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'Secret garden' in Rhode Island enchanting guests since 1955

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Betty Faella, who along with her husband, Tony, owns Kinney Azalea Gardens, which guests often describe as “a secret garden" in Rhode Island. (WJAR)

SOUTH KINGSTOWN. R.I. (WJAR) — The azalea shrubs are in bloom at Kinney Azalea Gardens for the 66th year in a row.

“They get bigger every year,” Betty Faella, who along with her husband, Tony, owns what guests often describe as “the secret garden” in Kingston, a village in South Kingstown.

More than 500 varieties of azaleas in all sorts of vibrant colors are blossoming across six acres, with some to make additional appearances as the summer approaches.

“People who have lived in town that haven’t been here are always surprised,” Betty said.

Tony, a World War II veteran, shared a story about a woman who lived up the road for at least two decades who had never visited. He said she finally stopped by and was enchanted.

“She was so excited,” Tony said.

NBC 10 News visited Thursday afternoon as people from throughout Rhode Island and neighboring states were appreciating the scenery.

Some were taking photographs, while others relaxed with friends on one of the many benches in the garden.

Couples enjoyed strolls in the sunshine and one family gathered for a picnic.

“I absolutely love it,” said Harriet Simoneau, of Warwick, who was there with her granddaughter, Nora, and her sister, Patsy Wellhausen, also of Warwick.

“I think it’s beautiful here,” Wellhausen said. “It’s peaceful and calm.”

A few children were also there playing a game of whiffle ball.

Levi Weinberg, 9, of East Greenwich, hit the ball in a grassy area, surrounded by flowers and family.

He was there with his sister, Avital, 7, and their mother, Laura.

“There’s a lot of little pathways, so the kids can feel like they are wandering but I know where they are, and we always stay close together,” Laura said. “And it’s so beautiful here. It has a secret garden feel and they like that ability to explore.”

Four-year-old Cecelia Basile, of Charlestown, was there with her loved ones.

She posed for photos and said she thinks the garden is "cool."

Her sisters, Angela, 11, and Julia, 12, agree. They like the hidden trails and bridges in the garden.

Their grandmother, Donna Butler, shared similar sentiments.

"It's just lovely," she said.

The Faellas, who said guests are welcome to explore the property during daylight hours, have been married since 1951.

Betty’s father, Lorenzo Kinney Jr., established the gardens four years later at his home at 2391 Kingston Road.

“It was my father’s garden,” Betty said, noting that Kinney passed away in 1994.

But Betty and Tony have been operating the gardens ever since, with Dr. Sue Gordon serving as the general manager.

There is no fee, but a donation bin is set up at the entrance.

“People are very good about it,” Tony said, adding that guests always respect the garden by not damaging the plants and trees or leaving behind trash. “We very, very seldom have to pick up a piece of paper of something.”

Parking is also available.

“We tell everybody, ‘Drive in the back.’ You don’t necessarily have to park in the street,” Betty said.

She said some people come with their families, in pairs, or alone, but they can accommodate big groups, including guests from nursing homes and retirement communities.

Tony said they always return.

“There are a lot of people who come back and come back,” he said. “Then, you meet someone who’s here for the first time. They didn’t realize there were so many flowers in the back.”

Betty said some flowers bloomed in early April, but the main bunch are in bloom now. Others, she added, will bloom in late spring, during the summer, and into the fall.

Aside from azaleas, there are rhododendron, wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and evergreens.

Take a stroll along several small paths and observe the “carefully planned” vistas.

Find the white dogwood tree on Dogwood Trail, enjoy wildflowers in Wildflower Walk, or look for the “pixie” along Pixie Path.

There is also the Troll Bridge, as well as Jungle Trail, which offers bamboo and “unusual plants.”

Betty said visitors especially enjoy the Moon Gate, a circular rock sculpture that was built for Tony’s 75th birthday more than 20 years ago.

But the couple has another big celebration approaching: their wedding anniversary.

“It will be 70 years in November,” Tony said. “We just love each other.”

Betty feels the same.

“We’re good to each other,” she said. “We like being together.”

Learn more at kinneyazaleagardens.com.