The Garden On Tour

There was plenty to worry about with this year’s tour-most of the worries had to do with weather.  Our extremely hot weather had been somewhat mitigated by regular and heavy rain, but that combination can also provide a forum for fungus of all descriptions. I have had some trouble keeping up with the water at my own house-but I was determined to let the chips fall where they may.  I was not trying to secure a berth in the World Series of Gardening-I was trying to raise a little money for a worthy cause.

Only a few days a year are the garden gates wide open; this is nice to see. What I see when I leave home in the morning, and what I drive up to at night-I have taken a lot of trouble to design this space. I see it every day, twice a day.  This day was mostly overcast.  Overcast days make the color of these Sum and Substance hostas seem especially intense; they so light up a shady spot. Light and dark, contrasting textures, a coherent view-these are things I am interested in as a designer.  As a gardener, I have the patience to let a garden evolve.

I grow lots of flowers at the end of my drive- as this is what I want to see when I drive up. It softens the iron of the fence, and gates. From the street, the fence, and these pots and the in ground plantings comprise the midground space of my view. I always find the midground space the hardest to deal with-near and far seems so much easier to resolve. 

My driveway ends is a large piazza-like space.  It is interesting to see how people proceed from this point.  How that driveway unexpectedly enlarges makes it the center of my landscape, from which all other possible paths radiate.  Some went up the path to the north side garden.  Some came into the pool yard first. Some lingered in this space, considering their decision about how to proceed.  Watching how people use a space tells you a lot about how successfully you have planned it.   

My north side garden is a very small space; there is not even that much to see.  The main attraction is from the ground level.  How the path curves out of immediate view invites a visitor to explore.  I almost never use this path.  It is enough for me, that it makes a visual invitation.  I have been thinking I should place something up there to make the walk worth the trouble. But for now, the mystery of where this path might lead is enough.

I have tried several different plants under this bench.  The space needs to be planted with something other than grass,, as this 9 foot bench is very heavy, and too much trouble to move. Grass would be very unhappy with the shade cast by the bench. The European ginger seems to be quite happy here.  The shiny leaves are a beautiful contrast to the cool bluish steel.  The bench is set on several courses of brick, so it does not sink into the ground.  Raising this bed to the level of the pool coping makes the bench at a much more comfortable height for me to sit.    

When I bought my house, the beds sloped down to the drive.  There was always dirt and debris sliding out of the bed and onto the brick surface-a messy look.  A low dry laid retaining wall of sandstone cleaned up the mess. It also made it easier to water my magnolias; a flat space under trees helps keep water from draining off before it can be absorbed.  It also provides a perch, either to visitors, or to me, when I want to spend some time there.  I was pleased to see that wall being used by guests.

The front yard gates are only open once a year-on this day.  The pool needs to be gated and locked,  for safety reasons.  The view with the gates open is very pretty-this was my favorite spot in the yard yesterday.  As the rose garden is a sunken garden, the generous landing of old brick provides ample notice that there is a change of grade.  The brick on the sides of the path neaten up a space adjacent to the hydrangeas, where grass is reluctant to grow.  I like the simplicity of the brick, rather than introducing another plant.   

I am always keen to have visitors to the garden.  They ask about things, and make comments that would never occur to me. Someone else’s point of view can help me to get moving when I feel stuck.  Most gardeners are very positive in their commentary, and not at all concerned whether their advice gets taken to heart.  Some things they notice make me realize my emphasis might be misplaced, or not strong enough. If you are confident to ask others what they think, something good might just come of what you hear.  If what you hear is too far afield, say thanks and move on.  Good gardeners trust their instincts. 


My neighbors, Fred and Jean, will be moving back to England this fall.  This is their third year, tending the tour for me.  They always come round before the tour to go over the new plants, the old plants, what flowers are in the pots.  They like to be able to answer questions, just like me.  They attended horticulture school in England many years ago.  I trust my garden to them.  We all talked gardening yesterday until we had not one word left.  I am quite sure we are just like other gardeners, in other states, and other countries-all over this planet.  This part I really like.

Monday Opinion: The Garden Cruise Event

It is never that hard to spot a gardener.  They treat everything associated with it as an event worthy of celebration. Ther excitement is genuine-even when there is a threat of thunderstorms looming, and an unwavering forecast for 89 degrees.  The weather proved to be something other than predicted; an overcast sky made it infintely easier to tolerate the heat.  By day’s end, people began to filter in to our reception; we were ready for them.  Christine, Monica and Jenny-looking good!

Ms. Minnie has a garden every bit as exuberant and extravagantly dressed as she is.  I would never garden as she does, nor would she garden as I do-but we are gardening friends.  She came with friends in tow all looking like they were all on their way to church.  This analogy is not far off, really.  Gardening people, people concerned about the environment, naturalists, zoologists and biologists, horticulturalists-no end of people have the idea that anything associated with the living world demands proper respect. As in, go to church, and thank God for what you have.  

I do not own a single outfit as sumptuous as Minnie’s, but I view every aspect of landscape and gardening as an event.   This is why I so enjoy the garden tour.  I have long since quit fretting about the one rose I missed in my deadheading rounds before a tour.  Gardeners understand that a landscape is an evolving set of events that even the most dedicated would be hard pressed to keep up with. They talk lots about what looks good and is working, and studiously ignore what languishes.  Sometimes things in a garden just sulk, no matter what you do.

Judy presented a rather extraordinary picture with this maple helicopter firmly affixed to her nose.  Did you know that is you split one open, it is sticky on the inside?  I did not.  Apparently she and her brother would stick themselves all over with helicopters when they fell.  I was glad I had missed picking some up before the tour-how else would I have learned this, but for my less than perfect housekeeping? 

Skirts and shorts were the order of the day.  This picture says nothing about the heat, just everything about a group of devoted gardeners getting together, and happy to share their love of gardens.

Julia Hofley, noted garden speaker, and her husband Eric, owner and publisher of The Michigan Gardener, are gardeners of the most serious sort.  They go as many places, in as many countries as they can manage-visiting and learning about gardeners and their gardens. They study and are most articulate about everything from dwarf conifers to roses hardy in our zone to design to effective deer repellant. They are enthusiastic and articulate advocates of the natural world and all that goes with.  They managed to take this picture of themselves with my camera; I have no idea what their process was here. This might be the most evocative picture of the day-intense interest and pleasure in participating in the event-all over their faces.

I used to draw conclusions about women and gardens, based on the footwear-but no more.  I have seen no end of open toed high heels, snappy sandals and dressy outfits navigate a landscape without any problem.  Why not-gardens are for partying as much as anything else. In this case, I think there may have been a change of clothes for the reception on the part of one guest, but not the other. Do not they both look great?

No matter the dress, it was clear there was an event going on.  As long as as there are gardens, there will be garden events. Celebrations around the seasons.  It is important and satisfying to help make things grow. 


If you were not able to make the reception for the 2010 garden tour, perhaps you’ll be available in 2011.  It was a heck of a lot of good fun. Fast and furious discourse.  Exchange.  Intelligent and imaginative exchange.  All the things that people do best.

At A Glance: Growing Great

Coping With The Heat

We have had quite a streak of 90 plus degree days in the past 3 weeks. It has been enough to make even the most passionate gardener wilt.  Even the corgis want no part of it. Getting in my fountain at the end of the day has been a regular thing lately.  Intense heat can play special havoc with gardens in containers, as technically speaking, their roots are above ground.  They also are completely dependent upon you for water.  But there are some things you can do to help your containers cope with the heat. 

The obvious solution is to pick plants that like to be dry. Succulents, echeverias, agaves and other desert type plants can survive long periods without water.  I am told that agaves have lived on the roof of the Vatican for 300 years-I am quite sure no one waters them.  Plants native to desert like environments have adapted to do well with little water.  Being from the Midwest, I am not such a fan of these plants.  I would starve, only having succulents to look at in my pots, so I look for other solutions.  Diamond Frost euphorbia and variegated licorice will not suffer the gardener that waters them too often.  Once established, I only water when they are really dry.  

You can buy a little time if you grow annuals in window boxes.  The big idea here-a giant soil mass dries out slowly, rather than twice a day. When soil heats up, the rate of evaporation of water from that soil gets to be speedy indeed.  I have seen clients splash water on their pots from a watering can-this is not watering.  I fill this window box to the top with water, let the water soak in, and fill the box again.  I repeat this until I see water raining out the bottom.  Water your pots thoroughly, not lightly.  This box sometimes goes three days before I need to water again.

Automatic irrigation for annual plants can save you hours of time, but you have to be sensible with it.  Water automatically when there is a need, not automatically.  Patty at Bogie Lake has been watering annual crops for so long she can tell if something needs water by looking at the leaves.  She says the green color will change when a plant is dry.  Barring this type of watering skill, put your finger in the soil to see if it is dry. So many people plant impatiens in ground, as it is so tolerant of water from an irrigation system. The cosmos in this bed I let go to the dry side before I water.  Most annual plants love the heat.  90 degrees they handle with aplomb; it is 90 degrees without water that is a problem.

Small containers in full sun locations are not for everyone.  Not everyone can water twice a day if the temperatures are over 90.  If the time you have available to water is short, use fewer, and bigger containers.   If you must have smaller containers, choose plants that don’t mind drying out, or plants of easy culture.  The only thing that ever seems to bother petunias much is too much water.  These mini cascade geraniums are amazingly tolerant of hot and dry conditions. They also bloom long into the fall.  I wonder why I do not see them used more often.   

A grape vine and some angelina is a dry and hot tolerant combination, and much more verdant looking than hens and chicks.  Plants liking a long root run, as do tomatoes and grapes, benefit from deep soil more than wide soil. 

Topiaries grown from shrubby material such as these eugenias are not fussy either.  They never seen to be bothered by heat, and they tolerate imperfect watering.  Choosing plants that are native to hot and dry environments are perfect for your full sun terrace.

When plants grow together, they shade the soil.  This slows the rate of evaporation from the soil much like mulch does.  I may groom old leaves out in order to keep good air circulation, but I let the plants provide a shade barrier to the soil.  A hanging basket that has gone bald on top and is showing soil will dry out very fast.  Most plants do not like to be watered every day, but when the temperature soars, you may need to do just that, to keep them alive.


Be thoughtful about where you place your containers.  A little shade from trees or shrubs can help your post stay good looking.  This pot has enough exposure to the sun to stay good looking, but not so much exposure that they fry. Group pots together; one large pot planted with a topiary lantana can handle any amount of heat and sun.  Other pots grouped with it will benefit from the umbrella.   Other plants that make great umbrellas are datura, irisine, nicotiana mutabilis (pictured above) and grasses. 


Seeing these rain clouds gather overhead was a gardening religious experience; we had 1.5 inches of rain last night.  And relief from the heat. Some days you just get lucky.