Monday, August 16, 2010

Ten ways not to lose your sanity

I had thought of alternate titles for this bit on garden tours, such as “Don’t Go to These” or “Agony and Ecstasy”, but the title I settled on seemed to be more diplomatic or at least, more practical.  Long years of touring, and the last few years giving tours at my garden, have guided my perspective of that delightful, boring, unexpected, tedious, disappointing, charming, frustrating, joyful, or tiring experience that is the garden tour.

But I am just a grasshopper to some of the great senseis of the garden tour to be found online.  Charlotte, who must be the Queen Bee of tours(or perhaps the Grand Doyenne) at The Galloping Gardener muses on how many gardens on tour is too many here.  We don’t quite have that problem in our state…I”m still trying to convince the neighbors that the desire to garden isn’t a mental defect.  Pam at Digging has taken more tours than are residents of my state, check out the “garden tours” category in her sidebar. 

early-mid July 091

My humble ranty attempt at a guaranteed, no-fail list of how to enjoy (or at least survive in good condition) an Alaskan tour follows.  (Don’t be too shocked at the departure in tone, even the silly LFG gardener gets huffy sometimes.)  I realize I’m preaching to the choir here, and you are all experts at touring already, but this exercise has been cathartic for me, so here goes:

oswald tour 008

1. Don’t forget your camera, stupid.  (This reminder is for myself.  I would never be so curt with my readers.  Twice this summer I have neglected to bring it to my regret.) 

You never know which garden will be your Shangri-La of inspiration.  Or maybe you collect pictures of garden horrors.  Check your batteries and make sure you have space on your film card, too.

early-mid July 095

2. Pack for the Apocalypse: Mother Nature is a temptress.  Umbrellas, coats, boots, bear spray, bug spray, sunscreen, etc.  Alright, I was kidding about the bear spray.

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3. Bring your own food if you're going to be hungry.  Bring your own drink if you will be thirsty.  Some tours will have food and drink, some will not.

ABG Garden Fair 036

4. Use the bathroom beforehand so as not to put yourself in the unenviable position of racing through the tour, leaping into your vehicle, and screeching off with pealing tires.  Please, please do not ask the owner of a private residence to use the facilities.  They probably haven’t swirled the toilet out. 

True story:  After dashing into the house to scrub some dirt from my hands fifteen minutes before a tour at my garden last year, I saw a strange woman leave my downstairs bathroom.  “She said she got here early and had to go before the tour.  What was I supposed to say?” said the LFG hubby.  What a rotten butler.  His instructions for this years’ ABG benefit tour: don’t answer the door.

ABG Garden Fair 037

5. Don’t show up early (and expect the guided tour).  The owner of a private garden, anyway, is probably out working on finishing touches.  That or trying very hard to relax i.e. taking a valium/having a primal scream.  So refreshing.

ABG Garden Fair 029

6. Carpool when possible and be careful not to block anyone’s driveway.  Some homes and neighborhoods are short on parking spaces and who wants to walk a mile from car to garden?  Also, carpooling has the added benefit of companionship during the tour.  Now you have someone with which to snidely remark “I would never grow that,” which is half the fun of a tour.

ABG Garden Fair 021

7. If the owner is on hand, thank them for sharing their garden.  Compliment them if you enjoyed something in particular.  If another person or persons approaches to speak to the owner, make your comments brief and move on.  If your conversation is mutually fascinating, leave an email or a number to reach you (see number 8). 

At so many of the tours, a “garden gabber” would regale the shell-shocked owner with a long history of everything they’ve ever grown (“…and my Uncle Davy used to grow that same rutabaga in northern Flagstaff, except he…”).  All while others wishing to approach become weary of waiting and give up.  It’s hardly fair to the owner and the other attendees to be a conversation hog.  

oswald tour 020

8. Bring paper and a writing implement, or a gadget that makes lists.

I have watched people write plant names or nursery names on body parts, cups, and napkins.  If you forget, you are sure to discover a plant or plant source you can’t do without that is unpronounceable or unspellable.  “The nursery is just after the prison, a right turn, then straight until the rock that looks like a ladybug, then another right, then straight ahead until….”

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9. Assuming the role of the host/hostess, when you are in fact, not, is most likely to annoy the real host/ess.  I’m not making this one up: demerits for those that hold court in part of the garden, telling onlookers in a loud voice how invasive a plant is and irresponsible to grow it.  (Just whisper it to your neighbor, if you must.) 

