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“Summer Splendor” garden tour highlights local properties and personalities

Outdoors by: Joanne Kountourakis, July 7, 2021

Chris Petersen in her Asharoken garden, one of six gardens featured in this year’s Summer Splendor Garden Tour.

The Northport Historical Society’s Summer Splendor Garden Tour returns Sunday, July 18 with an outdoor, self-guided tour of six gardens in Northport, Fort Salonga and Asharoken. Each garden reflects a personality, family history and style unique to the property and includes “surprises galore,” promises the society.

Most gardens will be at their peaks for the mid-July affair, including Chris Petersen’s Asharoken garden, a collection of over 1,000 cultivars overlooking Northport Bay.

Chris and her husband, Steven, bought and moved onto the waterfront property – an empty lot, just grass and cedar trees, next to her parent’s home – in 1981. While Steven built the house from scratch, Chris scouted out land to garden. She planted two half moons near what would eventually be the home’s back deck that still flourish today.

“And then as he built, I started planting around and around and around…” said Chris. What started small has grown over the past three decades into a cascading garden of annuals, perennials, shade-lovers, sun seekers, self-seeders, liliums and daylilies. Lots and lots of daylilies.

Over 600 cultivars of daylilies grow on the land, so much so that the property is registered as a national display garden for the American Daylily Society. There are also over 100 cultivars of lilium and another 100 cultivars of hostas, in addition to everything else growing there – perilla, coleus, hibiscus, clematis and columbine just to name a few.

A small bed greets visitors near the entrance of the gardens.

“Possession of Obsession” (Owens P 2007), one of the many cultivars of daylilies in Chris Petersen’s garden.

A self-professed collector of plants, Chris has planted everything visitors will see on the tour, except the mature trees, herself. There is something growing “in every nook and cranny; you kind of have to walk around” to see it all, she said.

Her father’s vegetable garden is now a daylily pen, unreachable by deer thanks to a high fence built around the perimeter, but occasionally victim to a persistent rabbit. Some of her mother’s peonies still bloom on the property, in a small garden since built out into large beds by Chris when she and her husband took the house over.

A free-form minnow pond is tucked away in one spot, while a white and chartreuse area with a small eight-inch elevation change dug down by Chris and her son, Jaron, offers another view. “I’m trying to feel like I’m in a different environment,” said Chris. It works: the shade under the limbed-up shrubs, the light breeze, the display of white flowering hostas, hydrangea, corydalis and, of course, cream and white daylilies, temporarily transport visitors to another place.

Chris’s interest in gardening began in the 1970s, when she moved out on her own. She has amassed a wealth of knowledge from antique garden books when she was younger – “old things you could buy cheap,” she said – and helpful local garden clubs now, online and in person. She reads voraciously and admits to making mistakes (“Of course I do!” she said) but with every season, and new garden, gains more expertise. She is always in pursuit of something new, different and exciting to plant, she said, and describes her gardens as a “contained wildness” that she will continue to edit accordingly.

“I just love nature and I feel really close to nature in the garden,” she said. “I talk to myself in the garden, I observe what’s going on, the changes... it’s calming and peaceful and it just fills your soul.”

The 2021 Garden Tour will be held on Sunday, July 18 (rain or shine) from 12-4pm. Tickets ($35 for members, $45 for non-members, and $50 on tour day) can be purchased on the Events page on the Northport Historical Society website, or picked up in the museum gallery the day before and day of the event.

Small town living: a mixed media piece of art celebrating Chris’s garden is coincidentally part of The Firefly Artist’s latest juried exhibition, We’ve Gone Wild. The artist is Mary Ahern, and the artwork is titled, simply, “Petersen’s Garden.”