McLaughlin Garden
       & Homestead
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Name:        McLaughlin Garden & Homestead

Physical Address:

                   97 Main Street

                   South Paris, Maine  04281

Mailing Address:

                   P.O. Box 492

                   South Paris, Maine  04281

Phone:        207-743-8820

Director of Horticulture:

                   Kristin Perry




Garden Hours:

                   May through October

                   Gate is Open Daily

                   (from dawn to dusk)

Historic House & Gift Shop Hours:

                   May through Labor Day - 10 - 4

Products and Services:

-extensive gardens

-special events

-plant sales

-classes, workshops

-group tours and self-guided tours

-gift shop



What Makes McLaughlin Garden and Homestead Unique?

Have you ever heard of the term “vernacular garden?”  By definition it is “a garden of an ordinary person, not one designed by a professional or owned by the elite.”  Several different publications have classified the McLaughlin Garden as a vernacular garden.  Unique Maine Farms truly questions the use of this term in relation to this South Paris garden.  Bernard McLaughlin was no ordinary person and the gardens that he created rival any of the professionally-designed gardens found throughout this country.

If you have never had the opportunity to visit

Bernard’s garden you are missing one of the most peaceful and verdant spots in Maine.  The

gardens and historic homestead are located on Route 26 amidst a cluttered stretch of assorted roadside businesses.  The property is now maintained by the McLaughlin Foundation and it is open every day from dawn to dusk to visitors for no charge.

The welcoming atmosphere of the McLaughlin

Garden is a throw-back to the time when Bernard McLaughlin lived at the homestead and allowed visitors to stroll through his property and enjoy all the plants, shrubs, and trees that he had cultivated.  If the gate to the property was open, that was a sign that Bernard welcomed visitors. Thousands of visitors flocked to the property over the years.

Bernard was raised in Aroostook County on a potato farm.  He excelled in school and graduated as Valedictorian from Limestone High School in 1918. Those who knew him well described him as a very gifted and purposeful individual who was exceptionally humble, generous,  and hard-working. Bernard held several jobs over the years that included time as a cook, bank teller, and grocery clerk.

When Bernard married Rena Tribou in 1936,  they moved into the historic home in South Paris that had been owned by her father.  Right from the beginning, Bernard knew he would  establish a garden at the property.  He began collecting and planting phlox, peonies, lilacs, daylilies, primrose, iris, roses, and a large assortment of wildflowers and perennials. It wasn’t long before people took notice. The scope and unique design of his gardens soon drew visitors from all over the world.  People wanted to meet this humble man who had transformed his three-and-a-half acre property into such a welcoming place of beauty and reflection. 

The diversity of plants that Bernard cultivated in his garden is rather remarkable. Visitors were able to see how various plants could thrive in both sun and deep shade.  Paths allowed visitors to wander throughout the property and benches were strategically placed for an opportunity for rest and contemplation.  When you entered the garden the traffic and noise from Route 26 seemed to be instantly forgotten.  Bernard’s garden was and still is an oasis of peace and natural beauty.

When Bernard passed away in 1995, there were many people who were determined to see that his gardens would be preserved.  Bernard’s son, Richard, had removed many of the plants in his father’s garden and had transplanted them to his property in Greenwood.  He had worked in the gardens for many years for his father and explained that his father had verbally agreed to this arrangement.

A group of individuals were determined to see that Bernard’s gardens remain at the South Paris location. A non-profit organization called the McLaughlin Foundation was established. A series of grave financial challenges ensued for the Foundation, but they were finally able to purchase the property in 1997.  The McLaughlin Foundation has relied on donations from other foundations and individuals and the efforts of many volunteers to keep the gardens and house open to the public.

The majestic nineteenth century barn at the McLaughlin Garden and Homestead was transformed into an educational center.  There is a classroom and historical displays and framed artwork. Several events have been held in the barn including talks on birds, basketmaking, plant propagation, the Winter Lecture Series, and book signings.  There is an Art in the Barn program which features the work of many artists and photographers.

In early May, a Wildflower Celebration takes place at the McLaughlin Garden and Homestead with a plant sale that focuses on native Maine wildflowers and perennials.  Later in May, the annual Lilac Festival occurs.  People flock to the property to view the hundreds of lilacs that Bernard cultivated on the property.  The range of colors in his lilac collection is amazing and the fragrance that they emit is beyond description.

In July, the Garden Illuminated celebration takes place where hundreds of lights and wish lanterns transform the garden into a magical showpiece. The McLaughlin Gardens and Homestead have been the setting for conferences, lectures, workshops, weddings, company picnics, family reunions, and receptions.

A range of group tours of the gardens is available with advance notice for groups of eight or more.  A guide leads visitors for the one-hour Walk and Talk Tour.  There are also Walk, Talk, & Eat Tours that include a guided tour and lunch in the cafe.  Team-Building Work Days are another option for groups that would enjoy a tour and participation in a work project.  A self-guided tour brochure is available for individuals and families who visit.  Umbrellas are even on hand for those who visit during a rainy day!

An amazing selection of gifts fill several of the beautiful rooms in the 1880’s McLaughlin Homestead.  The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.  Various gardening tools and accessories, books, tote bags, stationery, tee shirts, and prints can be found in the Gift Shop.  Beautiful artwork, china with a floral decor, functional birdhouses, and unique toys are also available for sale. 

One of the rooms in the McLaughlin house has been converted into a library with a large selection of gardening books.  Many gardening enthusiasts appreciate that they can access these resources.  There is also a cafe that is located in part of the barn and on the side porch.

Many opportunities are available for individuals of all backgrounds at the McLaughlin Garden and Homestead for helping out.  People can volunteer to plant, water, weed, and prune in the gardens or help manage the herbarium collection.  Assistants are needed in the gift shop and the library.  There are special events and educational programs where individuals are encouraged to step forward and lend a hand.  Help is also needed in the office and in welcoming guests.

When Bernard McLaughlin was alive his garden proved to be a major focus of his life.  For sixty years, he continued to add plants and concentrate on the design and layout of the gardens.  The result of his efforts has been recognized on a national level.  Bernard always viewed access to the garden with an open-door philosophy.  How fortunate that the McLaughlin Foundation is following in his example by providing complimentary access to visitors today. 

Writers will most probably continue to classify the McLaughlin Garden as a “vernacular garden of an ordinary man.”  It is true that Bernard was self-taught and that he did not have what would be considered a “professional background.” Unique Maine Farms is not comfortable classifying the garden as a “vernacular garden of an ordinary man.” Hats off to Bernard McLaughlin for what Unique Maine Farms choses to classify instead as a “spectacular garden of an extraordinary man!”


Photo of Bernard McLaughlin - courtesy of display in the McLaughlin Barn in South Paris.