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Lilacs are the centerpiece at the McLaughlin Garden

Gardening with Gutner visits the beautiful garden, where Todd learns the secrets to gorgeous lilacs.

PARIS, Maine — The blooming of lilacs is always a sign that summer is right around the corner. At the McLaughlin Garden in South Paris, they are the star of the show during their annual Lilac Festival, which features more than 200 lilac trees consisting of more than 125 different varieties. The property is listed as a Cultural Landscape on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Gardening with Gutner went to the historic garden to see the beautiful blooms at their peak and to learn how to take care of the fragrant shrubs and trees. 

The McLaughlin Garden & Homestead is about 4.5 acres with 2.5 of it a groomed garden. In 1936 Bernard McLaughlin moved onto the land that was nothing but fallow fields and began planting.

"He didn't have a background in gardening or horticulture, but he did love plants," Cory Kotfila, head horticulturist of McLaughlin Garden, said. "Once he got here, he immediately started planting, collaborating with other gardeners and horticulturists in the area and growing this garden into what it is today."

Volunteers are an important part of the success of McLaughlin Garden. With their help, the McLaughlin Foundation is able to get the day-to-day tasks done of the garden done and host different events throughout the year. These events include their Wildflower Celebration, Lilac Festival, Jack O' Lantern Spectacular as well as lectures, and much more. 

When asked for tips on how to care for lilacs, Kotfila had these suggestions:

"You want to pick a spot that is sunny. With at least six hours of sun per day. Otherwise, you won't get those productive, bushy blooms," the horticulturist explained. 

Fertilizer is key. Use a fertilizer that's higher in phosphorus and potassium.

"If you use something that has too much nitrogen in it, you'll get too many of these vegetative green growths and not enough blooms," Kotfila instructed. 

Pruning is crucial to the shape and maintenance of lilacs. Kotfila revealed that there is only a two-week window to deadhead spent blossoms and to cut next to the nearest growth point from the bloom. Lilacs set their buds for the following year after that period of time. If you clip after that, you won't have any blossoms the next year. 

For an out-of-control shrub/tree, Kotfila recommends cutting back all the way to the ground.

"As it gets taller and taller, these middle branches are going to become unproductive. They're not going to send out new shoots, so the best way to jumpstart your plant is cut it to the ground, let the new suckers that come up become the new plant and kind of reshape," he said. "It will take you up to three years to get new flowers, but sometimes that is just the best option to reshape your plant."

There is more to the McLaughlin Garden than just lilacs. Kotfila took Gardening with Gutner down Wildflower Lane which hosts a variety of trillium, jack in the pulpits, lady slipper orchids, flowy ferns, and hostas. 

So while McLaughlin Garden is famous for its lilacs, there is so much more to enjoy all year long. 

To see all the Gardening with Gutner segments click HERE

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