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Garden Conservancy lets you peek at some private gardens

This undated photo shows the entrance to a garden in New Paltz, N.Y. For the Garden Conservancy’s “Open Days” program, a number of private gardens across the country open their gates for visitors. (Lee Reich via AP)

What are your plans for the weekend? Consider garden hopping. To some special private gardens.

An organization called The Garden Conservancy makes it easy to find and visit them.

Each year, the Garden Conservancy puts out a booklet called the Open Days Directory, with descriptions of about 300 private gardens that are opened to the public on specified dates. (Full disclosure: My garden is one of those this year.)

In each directory, you can look gardens up by state or location. If you’re looking for gardens to visit on, say, June 22, you could find all of them, near and far, that can be visited that day. This year, that day’s offerings include two gardens in New Jersey, eight in New York, two in Pennsylvania and six in Washington state.

THE BEGINNINGS OF THE CONSERVANCY

The Garden Conservancy began with the vision of Frank Cabot and the garden of Ruth Bancroft. In 1988, Bancroft was getting on in years and unable to lavish the care needed to maintain her extraordinary and artfully designed Walnut Creek, California, garden of cacti, succulents and native plants.

After visiting her garden, Cabot conceived of the Garden Conservancy as an organization to “preserve exceptional American gardens for the public’s education and enjoyment.”

He was no garden slouch himself: His gardens — Les Quatre Vents in La Malbaie, Quebec, and Stonecrop in Cold Spring, New York — are famous. The latter is open to the public on days spelled out in the Open Days Directory.

The Garden Conservancy now provides the legal, financial, and horticultural expertise to transition certain gardens from private to nonprofit ownership. Gardens on the island of Alcatraz and at Steepletop, the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay’s home in Austerlitz, New York, are among ones that have been saved from weeds, pests and the vagaries of weather that threaten neglected gardens.

HOW YOUR VISITS HELP

Money from memberships, directory sales and garden visits help support the Garden Conservancy’s efforts. The directory costs $25 and each garden visit $10, but a coupon in each directory provides free admission to one garden. (Children under 12 are free, and coupons from previous years can still be used for garden entry this year.)

Directories and further information are available from the Garden Conservancy (888-842-2442, www.gardenconservancy.org ).

The roster of gardens in the directory changes from year to year. And the gardens vary, some formal, others cottagey, some quirky, some intimate and others sprawling.

Perhaps your own garden is a candidate for Open Days, or Open Day visits will inspire you to loftier heights in your own back, front and side yards. Happy hopping.

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