For most, this is far from true.
Homes on the tour are selected the previous fall, giving homeowners about eight months to prepare. Glancing at a calendar, this seems like plenty of time to plant some flowers, send drapes to the dry cleaners and schedule rug cleaning. Except these mundane chores are rarely all that is done, and eight months is barely time enough.
“We just ask the homeowners to get your house ready as if you were having a dinner party,” says Margaret Powell, executive director of Maryland’s Home and Garden Pilgrimage. If homeowners on the Calvert part of the pilgrimage are taking Powell’s advice to heart, they must throw a heck of a party.
More Than Dusting
Just two weeks before this year’s tour, construction of a new patio at the Hellen’s Creek home of Nancy and Rick Thompson is still underway, and that’s just one of several home improvement projects in progress. It’s hard to imagine they’ll be ready when the pilgrims come a’calling.
Taking it in stride, these house tour veterans use the looming date as an incentive to finish planned work on their early 19th century home.
“Last time we were on a tour, I got a new kitchen,” Nancy recalls. “This year, I get a hand-painted mural in the hall and a new patio.”
The mural is finished, but the patio is still a work in progress. Stone dust covers the garden, and stacks of unused flagstone sit on the ground where a pebble walk is planned.
“For the last six weekends, friends have been here working with Rick to get the patio done,” Thompson says. “I think the patio will be ready, but I don’t hold out much hope for the walkway.”
In addition to the hall mural, several rooms in the house were refreshed with a new coat of paint. The paint has dried, but the rooms haven’t been put back together. Bookcases are empty and furniture is still covered with drop-cloths.
“I just hope I can remember where everything goes,” says Nancy, who admits to a mild case of nerves.
But a new patio, paint and mural apparently aren’t enough challenge for the Thompsons.
Another project slated for completion in time for the tour looms over the patio construction: Rick is hoping to replace worn wood siding with new on their historic home. To the untested eye, it looks like an impossible dream.
“Heck, we’ve still got a couple of weeks and I love deadlines,” says an optimistic Rick, shovel in hand. “I think we can get it all done.”
Where’s the Builder?
Cynthia Turner and Don Harden’s 1902 farmhouse in Owings looks ready for the tour. Gardens are weeded and flowers are blooming, every room in the house is meticulously decorated and spotlessly cleaned and a brand-new brick walkway will lead tour-goers to the front door.
But that front door is giving Turner a last-minute fit.
“We want to have a little roof built over the front door,” Turner says. “But the builder hasn’t shown up, let alone started the work.” Daily phone calls don’t seem to be working, and the tour is now just two weeks away.
This project is the last on the couple’s to-do list, begun when they agreed to put their house on the tour, back in October.
A long-planned antique iron fence now encircles a lush garden area. “We had been collecting pieces of this fence from a place in Pennsylvania,” Harden says. “But we hadn’t gotten around to finishing it.”
The new brick path was completed just a month or so ago.
Charming outbuildings dotting their two-plus acres shine with fresh paint.
Primitive antique furnishings and artwork collected by the couple have turned their farmhouse into a show-stopper.
Now the only item left on their list is that new front portico.
“The builder promised he’d get it done before the tour,” Turner says with a long, tired sigh. “I sure do hope so.”
Furnished Porches and Decorated Bathrooms
Not all of the houses on the tour are historic. The Bodycombs retirement home on Hellen’s Creek is just seven years old.
“We wanted a new house that looked like an old house,” says Linda Bodycomb.
To accomplish their goal, the new house has a full-length front porch and several more porches off of living and sleeping rooms.
But a new house doesn’t necessarily mean less anxiety, especially when it will be open for public inspection.
“We hadn’t gotten around to buying furniture for all of the porches,” Bodycomb says. “When we agreed to be on the tour, I realized the porches would look funny without anything on them.”
Bodycomb spent hours searching for summer furniture during winter months. The new wicker rockers, tables and swing are out of the boxes, but they are still stored in the garage.
“We want them to be clean for the tour,” Bodycomb explains. “If I put it out now, it would be covered in pollen within an hour.”
Bodycomb admits to being overwhelmed by the work still needing to be done.
“We were given tour details back in the fall,” she says. “When they told us to expect upward of 500 people, I thought, oops! I didn’t think there would be so many people, and I wasn’t sure what we got ourselves into.”
The couple went right to work, repainting rooms, redoing plantings around the foundation and, yes, even decorating the master bathroom.
“I have always wanted to decorate it,” Bodycomb says. “The tour gave me an excuse.”
Realizing there was too much work for them to do alone, the Bodycombs hired landscaping help. Even so, Linda is still hard at work planting a new kitchen garden and filling pots with flowering annuals, which she expects to be doing right up to the last hour.
“We’ll probably, hopefully, be done the night before.”
The Best Laid Plans
In 71 years of home tours, rarely is everything as perfect as it appears on the Maryland Home and Garden Pilgrimage. Calamity sometimes reigns behind the scenes.
“Quite a few years ago, before I was executive director,” recalls Powell, who now holds that title, “a group of 20 elegant ladies from Denver Botanic Gardens flew in for one of our tours. A couple of us stayed ahead of them all day to make sure everything was okay before they arrived at each house. One of the tour houses was owned by two elderly maiden ladies who never used their front door except for company. When we arrived we found to our horror that pranksters had chalked four-letter words on their seldom-used front walkway. As the Denver group’s bus came up the driveway, we were on our hands and knees, scrubbing with rocks and smudging dirt, anything to hide the expletives. It must have worked, because nobody said anything.”
Nor is it uncommon for pets or even Mother Nature to wreck havoc.
In one home, the family dog vomited in the middle of a very fancy rug.
On a previous Calvert County tour, a frightened bird flew into the house and spent the day diving at everyone who walked through.
Another homeowner was dressing before the tour when her doorbell rang. Expecting a friend, she answered the door wearing only her slip. To her horror, strangers stood there, an hour early for the tour.
On yet another tour it poured rain, turning the parking area at one house into a mud field. A neighboring farmer’s tractor was used to get cars unstuck.
In spite of all the hard work and months of preparation, even the best laid plans can go awry.
Wondering if the Thompson’s patio was finished, or whether Cindy Turner’s builder came through with the new portico? Are you curious about Linda Bodycomb’s bathroom décor?
These homes plus five other Calvert County homes as well as Annmarie Garden will be open as part of the 2008 Maryland Home and Garden Pilgrimage. The tour is sponsored by the Calvert Garden Club, with proceeds benefiting the Sensory Garden of the new Burnett-Calvert Hospice House.
Saturday, May 10, from 10am to 5pm: $35 for the complete tour; $15 for a single home view: 410-586-9353; www.calvertgardenclub.com or www.mhgp.org. rsvp for your box lunch at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Prince Frederick (11:30am-2pm). Advance tickets $30 at: Dunkirk Florist and Gifts; Second Look Books, Prince Frederick; Maertens Fine Jewelry & Gifts, 13342 HG Trueman Rd., Solomons.
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