“This was just a jungle,” Ruth said, gesturing at the now-manicured lawn. “(George) planted red zinnias and yellow marigolds. They looked like soldiers. Mine were more pinks and blues.”
But one day while transplanting some bulbs, Ruth hit a flagstone with her garden tools. More digging led to the eventual discovery that the Harts’ property was once the site of St. Eustace by the Lake Episcopal Church.
One hundred years ago, the Signal Hill neighborhood looked very different. There were no homes or forest and most of the land was part of the Steven’s House golf course. The church was there from 1899 to 1927, when it was dismantled and moved to Main Street.
The old foundation the Harts unearthed now forms a low stone wall in the shape of a cross that encloses the their flower garden. Lilies, ladies mantle, begonias and a variety of other flowers and ferns now line the stone walls, creating a colorful border. Lush, green ground ivy forms a soft carpet on the inside of the foundation.
“It’s a very peaceful place,” Ruth said. “I come down here every day to check it out.”
The circular foundation of the old bell tower in the corner, once hidden by soil and shrubs, is now a raised pedestal for planters and a statue.
For Ruth, who attends St. Eustace Church, the discovery 35 years ago was especially meaningful. She said the congregation holds a yearly service in the garden, commemorating the church’s history at the spot.
“The tall trees form an enclosed area,” Ruth said. “It’s almost spiritual again.”
Today, the Harts invite visitors to experience their garden. Ruth has placed a sign welcoming passers-by at the Victor Herbert Road entrance. She has looked out her window to see a wedding party taking photos in the garden, and last year she met a couple from London who were relaxing on one of the benches, enjoying the peace and quiet. They told her they visit the spot every year.
“Wouldn’t it be lovely to sit and have a cup of tea in the afternoon?” Ruth said. “I never got around to that.”
Other secret gardens
Behind the Lake Placid Public Library, on the shore of Mirror Lake is a native plant garden, maintained by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteers of Essex County. The Adirondack Woodland Native Plants Garden and Lakeshore Plantings has shade-loving plants that can be found in the uplands of the Adirondacks. There are also a stairwell garden and memorial gardens, including a lily garden. A picnic table and Adirondack chairs near the water offer resting spots.
Master Gardener Heidi Roland helped found the garden in 2001 when she was a library board member during the library’s most recent expansion. She said the gardens welcome people to the library and to Main Street.
alley-way garden does bring more people down to the waterfront,” she said. “It’s a little secret spot, but it’s not very secret.”
The gardens can be accessed through a gate on Main Street next to the Lake Placid Public Library.
The garden in front of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts also welcomes visitors. A part of the LPCA since 1973, the garden is also at the center of Wednesdays’ farmers markets. Stone benches in memory of Lake Placid arts supporters are placed on the lawn around the garden. Roland meets with other volunteers every Tuesday morning in the summer to work in the garden for one hour. She said no pesticides or herbicides are used on either of the two gardens.
“They are to make the area look nice, that’s always the first thing behind them,” Roland said. “At the LPCA, it’s the welcome mat. People are always welcome.”