I’m rather fond of grumpy old ladies, and hope to be one some day, but a grumpy old lady tried to usurp my hostess crown.  Too bad the plant she was abusing loudly was not invasive, did not run by rhizomes, and was sterile, so no seedlings.  She had no clue what she was talking about.  I blithely moved to were she was mesmerizing a captive audience and denounced, in a most civil way, everything she said.  She grumped off, dragging her husband behind her.  Good riddance.

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10. Leave things as you found them.  Including berries, vegetables, flowers, garden art, tools, and if you have children with you (and I sometimes take mine on tours when appropriate), remind them about not pulling up the plant tags, if present.  Plant tags seem to have the same magnetism for kiddy mitts that priceless crystal, irreplaceable artwork, and anything with frosting has. 

Luckily, the birds eat my berries, the slugs eat my veggies, the garden art is deeply planted or too weird to steal, the tools are rusty, and the plant tags are non-existent or buried.

ABG Garden Fair 020

Thanks for letting me blow off some steam.  I shall truly be cleansed from my garden tour demons once the post I’m writing about ways to survive giving a garden tour is finished, coming soon….

What makes taking a garden tour delightful/dreadful? Observed (or participated in) any faux pas on tour?


  1. I loved this rant... and actually found most of it pretty useful advice. People's behavior when touring someone's garden / home can be pretty amazing! You're a saint to allow a tour of your own garden.

  2. Awesomely funny and useful list! Will print this out and use as a checklist.

  3. A highly enjoyable rant, if there is such a thing; your wonderful writing always makes me laugh. Also, I love the glass fiddleheads in the picture in the side bar.

  4. I can't WAIT to have my garden on the local tour next June. Thank you SOOOOOO much. You know, I hope to be an even grumpier old man, but this won't work on garden tours as a host: "Hey, where'd all these farts come from? Git outta my flowers! Getta out here ya rats!" Bang bang. And as to facilities, I can't stand leaving my gardening for one second to go inside, so I do my business behind some eupatorium. Lots of spiders and skeeters back there though.

  5. I enjoyed this rant. I have seen or heard almost everything noted here. I have had someone pull a "weed" and it wasn't a weed to me. Grrrrrrrrr. So you certainly don't want to "help" the hostess by pulling a "weed". Loud mouthed people make me cringe especially when in a small intimate garden. People with baby strollers and you have to stay on paths. UGH... Carry your baby or leave it at home where it will be more comfortable and I won't be annoyed.

  6. Despite thinking you're preaching to the choir I must confess I have never been on or given a garden tour. (shocking, yes, I know) So this was actually a really helpful post because I've always considered going on a garden tour. One of these days I will find a willing accomplice and actually go to one of these shindigs and then this advice will come in very handy!

  7. This is a great list!!! The bathroom story is hilarious! :)

  8. Good advice Christine. Sometimes people forget their manners.

  9. Such good advice! And you are so right about thanking the host gardener. After all the work and stress of getting ready for the tour, it is the least you can do!!

  10. What a great post, and thanks for the link love. I do enjoy garden tours and go on several a year. They're a great source of ideas.

  11. I loved the garden tour and the rant that went with it! Excellent advice. I promise I am never guilty of any of those don'ts, except #1. I am shocked at how often I have forgotten my camera or else had bad batteries.

  12. Oh Christine, what a fabulous post. You've got some great tips here and it's obvious you speak from experience.

    I'm still wondering what the big deal about garden touring is. I used to love going to them but in the past few years it just seems like it's become a "lookee what I got..." exercise, a serious case of ostentation contagion and a competition to have the "best" this or that of everything.

    I've never hosted a tour because my garden is very private to me and I don't want strangers [and children as much as I love them] romping through it criticizing something very dear to me. All those opinions can injure me a lot more than a compliment can lift me up.

    I will undoubtedly be one of those crotchety old women. Let's start a club. :)

  13. brilliant rant...a good old primal scream works wonders...

  14. I liked this post. And now I remember why I will never include my garden in a tour.
    I am too grumpy.

  15. Really great post. Since I host and tour, your pointers were both funny and helpful. Never had your experiences with visitors, but can see how they can occur. Not everyone knows the unspoken rules.

  16. I enjoyed your story! I'm in Juneau and love hearing about other Alaskan gardeners. My yard was on the Master Gardeners Tour last year, and it was something else, for sure. All the last minute touch ups, filling every nook and cranny with some kind of eye candy. It was fun, but I'm not certain I'd do it again. It's a LOT of work! Nancy


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