By Mel Bellar
There is almost nothing I enjoy more than a garden tour. My garden has been on many tours, and I try not to miss an opportunity to hit the road and see other gardens whenever possible. I know you are reading this way after the fact, but on the weekend proceeding my writing this, both the Andes Library Views and Vistas Garden Tour and the West Kortright Centre Tour took place, and the Bovina Historical Society hosted their tour on the last weekend in July. All these tours happen annually and once every 3 years or so the Garden Conservancy, a national organization, features gardens in Delaware County. For the true zealot, you can go out of the area to explore gardens far and wide. There are many locally sponsored tours and the Garden Conservancy hosts Open Days tours in nearly all counties in the state. There is a tour going on nearly every month from April to November. Check out the upcoming locations at the Garden Conservancy website.
Garden tours might not get everyone excited, but even non-gardeners can find much to enjoy. What’s not to like about a ride in the country, exploring new areas, seeing houses and gardens and meeting interesting people? Personally, I appreciate any garden that is cared for and loved, and I try to have low expectations and be generous when visiting new ones. For us gardeners, each new garden is multi-dimensional, like eating at a new restaurant. The first thing I notice about a garden is how it feels; this largely involves the architecture and surroundings, but it is also something more personal that the gardener brings to it. It can be formal or wild; if a garden has a nice feel, that is enough for me; but there can be so much more. Next, I look for interesting architecture and elements and how the garden is laid out; that can be done with walls, structures, paths, mass plantings or a cool place to sit; things to delight. Then, I enjoy unusual plants, beautiful specimens, interesting combinations and lush borders as much as the next person. As I wrote in my last column, I am not one to start with the micro-elements or unusual plants, but they are the icing on the cake. I notice that so many people I mingle with on garden tours (part of the fun by the way) seem to only be focused on the plants without explicitly noticing how the whole thing fits together.
One of the coolest things about garden tours and visiting residential gardens is meeting and talking with the homeowner and/or gardener, who are often one and the same, or at least have a close collaboration. Many of my colleagues are attracted to historic gardens or restorations. While I find that interesting, what I really enjoy is the narrative of someone’s garden. I love to hear about the origins, plans, successes and failures, do-overs and stories about the garden. When I have visitors to my garden and someone asks me a question about something (anything!), I warn them that there is a story behind every plant and stone that I am happy to tell if they have the time and they want to listen. Hearing stories is fun and makes things stick to my brain; I often actually learn and remember something.
Of course, gardeners love to tell their stories. I think our gardens are something akin to creating a piece of art or craft, or raising a child. I feel like my gardens are my children because after their creation they take significant love and care, and I get quite unnerved when they don’t get it! Anyway, everyone likes to tell stories about their children, if not their art.
From the serious gardener’s point of view, it is an honor to be asked to participate in a garden tour. Since nearly all garden tours are organized as a benefit for a worthy cause (the library, the historical society, the conservancy of historic gardens), it is easy to get into it for the sake of doing good. But most gardeners simply love to have people come see their garden and hear their unique stories. The joy comes from feeling camaraderie and sharing the experience of the work and love put into it.~
Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener