Some gardens were small and intimate; others grand and stately. Some were private and restful; others exuberantly displayed their spring colors for all to see. Some were quirky and fun; others elegant and understated. Some were merely a couple of years old; others have been growing and evolving for ten times as long. Some were designed by landscape professionals; others by folks who make a living working in front of a computer, escaping to the yard whenever possible. All were welcoming to people, birds, butterflies, spiders, worms, and the like. My only disappointment of the weekend was that I could not make it too all of the wonderful gardens on the Theodore Payne Foundation Annual Garden Tour.
So what did I learn visiting 17 – not too shabby a number – gardens? First of all, I don’t care what my navigationally superior husband says, a GPS is a wonderful device. Second, although plant labels and books provide a good starting point for getting information on new plants, you never really know how a native plant will grow or what it will like until you give it a try. I saw many plants that looked different in different gardens. Some were way bigger than I ever expected to see them. Others were flourishing in conditions that were very surprising.
I had my third inspiration when I overheard a visitor say, “But I really just want an instant garden.” You see we were in a very young garden, less than two years old and it was remarkably mature looking. Yes there were established trees on the site, but the new plants eased in, looking as though they had been there for quite a while. To me this is an “instant garden” and it reminded me that gardens can develop quickly, that they are always changing, and that the fun of gardening is the unpredictability that comes with change.
Next I realized that the best gardens are alive with insects, birds, lizards, little mammals, and people. Many of the tour gardens were created to actively entice birds to visit. Hearing and seeing birds singing and flitting around, unconcerned as throngs of people passed through, was truly magical.
And finally, it occurred to me that the very best gardens are those that are shared. Thanks go to staff and volunteers at Theodore Payne Foundation for putting together this wonder event, and special thanks to all of the gardeners who so graciously welcomed us into their yards and homes.