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Norristown Garden Club hosts 69th Holiday House Tour - The Times Herald

Posted on 14 August, 2017 by Judith R. Robles
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Norristown Garden Club hosts 69th Holiday House Tour - The Times Herald

WHITPAIN—Brimming with the beauty and the charm of the Christmas season, five houses in the Whitpain-Gwynedd Valley area jump-started the holidays for hundreds of visitors on Friday.

The occasion was the sold-out Norristown Garden Club's 69th Holiday House Tour, when fresh wreaths, elaborate garlands and fanciful floral arrangements add the unmistakable touches of the largest garden club in Pennsylvania.

“As is customary, five homes of varying décor that have a feasible tour route and ample parking were enlisted for our tour by General Chairman Anita Lehman of Blue Bell,” explained Club member and tour hostess  Jill Evans. “Anita then recruited a chair for each house. Committees, typically of about twenty people, were formed for each house and the garden club members got to work, planning and creating.”

A popular stop was the home of Keith and Janet Childs in Blue Bell, where “tourists” got to marvel at stone mason Keith Childs’ masterful handiwork as much as the Garden Club’s painstakingly arranged botanicals.

Keith Childs, who purchased his Sunset Drive property from his mother Charlotte in 1991, began converting the 1950s home, one of the first Blue Bell Gardens houses built on the old Roberts-Miller Farm property by the Mercaldo Brothers, to reflect his love of 18th Century architecture.

House co-chairs Chris Yanak and Melinda Bates appropriately sweetened the home’s rustic allure with a Colonial motif: “A Revolutionary Christmas.”

“Someone in the Garden Club recommended the house and I asked if I could do it because I know the owners and they’re such lovely people,” Yanak said.

Hog trofs in the front yard that were filled with berries – sprayed to discourage consumption by the squirrels—pineapples and evergreens gave visitors their first taste of what was to come, as did the lush evergreen tree on the front porch, decked out with accents of natural elements and red candles.

From here guests had a view of the garage, which was transformed –at least the façade was—into Santa’s Toy Shop.

Inside, Club member Patti O’Brien’s dining table arrangement with teasel, magnolia, grapes, fresh lilies, elevated by plexiglass vases resembling goblets, shared the spotlight with a nearby bowl of “eggnog” fashioned from a mound of white carnations, surrounded by fruit.

A kitchen boxwood tree held its own with the decorative help of walnuts, pinecones, radishes, clementines, carnations, peach winterberries, lady apples and wheat.

But the main attraction was surely the walk-in fireplace built by Keith Childs, owner and operator of Keith Childs Masonry, which was simply embellished with a large arrangement of mixed evergreens, baby kale, mahogany pods, white birch, and red twig dogwood.

“The greens are totally locally sourced,” O’Brien pointed out.

The kitchen with its colonial hearth, deep black soapstone sink and pegged floors created the desired period look.

Keith Childs said that by putting his masonry skills to work throughout the house his goal was to honor his grandfather and his love for history.

“He would share stories telling how the Continental Army marched down Skippack Pike from Worcester to fight in The Battle of Germantown. General George Washington himself passed by this farm so many times that he actually established a favorite room at The Blue Bell Inn,” he said.

“We were flattered that the Garden Club asked us to be on the tour.”

Janet Childs said she had always joked that when the Garden Club would come calling she would host a luncheon on the front lawn.

“It was just a joke between us, and then one day they actually called,” she said, laughing. “I was under the impression it would be 400 people coming through the house, which is totally wrong. It’s 1,200,” she added, recalling how club members’ working in the house for the last two weeks reminded her of her childhood.

“My mom would decorate our then-200-year-old farmhouse with magnolias and boxwood in West Chester for my birthday.”

Visitors who liked what they saw at the Childs house or any of the private residences on the tour are welcome to pilfer any of the decorating ideas that strike their fancy, which has been the point of the tours since they began 68 years ago.

“Holiday grandeur” was the only way to accurately describe the Kendare family's home on Lorien Drive in Lower Gwynedd, noted Evans, who was captivated by the urns filled with greens and painted branches that greeted visitors. Red was emphasized in the foyer by festive ribbon on the banister and the wide ribbon garland on the tree. The impressive large European hand-blown balls are part of the owners' collection, Evans explained, adding that “the living room coffee table held a striking, colorful design that echoed the border of the Indian tapestry hanging on the wall.”

In keeping with House Chairs Ana Maria Hartman and JoAnne Tornambe ideas, peacock feathers, symbolic of Indian celebrations, were used throughout the room and featured on the console with one of the owner's silk saris. On the windowsill were heather plants shaped as small Christmas trees.

Fran and Arlene Novak had gone on the Holiday House tours for years but this is the first time the couple has opened up their Gypsy Hill Road home in Lower Gwynedd to visitors, welcoming them into a “Christmas Most Elegant,” beginning with an antique sled on the front lawn.

“The timing was right,” said Arlene Novak, who added that a friend had recommended the home to the club.

As explained by House Chair Jean Phalan, the Garden Club always tries to incorporate the homeowners’ own treasures and favorite items into the design, and with the Novaks’ collection of antiques, bird cages, Santa figures and fine wine, that goal was easily accomplished.

Many of the antiques, like the 200-year-old grandfather clock in the dining room were left unembellished to stand on their own beauty, while the table welcomed a  handsome tureen filled with greens, rubrum lilies and leucadendron. A nearby  tree was decorated with dried flowers and pine cones.

The couple’s vintage, Boehm porcelain nativity figures cried out for a stable, so committee members created one for the living room display.

Fresh cedar, red winterberry, white pine, red roses and white pom-pom mums lavishly hugged the railing of the stairway in the entryway.

A collection of ceramic Santas lined the mantle in the family room, where a low profile design (a special type for National Gardem Club Flower Shows) brightened the coffee table.

Further along on the tour, on Steiger Road in Lansdale, the Doyle family home's committee chose a theme of “A Sparkling Christmas” for the custom-built home that is furnished in black and white, giving it “a very sophisticated flair, noted Evans. “Guests are greeted in the foyer by a large tree decorated with a silver ribbon garland and hand-made 'poinsettia' flowers created from opened, silver-sprayed milkweed pods whose centers are small plant material such as Rose of Sharon seed heads, baby's breath .... all sparkling.”

The kitchen had a whimsical cake with 'icing' made of white carnations and cranberry filling, as an aquarium on the counter was bordered by a little white fence that was festooned by green 'pipe cleaner' roping and red bows, Evans noted.

 “Tying those tiny bows was the hardest thing I did “, said Honey Bowduniak, club president, who also created small Christmas trees from green crochet thread dipped in glue.

“I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas” was the theme chosen for the Archer family's home on Lorien Drive in Lower Gwynedd, where House Chair Barbara Leiby shared her original idea of using the theme of Gnome Sweet Gnome because of the many fanciful gnomes found throughout the house and grounds. Guests were greeted at the front door hung with a handsome swag of evergreens with silver and white decoration, with the theme being echoed throughout the home by beautiful white mass floral designs.

Proceeds from the Norristown Garden Club's 69th Holiday House Tour fund many endeavors, including ,000.00 in scholarship; workshops and activities for the Junior Gardeners; Horticulture Therapy at Abington Senior Adult Care, Regina Nursing Home, State Hospital and SAAC in Norristown; classes for special needs children at Marshall Street School in Norristown; judging, and awarding cash prizes for the Municipality of Norristown Garden Contest each July and maintaining an environmentally friendly butterfly garden at Fairview Village Church.

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