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Back Alley tour set May 22 & 23

By Staff | May 7, 2010

Participants in the 2009 Back Alley Garden Tour & Tea enjoy a Shepherdstown garden. Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle

The Back Alley Garden Tour & Tea is coming up May 22 and 23 but don’t you dare call it a “garden club” event. Organizers of the popular Men’s Club fundraiser say that the collection of community gardens is more reflective of how real people live in real backyard gardens.

“It’s not the garden club, it’s not picture perfect,” says Kris Kinsella, treasurer for the Back Alley Tour. Rather, organizers say it’s more like a people’s garden tour, featuring a variety of gardens, grown for a variety of purposes.

Mary Stanley, lead organizer of the Back Alley Tour, agrees, underscoring the diversity of the tour by contrasting the gardens of two local residents on this year’s tour, Gussey Mills and Shep Ogden.

Mills’ garden, says Stanley, features creative water saving techniques and high densities of native plants arranged in an interesting manner. Ogden’s garden, on the other hand, is more of a demonstration garden experimenting with high-density vegetable gardening techniques. Both are on the tour.

The Back Alley Tour, quite naturally, winds through Shepherdstown’s network of sleepy residential roads and historic alleyways. The alleys, as any seasoned Shepherdstownian knows, always provide breathtaking springtime views of local horticultural displays.

A challenge for local gardeners is relatively acid-free soil found naturally in the area caused by the limestone karst geology underlying the region. The lack of acid makes it difficult to cultivate certain garden favorites, like azaleas and rhododendrons. Gardeners in regions of karst geology also have to struggle with a lack of surface water, which otherwise flows quite easily through the porous limestone and into the ground.

Leaving science aside, organizers say the event is about brining the community together. “Kinda like gardening,” says Stanley. “You go out and it’s kind of neat because you get to know each other, you get to talk to people who you’d otherwise have no interest in.”

Tickets for the event can be purchased at the Shepherdstown Sweet Shop or online at www.BackAlleyTour.org. Tickets are $20 before May 16, after which the price goes to $25.

A ticket buys service at the tea party, run by Bonnie Austin, and access to all gardens and houses on the tour. All proceeds from the event go to the Men’s Club, which is raising money to upgrade the kitchen in the War Memorial Building at the intersection of German and King streets.