By Ann Reily
---- — This weekend’s garden tour in Newburyport proves that good things can come in small packages.
Hosted by the Historical Society of Old Newbury, the 34th annual event features everything from tiny backyard oases in the heart of the city to more spacious landscapes complete with gates and towering trees.
The backyard of Elizabeth Petty’s Purchase Street home has undergone a complete transformation since she first moved in 33 years ago.
“There was no garden when I moved in,” Petty said.
Rather, the small yard of the 19th-century home was filled with burnt grass, old radiators and broken tar paths. Today, brick paths lead visitors through peonies, mountain laurel, espaliered apple trees, herbs, delphinium and Korean dogwood trees. It is one of 16 “City Gardens” highlighted on the tour, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The garden also holds treasured gifts from family members, including a white bleeding heart from her daughter, white peonies from her mother, a star magnolia from her son and pink peonies from her father-in-law.
The peonies just bloomed this week, enhancing the mostly blue, white and green color scheme.
“I’ve been watching them open today,” Petty said Monday.
Petty’s garden is a testament to the skills she has honed over the years, learned from fellow gardeners, volunteer work in the Historical Society’s Cushing House Museum garden, classes at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum Landscape Institute and tours of gardens in England and Italy.
“I had no clue how to garden 30 years ago,” Petty said. “My first garden was a six-pack of marigolds.”
The former teacher and tutor, 59, said she really started focusing on the garden about eight years ago, after her son, Tom, 27, went off to college and she had the yard to herself for the first time.
“I still picture my kids throwing balls,” she said, looking around at the pristine yard that shows no evidence of the children that once bounced on a trampoline or the dog that dug holes everywhere.
Calling her garden “a smaller rendition of a castle garden,” like the ones she admired in England, Petty stresses the importance of “editing” and keeping a simple color scheme when dealing with a confined space.
“My mother always said, ‘The container is just as important as the arrangement,’” she said.
“The important thing about small gardens is the design,” said Lucy Butler, chairwoman of this year’s tour. “You gotta start big and at the last get in the precious gems.”
Petty’s garden is also inspired by the impending wedding of daughter Meredith, 29, and includes a “Macy’s Pride” rose that was given to her by a friend in honor of the engagement.
“This garden is an expression of joy for my new son-in-law, for the marriage,” she said.
In addition to the featured gardens, most of which are new to the tour, the weekend will also include a plant sale and live music at the Cushing House Museum.
“The plant sale is not to be missed because there will be plants from everyone’s garden,” Butler said.
For $5 a ticket, visitors can also enter a raffle for the chance to win plants and gifts donated by various nurseries.
If you go
What: “City Gardens,” the Historical Society of Old Newbury’s annual garden tour
When: Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine
Tickets: $25. Available at the Historical Society, 98 High St.; Corliss Brothers Garden Center, 31 Essex Road, Ipswich; Beach Plum Farms, 88 Elm St., Salisbury; Beach Plum Too, 50 Water St., Newburyport; Kelly’s True Value, 163 State St., Newburyport; and the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, 38R Merrimac St., Newburyport. Proceeds benefit the Historical Society.
More information: 978-462-2681 or www.newburyhist.org
On the tour
The Cushing House Garden, 98 High St.
The Joyce Enderle-Toivo Koehler Garden, 2 Fruit St.
The Amy Fleischer & Kurt Mullen garden, 23 Federal St.
Tea and Meditation Garden, 39 Federal St.
The Steinberg Garden, 17 Milk St.
The Sidney & Robin Graves Garden, 25 Lime St.
The Miller-Dodge Garden, 20 Ship St.
The Elizabeth Macy B. Petty Garden, 57 Purchase St.
The Marjet and Philip Lesk Garden, 56R Milk St.
The Patsy Gallagher Garden, 147 State St.
The John and Judith Woods Garden, 16 Low St.
The Lawrence & Monica Blondin Garden, 154 High St.
Little Gates Condominium, 214 High St.
The Garden at the Davenport School, 21A Congress St.
The Margaret & Steve Ouzts Garden, 2 River St.
The Linda Nicholls Garden, 3 Roosevelt Place