Charlotte Albers, Burlington Free Press
June 19, 2010

Covering 2,400 acres near the top of Mount Mansfield, Trapp Family Lodge sits at an elevation of 1,300 feet, surrounded by wildflower meadows and glorious gardens set against a backdrop of the Worcester Range in the Green Mountains.

During the winter, this Austrian-inspired resort lures skiers to Stowe, offering traditional charm in a historic setting complete with stone fireplaces and its own signature microbrew, Trapp Lager, produced on site with local spring water.

But once the snow melts, the gardens come to life, offering guests and visitors an incomparable experience.

Next week, the resort will host the Stowe Garden Festival, a three-day event that includes educational programs and tours of private gardens in the Stowe area. The festival draws many people -- last year more than 1,000 -- who come to enjoy the scenery and learn tips about how to garden successfully in cold regions with short summers.

Kim Early, garden manager at Trapp Family Lodge, will conduct a garden tour from 9 to 10:30 a.m. June 26. The resort also will host gardening workshops Friday and June 26, given by Kerry Mendez, author of "The Ultimate Flower Gardener's Top 10 Lists."

Serving the legacy

The expansive grounds at the resort include a croquet court, alpine rock garden, extensive cutting and vegetable gardens, and the historic cemetery located in the shelter of birch trees near the lodge.

Made famous by the musical and movie "Sound of Music," the story of the von Trapp family singers and their narrow escape from Nazi forces during World War II is widely known.

Finding refuge in the Green Mountains, Capt. Baron von Trapp purchased a farm in 1941 where the family settled. Today, the lodge and outbuildings sit on the original site; the family cemetery is just a short walk from the dining room, where Baron von Trapp, his wife Maria and four of their children are buried. It's a beautiful, naturalistic setting. Surrounded by a low fence, the cemetery is tended by the staff gardeners who install red and white begonias -- the colors of the Austrian flag -- on the plots every year. The informal mixed borders that surround this spot include a range of perennials supplemented with annual zinnias, snapdragons and heliotrope. The combination of plants exudes casual charm.

"We try to keep the gardens full of color," Early said. "It's a challenge with such a short season."

Each year more than 100 window boxes and 40 hanging baskets planted with white petunias, red geraniums and vinca are assembled by landscape crews and installed around the lodge. Drip irrigation helps keep the containers hydrated during the summer heat. Many of the containers surround a large stone patio, constructed just last year, which overlooks the valley.

Maria von Trapp's beloved rock garden, the oldest garden on the property, contains early season bulbs that brave harsh weather conditions. Tucked among massive boulders and stone steps, white snowdrops are the first sign of spring.

Edelweiss, the Austrian national flower, grows in this cold, windy mountaintop location. Its short white and yellow fuzzy flowers bloom in June above silvery grey basal rosettes. Like all alpine plants, it's best grown in rocky soil in full sun.

"Visitors love to see it growing here," Earley said. "We propagate it from seed in our greenhouse and sell the plants to guests. For rock gardens in northern climates, it's a great plant."

The croquet court is a rectangular sunken room with a level carpet of lush lawn. Perfect for mallets or bocce balls -- or simply for strolling past exuberant flower beds. When I visited, a riotous commotion was taking place mid-border with a display of ruffled pink poppies and allium tuberosum "Globemaster."

The cutting garden and the vegetable garden are both more than an acre in size and benefit from a composting operation that produces about 200,000 pounds annually from plant cuttings and food scraps. Honoring its beginnings as a family farm, the resort is committed to sustainable land management and is a member of the Green Hotels of Vermont and the Vermont Fresh Network.

Head chef Brian Tomlinson uses the vegetables and herbs to create seasonal menus and in the fall, apples from trees on the property are pressed into cider. Flowers are cut in the fields and used in fresh arrangements throughout the resort and in the large event tent, which is a destination for summer weddings.

If you plan to tour through the cutting garden, bring a small notebook and camera to take notes about what's growing in the fields. Plants are labeled and it's always very helpful to see firsthand a particular color of bloom, shape of leaf or habit of growth.

For those seeking a quiet retreat, a secluded pond is situated among fragrant herbs and flowers near the greenhouse. A little trickle of water creates a cool ambiance.

During the summer, garden walks are offered twice a week, and there is also a self-guided tour available at the front desk, which lists many of the flower varieties grown by Earley and her staff in the greenhouse.

Day visitors can enjoy the views from the deck outside the DeliBakery (formerly the Austrian Tea Room), where the flagship lager is sold along with other local food products. A cup of tea and fresh-made pastries, salads and sandwiches provide perfect picnic fare for a walk on the mountainside.

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