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House Under Siege

Victoria Secunda's story of when her garden turned against her. She gives advice on how to prevent such disasters from happening.



It seemed like a good idea at the time.

One fine spring morning soon after we moved into our abode in 1994, I strolled out to the backyard to get better acquainted with the place, and what I saw was not pretty. Oh, the house was a joy—bright, newly renovated, a stunner. Not so the unadorned foundation, its coarse, prison-gray underpinnings exposed below the shingles for all the world to see. This expanse of cold mortar and concrete blocks cried out for a coverup. And so, hort doofus that I was, I came up with a brilliant (to me) solution: Ivy. Boston ivy, to be exact, which in time would discreetly veil the foundation with a web of vegetative finery. A flat of the stuff was quickly installed along the entire backside of the domicile.

Fast-forward to two years later, when, while standing in our living room, my eye was caught by a spot of shiny green wedged in the corner of a windowsill. Imagine my alarm when, upon closer inspection, the green thing turned out to be a leaf of the aforementioned ivy; it had insinuated itself up the foundation, over the siding, between the glass, grout, and wood framing, and into the room, summoning shivery memories of “Audrey II,” the gluttonous plant in Little Shop of Horrors.  

In a flash, I was on the phone to order a new window, then I ran outdoors and began ripping out the ivy, which clung like grim death to the house with aerial rootlets (they’re called “holdfasts,” and a truer word was never spoken; the rootlets exude weapons-grade adhesive goo). In so doing, I also stripped off streaks of paint, causing the shingles to look as if they had, well, shingles.

That was the day I began to understand the myriad ways nature can demolish a dwelling, and why, in consequence, homeowners must always be on guard in the yard, armed with at least a working knowledge of how plants think. Ivy, to return to the point, appears to be all innocence, but it’s wily. Left to run riot, it can undermine foundations by trapping moisture, leading to mold, mildew, and wood rot. It can also provide a highway for termites and assorted arachnids to gain easy entry into, and begin dining upon, the premises. When inexpertly removed, it leaves rootlets on surfaces; stains wood- and stonework; and dislodges soft brick masonry.

In the vine devilry department, however, ivy is a wimp compared, say, to a flowering walloper such as Wisteria. When unrestrained, it puts out runners up to 12 feet long over a summer; can top out at 65 feet, its woody, twining stem bulking up to a formidable 12 to 15 inches in diameter. This glorious behemoth has been known to raise roofs, tear off railings, topple fences, strangle trees, clog gutters, crack in-ground water, sewer, and sprinkler lines, and even breach basement walls—enough reasons, I do believe, to keep it off the house and, instead, to strap it onto a sturdy fence or pergola.

The same is true of climbing hydrangea, another comely brute. The vine’s main stem, also woody, grows thick hairy branches extending as much as three feet and sending out ground-level appendages that can overtake garden beds. As with Wisteria, this hydrangea, when in bloom, is magnificent—but it’s a bear to police. I used it to conceal a chain-link fence surrounding a doghouse next to the garage. The doghouse eventually buckled, the vine glommed onto the garage, and it took all my strength to wrest it off.

Other mischievous vines include Euonymus fortunei, honeysuckle, and grape, none of which would I touch with an 18-foot telescoping pruner. Let me assure you, however, that I am anything but vinous-phobic. I’m besotted by clematis—adored as much for its delicate, durable habit and astonishing shapes and colors as for its refined behavior—and seven varieties of the creeper festively festoon trellis panels in my secret garden. But obstreperous, beefy climbers have been banned from my borders.

Which leads me to other potential hort home-wreckers. Certain trees, for example, should either be shunned altogether, or properly placed and groomed, lest the homestead end in ruins. Among the “headache” trees warned against by arborists are Willows (inlanders, kiss your septic system goodbye), Silver Maple (the roots can buckle driveways), and Black Locust (seeds like crazy).

