Some thoughts on garden tours

It’s garden tour season, a great opportunity to check out some of the more interesting gardens in your area and donate to a good cause at the same time. This water feature, one of many in a fabulous and luxurious garden on a hill in Charlestown, R.I., is one of the reasons I try to do the “Gardens by the Sea” tour. The proceeds help fund a local library.

Another view of the same garden, looking out at the distant ocean and Block Island.

Obviously, this is not the kind of garden most of us would ever be able to afford, but it had several features that the gardens on some other tours do not, things that I absolutely insist on if I am going to pay $15 or $20 for a ticket/tour booklet.

I get very annoyed when I visit a tour garden that does not have:

  • THE OWNERS PRESENT: The owners in the above garden were greeting visitors, and they were also engaged in their garden.
  • PLANT MARKERS: The more obscure plants  should be identified so visitors know what they are.
  • NEATNESS: I have gone on tours where I have seen messy brush piles and even trash just outside the garden and visible to visitors. I did not pay $20 to see your trash.
  • HONESTY: I visited a garden touted as “sustainable” and when I came upon a fruit tree orchard and asked the owner how he grew apples without spraying, he readily admitted that he sprayed.
  • RESPECT THE GUESTS: Don’t charge me to see a garden that isn’t weeded and dead-headed. And don’t cram in a bunch of Home Depot impatiens at the last minute to fill in your bare spots.
  • KNOW YOUR PLANTS: Nothing makes me crazier than visiting a garden where the owner doesn’t even know the names of his or her plants.
  • SHOW-WORTHINESS: Unfortunately, it seems as though garden tour organizers will accept almost anything these days. Some gardens will have little patches of tended plants surrounded by out-of-control trees and shrubs and general neglect. I have spent weeks helping gardeners prepare for tours and on tour day, those garden were as perfect as we could make them.

One of the reasons I enjoy the Gardens by the Sea tour is the generally high caliber of the gardens. Out of the six we visited, three were worth the trip, which is a pretty good average. Another great tour is the Secret Garden tour in Newport. Well worth the drive.

This is another garden we loved. The location! That’s a fresh water pond, not the ocean.

The charming house blended unpretentiously into its wooded setting, but the garden wasn’t dark. We came upon this whimsical scene tucked into the ferns. A tasteful alternative to all those fairies.

Art in the garden can add considerable interest. The decorated poles in the photo below are also in the garden by the pond. It was a peaceful place that made me want to sit down and read – or nap – or take a swim.

Then there was this garden, a sea of California poppies. We did not see any particular design here, just an effort to fill spaces with color. That’s a worthwhile garden goal and the orange is pretty, but we didn’t learn anything from it or come away with new ideas.

I guess my conclusion on the subject of garden tours is, if you believe your garden is something people will pay money to see,  please make sure it’s worth the price of admission.


About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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4 Responses to Some thoughts on garden tours

  1. CJ Wright says:

    Well said, dn. Excellent review.


  2. GardenPest says:

    excellent points. And if the owner contracts the work out and knows little about the garden itself, she should appoint someone in the know as a docent. Seriously, it’s very disappointing to ask an ID question and the owner knows nothing about any and all plants.

    Yes, both Newport and Charlestown tours are valuable.


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