This past month, I have been really lucky to attend several garden tours. I started with tours around the Quad Cities in Iowa as part of a Garden Writers Association event, then hit the Northfield Garden Club tour, followed by my trip to Buffalo, N.Y. for three days of nonstop garden visits. In the past two weeks, I’ve been to three more tours. First, the North Oaks Garden Tour, followed by an MSHS event at the wonderful garden of Soni Forsman, water gardener extraordinaire, and this past weekend the Tangletown Garden Tour, which is one of the Twin Cities’ premier tours. Whew!
After seeing so many — and such diverse — gardens, the question becomes: what applies at home? The style of home and neighborhood is a big factor in what kind of garden you grow. I don’t have a small, urban, fenced-in yard where you can hang a mirror on the wall to make things look bigger, like they do in Buffalo, and I don’t garden on several acres where big expanses of lawn are part of the aesthetic. Still, the gardens I toured shared some characteristics that can be applied in any setting. Here are three lessons from garden tours that I learned:
They had a theme. Maybe theme is the wrong word. It’s more like a focus or a vision. One of the gardens I loved in North Oaks was a certified wildlife refuge and you could tell that the goal of being a home to birds — there were dozens, even in midday — was a guiding principle in the gardener’s mind. A garden we toured in Buffalo reflected the owners’ love of hosting parties with wild, joyful plantings and a covered cantina-like area in the back corner. One step into that garden and you felt like whooping it up. I’ve written earlier about the idea of naming a garden, but having a theme is what those names reflect. And, themes must come from the gardener’s own aesthetic and sensibility.
They used containers well. Containers can nestle a seating area, provide a greeting at the front porch, or brighten up empty or dull spots in the garden. For a strong impact, use larger containers and keep the plants looking healthy with regular fertilizing (every two weeks, according to one of the gardeners), and plenty of water. Don’t be afraid to change containers with the season. They make great seasonal accents. That’s a lesson from garden tours that any gardener can apply.
They were well edited. Many of the gardens I visited were heavily planted. But, with one exception, I didn’t think any of them were “over-stuffed.” Sometimes the key to a well-designed garden is not so much what you put in, but what you take out. After the tours, I dug into one of my front beds and did some much needed editing — I pulled a tarp full of overgrown plants out of it, giving the remaining plants (and anyone who looks at the bed) room to breath.
I have at least one more tour to attend this year. What lessons from garden tours have you learned?