ailing cedar trees were replaced by other plants. Anne said one section “is for things that don't like TLC but need a lot of sun.”
Much of the property is drenched in sunlight. Stone walls and pavers share space with colorful plantings.
“We had help early on with foundation plantings and the perennial bed,” Anne said, noting later assistance from landscaper Laura Kelley.
For Anne, lupin evokes memories of her great-grandparents' home on Stage Harbor in Chatham. After trying to grow it at their previous residences off-Cape, the couple succeeded in Orleans.
Azaleas abound in a big open area out back, and clematis decorates the house. There are raised vegetable beds to foil hungry rabbits.
The Koehlers credit Gardens by Rebecca for the design of their perennial beds, which wind sinuously around the side of the house. Unlike the sun garden out front, “the soil is quite nutrient-rich,” Anne said. “Cow manure, every year,” Steve noted.
Steve, a trustee of the Orleans Conservation Trust, said he takes “a stewardship role” in caring for the OCT land that abuts his property and runs down to the water. “We have English ivy,” he said. “I try to keep it from growing into” the conservation land. He also tries to keep the path through it open.
The Koehlers stressed their “strictly amateur” status, with Steve pointing to lily of the valley and saying, “It grows on its own. I like plants like that.” But they love to work in the garden. “We enjoy getting down on our hands and knees, weeding and shoveling,” Anne said. “We don't get too obsessed about the plants.”
Deeper into East Orleans, Carol Bloch is making the rounds of her property, which will also be on the tour. A sign on the garage announces the place as “Bunnyrunne.” (“My husband's idea,” she said).
It seems that Bloch has laid a hand on every inch of her hillside garden. She pointed to a striking tree called a walking stick. When she moved in, it was “smothered in leaves,” she recalled. “I pulled off leaves for four days, and got bitten by caterpillars.”
Near the tree is a floral border that Bloch planted with Rowena, her garden helper. She said the color will be “explosive” for the June 24 tour.
“Our soil is really good here,” Bloch said, and you'll believe her when you see the variety of plant life it supports, from hostas to azaleas to Siberian irises to Shasta daisies.
Bloch has planned two routes through the garden, one up a gentle rise and the other through a lower door for those with mobility concerns. The back of the property is full of dedicated areas such as the white garden that features bridal veil and a white iris. Nearby, a pond is filling up nicely. Last year, Bloch said, her brother reached down to pick up what he thought was a fake frog and came up with a real one.
Stopping to address “the dreaded dandelion,” the only one encountered on the tour, Bloch said she has a mosquito magnet and has the property sprayed for ticks.
Also out back, under a white dogwood, is a pet cemetery where Simon the cat is remembered along with memorial stones for the Blochs' canine companions. Nearby is a shady “quiet space” for meditation.
Around the front of the house, there's a butterfly bush and a beloved Japanese maple. There's also a discretely placed chair with a long view of Uncle Harveys Pond, though it's hard to imagine Bloch sitting down very often.
“I grow everything I can,” she said of her glamorous gardens. “It's only three quarters of an acre, but there's a lot going on.”
Tickets for the Orleans Improvement Association's 29th annual garden tour on June 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. are available in advance for $25 at Agway in Chatham, Dennis, and Orleans and at The Farm, Friends Market Place, and Snow's Home & Garden Center in town; on-line for $27 at www.orleansimprovement.org, and for $30 on the day of the tour at Nauset Regional Middle School. Tickets include addresses of the six gardens, where plein air artists will be painting and master gardeners on hand, as well as admission to after-tour receptions at five local galleries. There will be a drawing for two garden design consultations by WA Landscape Design and Garden Gate Design.