PORTSMOUTH — The 20th annual Atlantic Heights Backyard Garden Tour held on Saturday has become so popular there were people waiting to get started before the 9 a.m. opening.
The garden tour allows people to see the private gardens of the residents of Atlantic Heights. Seventeen homes in the historic riverside neighborhood allowed people to explore their yards and the gardens they have created there. The tour is free of charge but donations were accepted with the money used to help beautify public areas of the neighborhood.
"We are celebrating the neighborhood's 100th anniversary this year," said Kerry Kenney, a member of the garden club. "We want to show off our gardens, but we are also trying to get some of the younger people involved, whether they own their home or are renting. As a club, we do a lot of things. We hold an annual neighborhood cleanup in April and we are involved with the Police Department's National Night Out."
The various gardens open for tours were eclectic and reflected the character of the people who put in their time and love to make them special.
Carol Fritz, whose mother-in-law Marion Fritz was one of the founders of the garden club and tour, said they work closely with the city to keep Atlantic Heights clean and beautiful.
"The city employees have been wonderful to us," said Fritz. "We can call and ask them what we need, and if they can, they will accommodate us. They helped us refurbish the common circle area. There is a World War II memorial there and the area was a mess. Working with the city and our members, it now looks the way it should look. And, when we were getting ready for the tour, the city sent out a sweeper at our request. Things get messy after the winter and all the rain we had. We wanted it to look beautiful for the tour because we are proud of our neighborhood."
When the Kenneys had to have an 80-foot Norway Maple removed from the center of their back yard, they were left with a large stump. They decided to repurpose it.
Kerry's husband Tim showed off the result. A graceful statue of a young maid now sits atop the stump, with a green water basin for the birds. A lush green plant finishes the look, and the stump seems to belong to the garden. A chair sits in front and makes a great place to read a book or simply recharge after a hard day.
"I think this is the best neighborhood ever," said Tim Kenney. "We all take pride in it. Just about everyone has a dog so you can sit on your front porch and greet and talk with your neighbors daily. I really like the garden tour because it is not professional. These are not landscaped gardens. These all derive from the ideas of our neighbors. We love showing the gardens off."
Atlantic Heights is a self-contained neighborhood of mostly brick homes built in 1918 to house workers at the shipbuilding company Atlantic Corporation. The homes retain much the same character today but are now privately owned, and the area is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.