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Weekender: The Litchfield Hills, Connecticut

The Garden Path

Unlike formal gardens, the enchanting displays created by Litchfield Hills' nurseries are on a scale one might fantasize about for a country house. Actual homeowners can reap ideas galore and acquire, as well as admire, these landscapes. Visits are often all the more enlightening when the owners are on hand and eager to chat.

Fred McGourty, co-owner of Hillside Gardens (515 Litchfield Rd., Norfolk; 860/542-5345; open Fridays 9-5), is rightly proud of his rolling lawns interspersed with colorful vignettes: yellow French fleurs-de-lis mix with blue comfrey and pink honeysuckle in one direction; climbing hydrangeas turn a tree trunk into a mass of white blossoms in another. McGourty's are by far the most artistic of the region's displays—a testament to his almost 20 years at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

At Sweethaven Farm (Weatogue Rd., Salisbury; 860/435-6064; open weekends 10-4 and by appointment), small exhibits include a kitchen herb garden, a "fairy garden," and the whimsical Peter Rabbit garden—planted with chamomile, foxglove, and other herbs and flowers mentioned in Beatrix Potter's stories.

You'll need a whole day for the town of Litchfield's three prize gardens. White Flower Farm (Rte. 63 S.; 860/496-9624; open daily 9-6) is known nationwide for both its catalogue and its unusual perennials. The Litchfield Horticultural Center (258 Beach St.; 860/567-3707; open Monday-Saturday 9-5) is less formal, but no less impressive. Dan and Joyce Lake's 32 acres include wetland, ornamental grass, and shade gardens. Nearby Walnut Hill Greenhouse (219 Wheeler Rd.; 860/482-5832; open daily 8-5), a 35,000-square-foot property, has a greenhouse festooned with colorful plants in pots hanging from the rafters.

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