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Garden tour reflects Weston renaissance

WESTON, W.Va. -- A quiet street in Weston -- a peninsula, really, as it's bordered on three sides by the West Fork River, contains a treasure trove of gardens. Five of the homeowners will open their carefully tended gardens from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 22 for Arts in the Garden Tour.

The tour is a fundraiser for the Weston Fine Arts Council, an organization that's promoting an awakening of the arts in the small town. The council's efforts capitalize on the area's recent recovery from the economic decline that hit Weston in the 1970s. Six Lewis County glass factories shut their doors during that decade, leaving hundreds of people without jobs.

"We moved here in 1971. Weston was hopping. There were two lovely dress shops and a fine men's store downtown," said tour organizer Cindy Shaver about the empty storefronts. "But it's coming back."

Due partially to an influx of trade generated by natural gas exploration and production and visitors from nearby Stonewall Resort, Weston's downtown is re-emerging. Tourists who visit the imposing Weston Asylum for a tour of its grim interior stop for a bite to eat while they're in the neighborhood.

Dining options now include fine dining at Thyme Bistro, coffeehouse and cafe fare at The Pink Moon, country cooking at Kathy's Riverside, and sandwiches, salads and soups at Second Center Cafe.

The Pink Moon owner and arts council President Jill Stewart operated a photography studio for 15 years before she opened her cafe last year. Musicians often perform in the evenings at Pink Moon, which is in a renovated hardware store.

Stewart thinks the garden tour will get visitors in town where they can see what's new.

"This is a great way to showcase Weston and all the things going on here," she said.

The tour is an easy walk along the short street lined with brick homes, which were probably built of bricks made in a brickyard that once stood on the site. It's the kind of street where people sit on their front porches and wave a hand at passing cars, when they aren't working on their gardens.

The backyards of all five gardens end on the bank of the slow-moving river, which used to flood Kitson Street's yards and houses before the Stonewall Dam was constructed in the 1980s. Today, the once-threatening river is merely a pleasant backdrop.

A violinist and a harpist will perform in several of the gardens.

Just past the beverage station housed in a shelter behind Kitson's oldest home, ironically a stucco house owned by the brickyard's owner, is Pat and Sue Caufield's stone patio along the river. They added a patio and deck along their lot's steep drop to the river.

Dale and Dauna Hawkins' front gardens feature several metal sculptures including a whimsical dragon whose coiled neck holds a gently nodding head. The Hawkins own and operate Fish Hawk Acres Farms in Rock Cave in adjacent Upshur County.

After 44 years in their home, Steve and Nancy Colburn have planned and tended their gardens into a shady riverside oasis. Foliage and flowers in pleasing combinations fill the beds, which are accented with pieces given by friends or found on antique forays. Many of the plants were passed along from friends who dug starts from their own gardens.

It wasn't always that way. The yard was just grass when they moved in. Steve Colburn's first job was to install a split-rail fence lined with chicken wire to keep their two young daughters from straying into the river. Later, they built a deck and added a stone patio below on the riverbank.

All three houses on the west side of the street have steep banks while the backyards of the other two slope gently to the river.

Nancy Colburn recently added five fairy gardens for her grandchildren, who delight at the tiny scenes. She finds dwarf varieties of tiny trees and shrubs at nurseries she visits when she's traveling.

Each garden has a theme and at least one little fairy.

"I challenge the grandchildren to find five in this one," Nancy said of the fairies she tucked into her largest garden contained in a bright blue child's wagon. Her neighbor Jim Weber inspired her to create her whimsical gardens when he started making them several years ago.

Weber's garden is also on the tour. Among his brick and stone walkways and colorful flowerbeds sit 14 miniature gardens in containers.

"Mine are miniature gardens, while Nancy's are fairy gardens. Mine are realistic settings like an actual garden as opposed to fantasy," he said of his small gardens, which do indeed resemble small-scale garden scenes.

Across the street, Reggie Hawver and Teresa Angotti made the most of their 50- by 150-foot lot. Hawver, whose art appears around town, including in The Pink Moon, gives his wife full credit for the gardens.

Extensive walls built from rocks Hawver gathered for years border the upper gardens and a water feature. Ferns, irises, peonies, daylilies and hostas fill the curved beds leading to chairs sitting under a massive willow tree on the riverbank.

"The guy who lived here before said he took a stem from the willow next door, stuck it in the ground, and this grew from it," said Hawver.

All the plants in their garden are clearly labeled, but Hawver and Angotti will be on hand for the tour to answer any questions, as will the other four homeowners.

"It think it's a really pleasant surprise that all these gardens have been done by their owners," said Shaver, who has toured many gardens designed and planted by professionals.

Parking is limited. Guests should park at St. Patrick's Church downtown and ride a shuttle to Kitson Street. The ride is included in the $10 tour ticket, as is a 10 percent discount at Pink Moon and Thyme Bistro.

Vendors will set up at St. Paul's Episcopal Church across from St. Patrick's, including Martha Cochran and the succulents she grows at North Hills Nursery, native plants grown by Doug and Davetta Jolley at Windham Nursery, and lavender from Myra Bromage Hale at La Paix Farms. Kaycee Lamb will offer organic soaps as well as the lettuces and herbs she grows at Sunny Patch Farm, and Liz and Frank Abruzzino of Hawthorne Valley Farms will have organically grown beef for sale.

Tickets may be purchased the day of the tour at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 206 E. Second St. Call 304-296-4030.

Want to go?

WHAT: Arts in the Garden Tour, presented by Weston Fine Arts Council

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 22

WHERE: Weston

TICKETS: $10

INFO: 304-269-4030

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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