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Where to Tour Stunning Gardens All Across Cape Cod This Summer 

As summer finally arrives, many Bostonians have one place on their mind: Cape Cod. For the next few months, it’s all about beach weekends, lobster rolls, and all the laid-back fun we’ve been waiting for. Plus, it happens to be the best time of year to take in beautiful gardens sprawling with colorful vegetation, like forsythia, star flower, and, of course, hydrangeas. 

That’s why there’s a whole weeklong celebration dedicated to Cape Cod gardens. In 2014, C.L Fornari founded the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival, a 10-day event that celebrates the artistry of gardeners (like Fornari herself) and educates visitors about Cape Cod’s rich vegetation, all while supporting local nonprofits with the proceeds from each tour.

Hydrangea Festival, happening this year from July 7 to 16, is also one of the best ways to see more of Cape Cod’s stunning beach towns. Following Hydrangea Fest programming and famous garden tours across the peninsula, you can plan a full-on vacation by building in stops along the way at some of the best coastal restaurants and beaches New England has to offer.

Here’s an itinerary you can use to find all the best flowers, food, and fun. 

Tour the Gardens For a Good Cause All Festival Long

Bostonians plan trips to Cape Cod every year to see the beaches and flowers, but Fornari says that people also travel from around the world specifically for the private tours during Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival. These are what attract much of the foot traffic that supports Cape Cod’s local nonprofits—after all, nonprofit support was the reason Fornari founded the Festival to begin with. 

Fornari was originally inspired by Garden Walk Buffalo, a summer weekend in New York where private gardens are open to the public for touring. She found out that Garden Walk raised more than three million dollars for the City of Buffalo in just that one weekend. “I knew that I wanted a way that nonprofits [in Cape Cod] could benefit from this festival,” she says. “I put together the idea of a celebration of our signature flower, the hydrangea, and a way for nonprofits to benefit from this.” 

Hydrangea Festival is truly a Cape-wide event, with homeowners holding their garden tours all across the peninsula. The festival kicks off with a party on July 6 at Hyannis Country Garden from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Every day thereafter, you can stop in Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Orleans, Chatham, and Provincetown to see the gardens and attend garden-inspired events. Whether you want to stay local to your favorite Cape Cod town or discover a new area, you won’t fall short of garden gatherings.

Each garden tour is just five dollars, and visitors will know the nonprofit that their five dollars is supporting by looking for a sign outside the garden’s entrance. You’ll pay in cash on the day of the tour and can visit anywhere from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., depending on the garden. Examples of nonprofits that are benefitting from the Festival are the West Falmouth Library, People for Cats, Cape Cod Challenger Club, Osterville Village Library, and more.

Attend a Morning Hydrangea Class in Sandwich

In Sandwich, home to Town Neck Beach, the Sandwich Boardwalk, and the Oldest House on Cape Cod, The Heritage Museum & Gardens is throwing an in-person educational event, Hydrangea University, as part of the main opening of Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival on July 7. 

Hydrangea University is taking place from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., making it a great way to spend the morning outdoors and enjoy  the Cape Cod morning air as it passes through. For lunch (or dinner after spending the afternoon in Sandwich), Fornari recommends Belfry Bistro, which is a restaurant in a converted church building, serving seafood, steak, and pasta dishes by Chef Chris Wilson. 

For the symposium-style event, Heritage Museums & Gardens will team up with a panel of guest speakers: Mal Condon, curator of hydrangeas for the museum; Ryan McEnaney, marketing and communications manager of Bailey Innovations; David Roberts, director of plant breeding at Bailey Innovations; and Andi Ross, garden speaker. 

These experts will be speaking on their extensive knowledge of hydrangeas and offering tours of the Cape Cod Hydrangea Society Display Garden and the North American Hydrangea Test Garden. You’ll be able to see the museum’s Hydrangea Garden throughout the whole festival, but upon registering for Hydrangea University, you’ll also get to take home a goodie bag and your very own hydrangea plant to cultivate with your newfound knowledge. 

Cap Off the Day at Home With Hydrangea Happy Hour

End the first day of the Festival with an event you can enjoy from the house. Wherever you’ve chosen to call home for the duration of your vacation, tune into Fornari’s own Virtual Hydrangea Happy Hour on July 7 at 5:00 p.m. She will be speaking live from Hyannis Country Garden, telling listeners about Hydrangea flower color, how to maintain flowers into the fall, providing advice on creating bouquets, and more.

It’s the most relaxing and festive way to kick off your first Friday evening in Cape Cod, especially if you’re tired from sitting in bridge traffic or touring the gardens and are looking for a way to unwind. All you need is wifi and perhaps a fun cocktail to enjoy while you learn.

This event is free, and Fornari says it’s another foundational event that will show you how to appreciate the Cape Cod vegetation and ignite a sense of discovery. “Blue hydrangeas don’t grow just anywhere,” she says. “Cape Cod grows them pretty well. And people like seeing beautiful gardens, other people’s backyards, and they get inspired about what they might do.” 

Stop and Smell the Falmouth Flowers

If you happen to be staying in or near Falmouth, or need a reason to check it out, there’s another event on July 7 that costs just 15 dollars for non-members (10 for members) from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Amy Cardello, from Pleasant View Gardens, is hosting Proven Winners at Historic Highfield property—which is a destination in itself with stunning ocean views and 400 acres of conservation land, including an innovative music garden.

Cardello will be introducing listeners to Proven Winners, which are a sect of plants chosen and used for their notable fitness as a species. Cardello will explain how to use these plants to create a gorgeous garden with all-season color and a high volume of blooms. Her lessons on these Proven Winners will help you raise flowers with better resistance to disease and a higher tolerance for heat and humidity. 

Fornari says that when you’re in Falmouth, if you’re looking for a nursery after getting inspired by Cardello’s talk, you should check out Soares Flower Garden Nursery, which is an active participant in the Hydrangea Festival. 

After the talk, take the opportunity to stop by The Glass Onion, an upscale American restaurant highly rated for its thoughtful and inventive dishes, like almond-crusted swordfish and classics like filet mignon, with unique yet approachable flavors in every bite. 

Make Your Way to Hyannis Country Garden

On July 8 at 3:00 p.m., you can find Fornari in-person under the shade frame at Hyannis Country Garden giving a talk called ‘A Hydrangea for Every Garden with C.L. Fornari.’ She’ll be teaching participants about  the different types of hydrangeas and which best suit different needs (for instance, tall hydrangeas make great privacy borders and short ones work for foundation plantings). You’ll also learn about which varieties are compatible with sunny areas versus shady ones, and which will stand up against the winter weather.

Hyannis, according to Fornari, is a wonderful place for anyone who loves plants. The town even serves as an incubator for Cape Cod vegetation—Fornari tells us that all the Hyannis Main Street plants are planted specifically to support pollination. “They’ve made this commitment to pollinators right on Main Street,” she says.

Hyannis is home to several exceptional restaurants you can visit after the talk with Fornari at Hyannis Country Garden. Brazilian Grill is a highly sought-after destination for Brazilian steakhouse fare, and The Naked Oyster on Main Street will be the most delicious choice for those looking for fresh seafood and inventive drinks.

Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival Principal Sponsors are Monrovia Plants Proven Winners, Bloomin’ Easy , Endless Summer Hydrangeas, and Hyannis Country Garden.

Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival is one of the most relaxing and meaningful ways to celebrate summer, find new appreciation for the beloved Cape Cod landscape and its thoughtful caretakers, and support local nonprofits. Find the full schedule of Hydrangea Festival events here.