The main landscape hazard to houses, however, might decorously be termed “pilot error”—that is, well-intentioned but agriculturally challenged home-owners themselves. Indeed, I myself have learned from doleful experience the ways in which I personally have pastorally transgressed my nest:

  • watering shrubs and plants that are too close to the house. Wet basements are sometimes caused by the use of soaker hoses in foundation borders (a family of garter snakes loved me for this one), and by piling up mulch against the house. Site engineers recommend laying a course of gravel, out to a width of 12 inches, along the foundation to keep borders from touching the manse;
  • failing to factor in the eventual size of trees. Years ago, the local utility company gave me the choice of either allowing them to remove a maple on my property that was growing into overhanging power lines, or prune the tree in a wide arc around the wires, like a bad nose job. I chose the former, and bought another maple, which was planted 12 feet farther from the power lines. Not far enough, alas; that very maple is now mimicking its predecessor;
  • allowing tree branches to hover over the roof. Ever wonder why mildew and peeling paint seem to recur in certain areas of the interior and exterior of your digs? Go outside and look up; could be that tree branches are covering that part of the house and keeping it damp. Such limbs should be trimmed back so that ultraviolet sun rays can kill mold spores and dry out the roof and siding;
  • stacking logs against the house (mea maxima culpa). I’ll make this quick: rats, moles, voles, squirrels, fungi, bugs, mildew, skunks, snakes, mice, chipmunks, rabbits, and Rasputin the Woodchuck will happily take shelter amongst the firewood, especially in winter.

Bearing all this in mind, now is the perfect season for you to give the house a thorough checkup, before trees and perennials have fully leafed out. If there is evidence that certain plants have targeted your dwelling for unlawful seizure, you can cut them off, literally and figuratively, before they begin to gush new growth. Then you will truly be master of your domain.

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December 2018

Saturday, December 8 and Sunday, December 9, 11am – 12:30pm & 1:30 – 3pm Register online at http://www.fairfieldhistory.org Enjoy a “tea” with cookies and milk with characters from “A...

Cost: Adults: $10; Children: $5; Children 5 and under: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »

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In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

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Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

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ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

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On December 9 from 12 – 3 p.m. bring your knitting projects or spinning wheels and enjoy a relaxing afternoon with seasoned knitters and spinners. They will coach you on your knitting challenges...

Cost: Free, but donations in support of New Pond Farm's fleecy flock will be welcomed!

Where:
New Pond Farm Education Center
101 Marchant Road
Redding, CT  06896
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Telephone: (203) 938-2117
Website »

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Music on the Hill bell ringers add festive music to holiday shopping at the Westport store. Bells will ring at intervals throughout the afternoon. Kids may join in with sleigh bells. Stop by...

Cost: free

Where:
Westport Barnes and Noble Booksellers
1076 Post Road East
Westport, CT  06880
View map »


Sponsor: Music on the Hill
Telephone: 203-529-3133
Contact Name: Music on the Hill
Website »

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James Lancel McElhinney, journal-artist, author, Yale alumnus and  Pollock-Krasner Grant recipient will unfold the epic story of painted books, from the Age of Exploration to the digital era. He...

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Ridgefield Library
472 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Sponsor: Ridgefield Library
Telephone: 203-438-2282
Contact Name: Laurie McGavin Bachmann
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Join celebrated artist Duncan Hannah as he discusses his memoir, 20th Century Boy: Notebooks of the Seventies, a rollicking and vividly immediate memoir of his life in 1970s New York — a lost...

Cost: free

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
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Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346
Website »

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December 1 – December 31, 2018 Monday – Thursday, 10am – 1pm Fridays (December 7, 14, 21, 28), 10am – 7pm Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 4pm Vacation Week, December 24, 26, 27 & 31, 10am...

