Many people garden for their own enjoyment. Whether they grow a few plants in containers on a deck, or manage an extensive landscape, they find satisfaction in the process and occasional — or frequent — successes as plants flourish and look just right in their location. A fine day in the garden might include installing a new botanical treasure or digging out a few pesky weeds or just enjoying a cool drink and watching a hummingbird at work.
Everything changes when a visitor shows up. Some gardeners will be pleased by a visit, because it presents an opportunity to show off the collection of healthy gorgeous plants in charming combinations.
Other gardeners will experience a bit of tension, wondering if the visitor will appreciate the garden and understand that it includes faults that haven’t yet been corrected, or shortcomings that haven’t yet been improved, not because they haven’t been noticed but due to the persistent lack of time.
This could be the time to blame the plants. The classic line is “You should have been here last week, when the (fill in the blank) was in bloom.” (I actually experienced a version of this excuse at the United States Botanic Garden, on the National Mall in Washington.)
Usually, the occasional visitor to one’s garden does not generate a big response, whether delightful or fraught, because most visitors will bring a few opinions and less expertise, and besides they won’t stay long. The experienced gardener can survive the visit without significant aftereffects.
Another situation entirely is the scheduled and publicized garden tour, in which the gardener’s efforts have been designated as exemplary, and worth the price of admission. Strangers who take the time on their otherwise busy weekend to visit your garden, and are willing to pay for the privilege, certainly bring more options and expertise than the casual drop-in. They might assume the guise of a novice seeking ideas for their own garden, but secretively they could observe every flaw and devote the remainder of the day to joking with their equally expert friend about the sorry mess they’ve witnessed.
That experience, real or imagined, is not good for the garden owner.
So, in anticipation of the inevitable scrutiny that is part of a garden tour, the garden owner might embark upon extraordinary preparation for a tour, to ensure that the garden will be beyond reproach. Sometimes, there will be no time for such efforts because the garden tour organizer has run out of time and must pin down one more garden, and will assure the garden owner that the garden is perfect just as it is, so absolutely nothing needs to be done before the tour, which will happen very soon (e.g., in a week or two). This proposition tests the gardeners’ self-confidence and philosophical resignation, and encourages the perspective that the garden “is what it is.” Ideally, the garden is always in prime condition and ready for an invasion of friendly and sometimes critical strangers.
Another scenario includes several weeks or even months before the date of the tour. Given plenty of lead-time, there are few barriers to converting the garden into a showcase of inspired horticulture. The exceptions include except cost, imagination and the gardener’s other life
The most positive attitude for the home gardener is to welcome both casual visitors and garden tourists to see your accomplishments, and trust that they will be more appreciative than critical. After all, visitors who know anything about gardening will recognize your good work.
Sharing your gardening achievements will inspire your visitors to elevate their own standards, so open your garden to visitors when opportunities arise, and occasionally become a garden visitor yourself.
Tom Karwin is president of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, past president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 1999–2009). Visit ongardening.com for links to information on this subject, and send comments or questions to [email protected]
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