When you drive by Chrissie and John D'Esopo's Avon house on West Avon Road, the first things you notice are the flowers.
For 20 years, Chrissie D'Esopo's garden tours have been a tradition at the home the couple has lived in for 27 years. The garden tour, which includes a tour of the house she and her husband restored, is scheduled for Sunday, rain or shine. It might be the last one she hosts.
"I'm hoping they have fun and get great planting ideas," D'Esopo said.
However, that does not mean the gardening will stop or the countless fundraisers and dinner parties she has hosted to raise money for various organizations will continue as she gets requests.
"I will always do that, but there may not be another garden tour," D'Esopo said.
This year, half of the garden tour proceeds will benefit two non-profits which benefit the entire region. One is , which has offices in Simsbury, Manchester and Hartford and has helped women and children who are victims of domestic physical or psychological abuse, according to its website. The other half will be donated to My Sister's Place in Hartford, a "safe haven" for homeless women and their children, according to the organization's website, an organization she and her mom have long supported.
D'Esopo hopes that attendees – there could be as many as 3,000 – will also think about something else when they see the gardens.
"How can I help other people?" she said, adding that the smallest gesture, even if it is saying hi to a homeless person, shows people you care.
Helping others has long been a passion of D'Esopo's. When she was younger, she took care of an elderly women from when she was 96 to when she reached 101 and was paid $50 a night to do so. She didn't keep the money, instead donating it to charity. Through events like her garden tour and dinners, she has also raised money for places like the , in Avon and the in Farmington.
"When someone's down and out, or downtrodden, you've got to help the person out," D'Esopo said. "That is the way life is. That is the way you ought to be."
D'Esopo, who grew up in Simsbury and has gardened since she was five, gets up at 5 a.m. every morning and spends as much as 14 hours a day working on her garden. Ever since she was young she said "I grew everything I could get my hands on." The types of flowers in her gardens vary and she chose petunias, coleus, perennials, annuals and impatiens this year.
She has also added a new flare to the garden that is different than what people have seen in the past – connifers and shurubs. The idea came to her when she was visiting her son, Forest in Portland, OR and went to Iseli's Nursery, the world's biggest conifer specialty nursery.
"I was walking through there drooling. I said I wanted to make my yard look like a mini Iseli's," D'Esopo said.
That was last October before a freak pre-Halloween snowstorm destroyed many of Connecticut's trees. However, in a way, it helped the D'Esopos, who had been growing conifers for four years. As trees fell, it opened up their property to more sunlight, which was ideal for the new conifers planted. Though, it's a coincidence that D'Esopo decided to plant more trees.
"It made an open canvas, so we could do exactly what we wanted to do," said D'Esopo, who bought about 300 conifers to for her gardens.
The heat and little rain this summer has been intense, D'Esopo said, but it does not take away the joy she gets out of gardening.
"It's peaceful to me to garden," she said. "I love the beauty it makes."
The garden tour is scheduled for Sunday, July 15 from 1 to 5 p.m. at 289 West Avon Rd. Tickets cost $5 and admission is free for kids. Parking will be across the street at the .