Cost: Members: Free; Adult: $5; Seniors & Student: $3; Children under 5: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »

More information

Each night from November 20th through December 31st the museum is transformed into a dazzling holiday light extravaganza! Every surface of the museum’s exterior becomes a canvas...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT  06850
View map »


Telephone: 203-899-0606
Contact Name: Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Website »

More information

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In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

December 1 – December 31, 2018 Monday – Thursday, 10am – 1pm Fridays (December 7, 14, 21, 28), 10am – 7pm Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 4pm Vacation Week, December 24, 26, 27 & 31, 10am...

Cost: Members: Free; Adult: $5; Seniors & Student: $3; Children under 5: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »

More information

Each night from November 20th through December 31st the museum is transformed into a dazzling holiday light extravaganza! Every surface of the museum’s exterior becomes a canvas...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT  06850
View map »


Telephone: 203-899-0606
Contact Name: Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Website »

More information

The Maritime Garage Gallery’s latest exhibit features works inspired by art in public places. “Street Level ” brings to life the notion that public art can transforms...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
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The Fairfield Chamber of Commerce and FELO (Fairfield Emerging Leaders Organization) will celebrate the holiday season with their 2018 Annual Holiday Party on Wednesday, December 11th, from...

Cost: $45 Chamber Members & FELO Members / $55 non Members

Where:
Fairfield Theatre Company
70 Sanford Street
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Sponsor: Fairfield Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 203-255-1011
Contact Name: Krista McCormack
Website »

More information

December 1 – December 31, 2018 Monday – Thursday, 10am – 1pm Fridays (December 7, 14, 21, 28), 10am – 7pm Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 4pm Vacation Week, December 24, 26, 27 & 31, 10am...

Cost: Members: Free; Adult: $5; Seniors & Student: $3; Children under 5: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »

More information

Each night from November 20th through December 31st the museum is transformed into a dazzling holiday light extravaganza! Every surface of the museum’s exterior becomes a canvas...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT  06850
View map »


Telephone: 203-899-0606
Contact Name: Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Website »

More information

In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

The Maritime Garage Gallery’s latest exhibit features works inspired by art in public places. “Street Level ” brings to life the notion that public art can transforms...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Discover adventures on the tracks with books that spark the imagination. Sponsored by People’s United Bank.

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Sponsor: People's United Bank
Telephone: 203-259-1598
Contact Name: Visitor Services Manager

More information

December 1 – December 31, 2018 Monday – Thursday, 10am – 1pm Fridays (December 7, 14, 21, 28), 10am – 7pm Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 4pm Vacation Week, December 24, 26, 27 & 31, 10am...

Cost: Members: Free; Adult: $5; Seniors & Student: $3; Children under 5: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »

More information

In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

Each night from November 20th through December 31st the museum is transformed into a dazzling holiday light extravaganza! Every surface of the museum’s exterior becomes a canvas...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT  06850
View map »


Telephone: 203-899-0606
Contact Name: Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Website »

More information

The Maritime Garage Gallery’s latest exhibit features works inspired by art in public places. “Street Level ” brings to life the notion that public art can transforms...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Each event in our Art in Focus series offers an opportunity for an hour of close looking and informal discussion around a single work of art, led by Curator of Education Michelle DiMarzo. On...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bellarmine Hall
200 Barlow Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Sponsor: Fairfield University Art Museum
Telephone: 203-254-4046

More information

December 1 – December 31, 2018 Monday – Thursday, 10am – 1pm Fridays (December 7, 14, 21, 28), 10am – 7pm Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 4pm Vacation Week, December 24, 26, 27 & 31, 10am...

Cost: Members: Free; Adult: $5; Seniors & Student: $3; Children under 5: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »

More information

Each night from November 20th through December 31st the museum is transformed into a dazzling holiday light extravaganza! Every surface of the museum’s exterior becomes a canvas...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT  06850
View map »


Telephone: 203-899-0606
Contact Name: Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Website »

More information

In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

The Maritime Garage Gallery’s latest exhibit features works inspired by art in public places. “Street Level ” brings to life the notion that public art can transforms...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

The Vagabond Theatre Company (VTC) presents their Second Annual Holiday Spectacular: It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show. This year’s production, directed by VTC’s...

