Monday, August 23, 2010

To give (a tour) is better than to receive…

…a kick in the shins, a quarantine notice, or an IRS audit.  This bit on how to gracefully give a garden tour might strike some of you as a stretch, at least for me.  Having survived another stampede at my place, I am beginning to consider myself a garden tour veteran.   (See any quote about pride and falling.)  For an entertaining tour aftermath read, check out Margaret at A Way To Garden.  And don’t try calling her Marge.

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My last post on attending garden tours only cleansed half my tour demons.  The other half are to be found here, in some coping strategies for making the big day doable.  Please excuse the huffy (crabby even) tone…I’ll be back to my absurd self shortly.

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1. Enlist the help of friends and relatives for the big day, if you have no servants, or “helpers” as Martha Stewart calls them. 

At my last gig, mom and sister made the desserts and sister-in-law kept the outdoor table well stocked.  She was also an excellent runner.  Why do I need a runner for my garden tour, you ask?  In no particular order, here’s what she had to run into the house for: writing implement and paper, garbage sack (for used paper cups, plates, etc.), master yard list (yes, I have one, and yes, it’s a miracle), napkins, and more brownies. 

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2. Lock the door to your house.  Unless you want to have the garden tour extend to the house or more especially the nearest bathroom.

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3. Make whatever deals you deem necessary with Higher Authority to ensure the weather is fine.  I believe I promised my next born child if the rain stopped.  Then make your peace with whatever weather happens.  This is very important.  Despair is not pretty.

4. Try to stand in one central area in your garden so people can find you if they have a question. 

It’s like a wedding line, you’ve got to be in a certain place for attendees to know who you are.  Also, if you are standing in a narrow walkway or corner, you will clog the flow of people.  Sometimes you will be asked the name of an obscurely described plant and you will have to go look at it to be sure you are both thinking of the same thing.  Return to your central spot after you’ve checked it out (and hopefully answered the question). 

5. Find a good line to tell long winded “garden gabbers” to wrap things up so you can greet/answer questions of the others that are waiting to talk to you.  “I’d love to continue this conversation, but…”  I sometimes give out my email or number to those I would like to renew a garden gabfest with later. 

Though difficult at times, you should try to be firm.  It is not “mean” to excuse yourself from a twenty minute discourse of the history of Echinacea use by the pioneers or the subtle and artistic shadings of various kinds of eggplant.  A garden host/hostess has duties, including the distribution of time as equally to the attendees as possible, should they wish to approach.  Some people are shy and won’t come near if you are in midst of a long chat and show no signs of stopping.  I know I’ve walked away after waiting for a couple of minutes for the owner to notice/acknowledge me.

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6. Even if the garden tour sponsor (garden club, botanical garden, etc.) has not requested it and it is not expected, food and drink are a nice touch.  The table should be covered somehow (I had a big patio umbrella opened over it) if there is a possibility or rain or it’s very hot.  Wet or spoiled food is generally considered unappetizing, even by garden tour standards. 

Beluga caviar and champagne are not necessarily your only options.  My spread was simple: two types of brownies, fresh cut-up fruits and sliced cheeses, lemonade, and ice water.  That’s it.  And they were raving.  Of course, my mom and sister make superb brownies from scratch.  And we Alaskans are used to roughing it, so any signs of civilized behavior, like sharing food, are very welcome.

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7. If you can, convince some friends or family to take pictures of the tour.  Sounds dull, but they are rather nice after all and you’ll probably be too busy answering questions to do it yourself.  I use a picture the LFG hubby took on the tour last year for my picture on the blog/Google/blotanical/etc.  I look dopey (see above photo), but at least it’s authentic.

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8. If you have little ones (or big ones that are inclined to be troublesome), might I suggest getting a sitter to keep an eye on them in the house?  I found that letting them ride bikes in the street is not a good strategy with all the garden traffic coming and going.  I include large, loud, or badly behaved domestic pets in this category, too.  Ninety pound Labrador retrievers that like to jump up on people and little old ladies touring are not a good mix.

9. If possible, have a separate entrance and exit.  On many smaller properties (like mine), if people are entering and leaving by the same pathway, things can get hairy.  Friends, sponsors, or signage can help with directing the flow of people, as you will probably be too busy yakking with guests to help. 

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10. Take any meds you are on.  A family member recommends Paxil, but I’ve also heard valium is effective.  If medication is not your style, I suggest multiple deep breaths and a big smile.  It will all be over in a few hours anyway.

The demons are officially cleansed, I’ll be back to my ridiculous self for next time.  At least until the next tour….

Tips for giving a tour?  Reasons you never will?


  1. I think anyone who offers guided tours of their garden deserves some sort of medal. My garden is far too small anyway.

  2. Oh dear....I must admit that I enjoyed your post and your helpful hints. I must thank you ahead of time because of you, I will probably never have a garden tour stop by my house :-)

  3. Great strategies, I got such a chuckle out of the planning and coping. I assume it all went spectacularly well and congrats are in order!

  4. I have never had my garden on a tour but a friend and I have a garden party about every other year. They tour, have an appetizer in one garden, then on to the other for a tour, lunch or entertainment. We vary it from year to year. Only about 20 - 30 people, most we know even if not well. Easy peasy. Yet, we do have a prejitters of preparing the garden as garden tour ready.

  5. @azplantlady
    Drat! And here I was all set to ask you for a tour when I visit Arizona....

    It just sounds bad from my list of complaints. Ignore my whining and give a tour of your fab garden! Talking shop with the attendees was a high point this summer, you should totally do it.


  6. Your humor is infectious. I think you survive well because of it. Congrats on successful tour. Wish I could have been on it!

  7. Liked the advice. Brownies? We usually don't feed the masses, but it is really hospitable of you. And you have helpers. Wow. Never did that either. Good tip. Garden gabbers... always get them, never seem to get away from them.

  8. Unfortunately, my garden is nowhere ready for a tour. Maybe next year though..

  9. Hi Chrisine - so glad you survived - did they give a count at how many went through? My garden didn' suffer too much after our garden tour. I did need to give all the stepping stone plants a big drink of water! G

  10. excellent article! my advice is to leave the gate open and go on holiday...but your advice is so much better...

  11. I applaud you Christine for opening your garden and undergoing the agony, no wait, the "challenge" that all of this entails. Your tips are all the better because they're honed from experience.

    I never thought of locking the doors to your home but I suppose a garden tour could be a cat burger's dream job. I like your "despair is not pretty" principle! The host/ess has to be the strong one. Kinda sorta like the old adage, "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." :)

    Love your Begonia photo!!

  12. Hi, Christine, As a gardener who has been persuaded to give a tour, I must say you give excellent advice. I feel a bit guilty though that I only offer iced water. Sorry I haven't visited lately ... I was in England with no internet connection. Pam

  13. @Pam's English Garden
    A trip to England with no internet? Sounds delightful! I've been after my hubby to take me for years. He lived in England and Wales for two years, so he is my England expert. I don't know that he'd be thrilled to visit all the gardens I'd want to, but he can drown his sorrows over some fish and chips, right?



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