The classic children's book "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett introduces readers to an unhappy child named Mary Lennox whose disposition is much improved after the discovery of a garden hidden behind a locked gate on her uncle's estate.

Even those of good humor left five local gardens Sunday feeling immeasurably better for having walked their grounds, taken in their beauty, witnessed their explosion of colorful blossoms and breathed in their intoxicating perfume.

The Westport Historical Society's 22nd annual Hidden Gardens Tour unlocked the magic of three Westport and two Wilton properties for hundreds of appreciative gardeners and flower lovers. It was an opportunity to see formal perennial flower beds, elaborately-designed terraced vegetable gardens, specimen trees, a grove of apricot and quince trees and manicured shrubbery.

"It's a great event. We come every year," said Christine Daigle of Fairfield. Her husband Andrew Daigle said it gives them ideas for their own garden.

Susan Wiedl of Oxford said she gets ideas that she hopes to incorporate into her garden but on a smaller scale. "It's enjoyable. It's just so beautiful," she said.

"I like looking at the gardens. It looks so pretty," said Jaylin Hopkins, 11, of Westport. Jaylin's mother, Tanya Clemons, called the tour "both humbling and inspiring."

Landscape designer Jay Petrow, owner of Petrow Gardens Landscape Design in Westport, was impressed with the quality of the gardens on this year's tour from the botanical park-like atmosphere of a six-acre estate on Prospect Road in Westport to the vibrantly-colored perimeter plantings and garden paths of the former Christmas tree farm on Spruce Meadow Court in Wilton to the formal English and Luxembourg gardens on a property on Meadowbrook Lane in Westport.

The latter property was designed and planted by the home-owner, Paul Liistro, who spent 20 years adding stone walls, perennial plants, a water fountain, a birdcage gazebo and other hard-scaping and landscaping elements. Sunday marked the third time that his property was featured on the tour.

"I love the formalness of this garden with the roses and boxwood. Coming from a professional designer, he did a great job," said Petrow, who served as a docent at the Meadowbrook Lane property.

"He integrated color well and I like the way he juxtaposed the columbines against the clematis and the peonies," said Marcy Juran, a professional photographer and marketing expert from Westport.

"The one on Prospect Road was more like a work of art," Petrow said.

The owner of that property has divided his grounds into multiple gardens of common and unusual botanicals.

"The owner has this taste that is not your typical azaleas and rhododendrons; not every-day plants, not plants common to this area, yet plants that thrive in this area," said Paul Sztremer, owner of the Stamford-based grounds maintenance company Wildflower, which is responsible for the care of the Prospect Road property.

For Joan Vohra, an owner of the property on Burr Farms Road, there is nothing common about azaleas or rhododendrons, which dot her property, as do roses and hydrangea. "I'm from Canada. You can nurse along one rhododendron if you're in the right neighborhood," she said, but for the most part she couldn't grow them north of the border.

Most who took the tour appreciated the stunning views as well as the practical information.

"You can take a look at shrubs in a nursery but this gives a good idea of what goes together," said Mousumi Ghosh, who recently moved to Westport. She took the tour with her parents Ira and Sibdas Ghosh, both horticulturists who are visiting from India.

Mousumi Ghosh was especially drawn to an unusual spruce tree that had upward articulated pinecones and the appearance of a white coating on its needles. "It's almost like someone put Christmas ornaments on this tree and it looks like someone put powdered sugar on it," she said.

"It's nice that these people even let us see their properties. It's their own private sanctuary," said Linda Ashe of Prospect, who attends the Hidden Garden Tour every year with friend Diane Slater, also of Prospect.

While some took the tour others shopped at the Garden Marketplace set up on Veterans Green next to the historical society headquarters, featuring vendors selling plants, garden tools and other floral-related arts and crafts.