Sixty-five years ago, a group of women had the idea to raise much-needed funds for children’s charities by renovating their Victory Gardens, so useful during World War II, and opening their newly designed estate gardens to public view.
It worked. They charged $1 a ticket and pulled in a few hundred dollars, and the event caught on.
On Saturday, May 5, the 65th annual Wilmington Garden Day, a tour of 16 homes and gardens in the Brandywine Valley, is expected to draw about 1,000 visitors and raise tens of thousands of dollars for St. Michael’s School and Nursery, which provides early education to city children, and Friendship House, which offers temporary housing to women in transition and their children.
The gardens vary from professionally managed estates to smaller city gardens and suburban landscapes created by owners with green thumbs and a keen sense of design. Over the years, Garden Day has expanded to include interiors of revitalized city townhouses, historically restored homes and unique suburban properties.
Most are privately owned, but there are a few public sites, including the Goodstay Gardens, which were part of the first Garden Day tour. Created by its last owner, Ellen Coleman du Pont, who acquired the house from her father, T. Coleman du Pont in 1923, the gardens were left to the University of Delaware in 1968 and are maintained by volunteer Friends of Goodstay Gardens.
One of the most popular spots on the tour is Frog Hollow, a 2.5 acre garden of Eve and Per Thyrum, which has been part of the tour for nearly a quarter century, during which the garden has been transformed into a showplace. This will be the last year on the tour, however, because the Thyrums are moving to Kendal.
Visitors from all over the region make Garden Day an annual rite of spring, plotting their routes with the aid of a helpful map and tour guide, and spending the day picking up ideas to try in their own homes and gardens, or just wandering among the flowers, sculptures and other garden features. Sponsoring eateries, such as Bon Apetit, Janssen’s Market and the BCC Tavern and Grill, offer free or discounted nibbles and beverages to ticket holders.
The self-guided tour starts at 10 a.m. and continues through 4 p.m. Tickets, $30 in advance or $35 on tour day, are available at www.wilmingtongardenday.org or through local retailers listed on the Web site.
Anita Manning, a member of the Wilmington Garden Day board, is overrun by weeds at her home in Wilmington.