Take a peek at a handful of the 13 gardens on this year’s tour
By Sinclair Holian
“Untamed. Unexpected. Unbelievable!” This theme, created by Hillsborough Garden Tour Chair Valerie Blettner, sums up what visitors can anticipate on May 6 during this year’s Hillsborough Garden Club tour, which showcases 13 unique gardens with a variety of blooming flowers, vibrant vegetables and much more. The club, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2025, hosts the tour biennially to give visitors a rare chance to experience the beauty and hard work of private gardens. “A lot of people think that a garden should be nice and neat,” Valerie says. “There are a lot of gardens that are beautiful, but they’re kind of wild and untamed. And those make for exceptional gardens.”
OPENING THE GATES
Carson Harkrader and Gary Kueber have been attending the garden tour since before they moved into their west Hillsborough home in “It’s such a special thing getting to walk through someone’s private space and see what they’ve been growing,” Carson says. But this year is the first time that the couple will open their own gates for the tour. When the couple purchased their home, which dates back to 1917, they found a plethora of plants already thriving on the property. “There were some beautiful older dogwoods, camellias and crepe myrtles on the property, along with a few large azaleas and a gardenia,” Gary says, “A large American elm that shades the house, a green ash (which we’ve been treating for the ash beetle borer), juniper, sycamore and red maple.” The lot also came with hard work – before moving in, they spent a few months clearing the tangles of honeysuckle, English ivy and poison ivy that had crept over the garden.
The two lot, 0.75-acre garden has both sunny and shaded beds, an area perfect for growing a variety of perennials, shrubs, smaller trees, a fern garden, a vegetable patch and a young fruit orchard. Environmentally friendly elements complement its beautiful features. Composting, which Carson says diverts waste from the landfill and reduces carbon emissions, is an important part of the garden. The couple also mulches with leaves delivered by the Town of Hillsborough rather than bark mulch, a trick learned from Carson’s dad.
The garden has both sustainable and sentimental value. Some of the perennials are up to 20 years old, transplanted from Gary’s garden in their previous home in Durham. Other plants are gifts from loved ones, including irises from Carson’s mother and hellebores from her teacher. “We’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from gardens we’ve seen on the tour,” Carson says. “We’re looking forward to sharing our garden with everyone who comes out.”
Garden Club President Tammy Dorfman has had a love for gardening ever since she was a teenager. But after years of practicing a more manicured garden style, a move to Hillsborough prompted a change in her gardening philosophy. Faced with 6 acres of “wild” property on the outskirts of town, she decided that her new garden would focus on sustaining pollinators and wildlife.
“We’ve done a lot in five years to reshape the property,” Tammy says. While the original homeowners maintained a grass lawn, Tammy had most of it replaced with “little habitats” better suited for local wildlife. The garden now features around 200 native shrubs and trees, and Tammy has already observed a huge improvement in wildlife populations. “I am seeing more insects and bugs and butterflies and bees, all the things you expect to see when you have this really diverse vegetation,” she says. “It happens really fast, so it’s rewarding.”
One of Tammy’s favorite features is her raised-bed vegetable garden, a “wonderland” that produces food year-round. She has learned to can and preserve her home-grown produce such as tomatoes and shallots, and a sauce made from her own backyard was even featured in her Christmas dinner. Bees, butterflies and birds float around the beautiful flowers of the nearby pollinator garden. And toward the back of the property, a 26-foot water feature with four waterfalls creates the soothing sounds of a rushing river.
For her first year as a featured garden on the tour, Tammy hopes to offer inspiration for visitors interested in sustainability. “No matter how big or small your property is, we can all do something to help mitigate the decline of bees and birds and butterflies and insects,” she says. “What we do individually can make a really big impact on this Earth.”
Alice Moore’s interest in horticulture started as a young girl growing up in Maryland, where she first learned to identify trees with her father. But she says her “big awakening” in gardening happened 20 years ago, when she moved from Chapel Hill to her current home in Hillsborough. Moving in, she was delighted to find that the sunny, 4-acre property already had “good bones” for a garden, including perennial beds and mature trees. Arming herself with gardening literature and advice from friends, Alice embarked on a process of planting and replanting to learn what would grow best. With her property backing up against Ayr Mount and the Indian Trading Path’s hundreds of acres, hungry deer and rabbits quickly became a persistent foe.
The garden is named “Evergreen” as a nod to the original trees on the property. Over the past 20 years, Alice has learned the in and outs of her property, where she grows a combination of native and ornamental plants. Irises, boxwoods and Japanese maples greet visitors at the front of the house. Several unique trees grow at every turn, including a yellow sequoia, a ginkgo, a monkey puzzle tree and a Japanese black pine. Along the side of the house, small courtyard gardens have been planted. In their pool area, Alice has created a tropical garden complete with ginger lilies and hearty palms, a feature that always surprises tour goers. The garden is also adorned with antique planters and gates throughout and features an antique armillary surrounded by herbs that can be admired from the house.
Having been a fixture of the tour for 19 years, Alice says she is looking forward to seeing familiar faces and making more memories in Evergreen. Of all her garden’s diverse features, Alice says it’s impossible to choose a favorite. “Asking for a favorite flower or plant is like asking someone to choose their favorite child,” she jokes.