The flowers at McLaughlin Garden in South Paris can’t be thirsty.

They gulp water by the gallons this time of year, but Mother Nature’s been overly generous with the rain lately. The flowers are far from parched.

But days of rain and sporadic sun haven’t hindered the blooming. It seems everything’s still coming up roses (and irises and lilacs) at the 75-year-old garden, just in time for the annual Lilac Festival.

The four-day event, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Monday, includes a lilac care workshop at 11:30 a.m., guided tours at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., demonstrations and a bake sale. But the festival’s shining stars are undoubtedly the lilacs.

Bernard McLaughlin, who planted the garden 75 years ago, was a self-taught specialist in lilacs, according to Ruth Copeman, the garden’s executive director.

“I can definitely say without hesitation that it’s one of the most diverse in the country,” she said. “There’s all different kinds. White ones, pink ones, blue ones.”

And while the public is always free to wander the stretches of lush gardens at McLaughlin, the Lilac Festival is an ideal time to catch the lilacs at their most impressive and to talk with folks who know a thing or two about the flower.

“It’s mind-blowing when you see it — the density of the lilacs. It’s magical, it really is,” Copeman said.

Of course, it’s also tricky planning an event around the less-than-concrete schedules of 200 plants.

“Last year we missed (the lilacs blooming) entirely. It was such a drag,” she said. “This year it’s been so cold, the festival will be on the front end of the bloom. … We’re at the northern edge of the lilac range and we communicate with people farther south. When they’re behind, then we know that we’re going to be behind.”

But there will be no shortage of blooming lilacs this year, Copeman said, and they will continue into their peak the following week. And folks who like to take advantage of the constantly changing array of area flora won’t be disappointed at McLaughlin Garden.

“You can see people come in and just sort of exhale,” Copeman said. “(The Lilac Festival) is a celebration of what this garden is about.

“It’s not that the plants are outstandingly invaluable, but that the site is outstandingly valuable to the community,” she said. “Bernard (McLaughlin) let people wander around his property. People would just be in his garden and he’d come out and visit.”

Copeman said she and others who now work to maintain the garden still believe in the open-door policy and invite newcomers to experience what McLaughlin created. To make those visits easier, McLaughlin Garden has dropped all admission fees for the year, even those for the festival.

Donations are always welcome, of course, and will help keep the garden free for everyone to enjoy.

“We have a strategic goal to meet more people. One way we could do that is to invite people to come for free,” Copeman said.

The garden, she believes, belongs to the people. It’s a place to wander and appreciate. “We think that the community should be able to access that.”

It’s an ideal way to continue the legacy McLaughlin began years ago.

“It’s so neat because he was an ordinary guy who loved gardening,” Copeman said. “It’s a gardener’s garden. A gardener planted it because he wanted it to be pretty.”

Lilac Festival attendees will see that McLaughlin achieved pretty, and then some.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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