July is the big month for garden tours, and Minnesota is blessed to have dozens of them every year. Because I edit Northern Gardener, I attend between 10 and 12 tours every summer. All those days spent walking around other people’s gardens has given me some insight into how to get the most from a garden tour. Here are my tips:
Pick the proper footwear. You do not want to slip or get muddy or otherwise ruin great shoes (or break an ankle!) so I always choose athletic shoes or, if the weather is sunny, hiking-style sandals for garden tours. These are the ones I wear most of the time. You want to be able to walk up a rugged surface to explore and you don’t want your feet to give out before you do!
Dress for the weather. Most tours are rain or shine events, so if it looks like rain, toss a jacket, umbrella or poncho in the car. If it’s sunny, be sure to bring your sunglasses and a sun hat (that’s my daughter below modeling one of my favorite hats.) Sunscreen is mandatory, no matter what the weather. I also like to wear a loose blouse to cover my arms since shoulders are where burn happens for me.
Study the map and the descriptions. Most tours have you come to a starting spot to pick up your map and the garden descriptions. This is when I take a moment (usually with some coffee in hand) and decide which gardens I’m most interested in and what’s the best route to take to see them all. (Sometimes garden tour organizers will suggest a route.) Often times, tours are set up so that you can park your car in one spot and see two or three gardens on foot. Also, if the tour will take more than a couple of hours, plan your potty breaks! The gardeners are opening their yards, not their bathrooms, so if you think you’ll need to go, figure out where a nearby service station, restaurant or public park with facilities is along the route.
Stay on the path. The first question I usually ask when I get to a tour is, “What’s the best way to approach the garden?” Often gardeners know the ideal route through their yard so you will see it in its most fabulous light. No matter how you approach the garden, garden courtesy requires visitors to stay on designated paths or yard spaces. Don’t enter the garden beds or remove seeds, cuttings or spent blooms.
Take pictures! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered an idea for my garden while on a tour. A particular plant combination, a method of trellising climbing plants, even colors that I like together—taking photos helps you remember what you saw. And, with your cell phone, you have a great camera in your pocket.
Talk to the gardeners. If they are present, take a moment to thank the gardeners for opening up their yard to garden tourists. It’s a little scary sharing your very personal garden with others—ask questions, say thanks, but…..
Keep your “suggestions” to yourself. Tours are not the time to offer a critique to gardeners. They’ve worked so hard to get ready for the tour, follow your mother’s advice and say something nice or nothing at all.
Be sure to check the calendar in the July/August issue of Northern Gardener or online for all the great garden tours near you! If you are an organizer of a tour you think I should check out, send an email to mary at maryschier dot com.