Tour opens up hidden beauty in Franklin gardens

Behind picket fences and tucked into backyards, waves of color and lush greenery is waiting to be discovered.

Beds of flowers in pink, purple, yellow and red decorate homeowners’ outdoor escapes. Bedding plants and hostas provide cool green cover. The tinkle of a fountain or well-placed bird bath enhances the relaxing aura.

And later in July, these private spaces will be opened up for the public to see.

Downtown Franklin’s hidden horticultural gems will open up to the public during the inaugural Secret Garden Walk. The self-guided tour, scheduled for July 17 and 18, features nearly 20 homes and their colorful, carefully planned gardens. Artists and musicians will be performing in some of the yards, master gardeners may be present to answer questions, and other surprises are planned throughout the tour.

With many people doing “pandemic projects” over the course of the last year, the tour will be a chance for people to show off their hard work.

“During the pandemic, when people were at home, we saw a lot more people outside, working on gardens or adding flowers and doing this kind of stuff,” said Rob Shilts, executive director of Franklin Heritage, which is organizing the event. “There was something to take our minds off of what was going on, to get your hands dirty and plant something that will come up beautiful.”

Plus, in exploring the flowers, shrubs and trees that others have planted, organizers hope that people get a little gardening insight and inspiration themselves.

“In a lot of these gardens, there’s a bit of magic,” Shilts said. “It’s a great way to bring people back together, on people’s porches and in the garden talking about what they’ve planted and what they’ve done. We want people to be encouraging.”

Like most new events and ideas this year, the Secret Garden Walk was inspired by improvisations made during the pandemic, he said. Franklin Heritage was planning to host its biannual home tour in 2020, but that proved impossible with COVID-19 so prevalent.

Brainstorming sessions turned to what could be done outside.

“A lot of our friends are gardeners, so we thought, why not do a garden tour,” Shilts said.

The walk will be similar to the home tours, focusing on the outdoor spaces rather than people’s interiors. Such tours are a staple of garden clubs all over, but in checking around, Franklin Heritage found that no local groups were doing one. They didn’t want to interfere or step on any other group’s plans, he said.

Franklin Heritage reached out to homeowners in the historic areas of downtown Franklin, initially by simply walking around and talking with people in their yards. Seeing so many innovative, beautiful green spaces reinforced the idea that a garden tour would be popular.

Homeowners were enthusiastic about the potential as well. Nearly 20 people have signed up to open up their gardens.

“What we found was that people were really thrilled that we’d consider their work something that other people would want to see,” Shilts said. “It’s very individualized in terms of what people like, what plants they like. Everybody does it differently, which makes it special.”

What makes this event unique is the element of surprise that surrounds it. All of the participating gardens will remain secret until the tour starts. Only after participants rendezvous at the Artcraft Theatre on the day of the walk will people find out which homes are taking part, he said.

Signs were printed up to point people toward participating homes. But no one will really know what to expect until they get there, Shilts said.

“That’s part of the charm of it. Otherwise, you could just go and peek into someone’s garden. There’s the element of surprise,” he said.

The event coincides with the Artcraft’s screening of “The Secret Garden,” the 1993 film based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved novel. Themes from the movie line up nicely with the intent of the walk, Shilts said.

“From that came some inspiration as to how you help other people, and how you encourage and inspire and do those kinds of things,” he said. “That’s something we need more of everywhere, to encourage other people and tell them what a good job their doing, whether that’s in their garden or their house or anything.”

In addition, Madison Street Salvage, which is operated by Franklin Heritage, will be open during the garden walk for people to stop in and shop recovered architectural items. Lickity Slick Snowball Shack will be set up out front to provide cool treats on the hot July day.

“The whole weekend is a chance to see the colors, be outside and be able to see other people’s unique ideas,” Shilts said.

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Secret Garden Walk

What: A tour of some of the most lush and colorful gardens in downtown Franklin. The locations of the participating homes in the tour will remain secret until the day of the event.

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. July 17 and noon-5 p.m. July 18

Where: Downtown Franklin. Maps and information will be provided at the Historic Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St.

Who: Franklin Heritage Inc., a local preservation group

Cost: $15; $10 for Franklin Heritage members. Tickets are good for both days, and the event is rain-or-shine.