Cost: $15

Where:
Stony Creek Museum
84 Thimble Islands Road
Stony Creek, CT  06405
View map »


Sponsor: The Vagabond Theater Company
Telephone: 203-520-8332
Contact Name: John R Smith Jnr
Website »

More information

A holiday tradition of family fun continues! • Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through Southport Village • Decorate cookies • Make a pine cone bird feeder and other holiday crafts • Listen...

Cost: Free

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346
Contact Name: Pequot Library
Website »

More information

December 1 – December 31, 2018 Monday – Thursday, 10am – 1pm Fridays (December 7, 14, 21, 28), 10am – 7pm Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 4pm Vacation Week, December 24, 26, 27 & 31, 10am...

Cost: Members: Free; Adult: $5; Seniors & Student: $3; Children under 5: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »

More information

A two-night Zeppelin throwdown is coming back to The Warehouse this December. It is no secret that women rock, and rock hard. Seeing the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute...

Cost: $38/ticket; $98 VIP; Members Save: $3/ticket

Where:
The Warehouse at FTC
70 Sanford Street
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

Join us on Friday evenings when the Train Show is open late for fun, hands-on activities and refreshments.

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »

More information

Each night from November 20th through December 31st the museum is transformed into a dazzling holiday light extravaganza! Every surface of the museum’s exterior becomes a canvas...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT  06850
View map »


Telephone: 203-899-0606
Contact Name: Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Website »

More information

The Maritime Garage Gallery’s latest exhibit features works inspired by art in public places. “Street Level ” brings to life the notion that public art can transforms...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Maritime Garage Gallery
Website »

More information

ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Saturday, December 15, 10am – 11:30am OR 12 – 1:30pm. Register online at http://www.fairfieldhistory.org Holiday fun for the whole family. Celebrate the magic of the season by creating a...

Cost: Members: $15; Non-Members: $18 per house.

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »

More information

In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

The Vagabond Theatre Company (VTC) presents their Second Annual Holiday Spectacular: It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Show. This year’s production, directed by VTC’s...

Cost: $15

Where:
Stony Creek Museum
84 Thimble Islands Road
Stony Creek, CT  06405
View map »


Sponsor: The Vagabond Theater Company
Telephone: 203-520-8332
Contact Name: John R Smith Jnr
Website »

More information

A two-night Zeppelin throwdown is coming back to The Warehouse this December. It is no secret that women rock, and rock hard. Seeing the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute...

Cost: $38; $98 VIP; Members Save: $3/ticket

Where:
The Warehouse at FTC
70 Sanford Street
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Come and meet award-winning columnist, author, and founder of Jackson, Grant Investment Advisers, Inc, Julie Jason. She'll be signing her most recent books, The Retirement Survival Guide, Managing...

Cost: 0

Where:
Barnes & Noble at the Stamford Town Center
100 Greyrock Place
Stamford, CT  06901
View map »


Sponsor: Julie Jason
Telephone: 203-322-1198
Contact Name: Theresa Robbins
Website »

More information

December 1 – December 31, 2018 Monday – Thursday, 10am – 1pm Fridays (December 7, 14, 21, 28), 10am – 7pm Saturday and Sunday, 10am – 4pm Vacation Week, December 24, 26, 27 & 31, 10am...

Cost: Members: Free; Adult: $5; Seniors & Student: $3; Children under 5: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »

More information

Each night from November 20th through December 31st the museum is transformed into a dazzling holiday light extravaganza! Every surface of the museum’s exterior becomes a canvas...

Cost: Free

Where:
Stepping Stones Museum for Children
303 West Avenue
Norwalk, CT  06850
View map »


Telephone: 203-899-0606
Contact Name: Stepping Stones Museum for Children
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
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