Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How This All Started, Part 13

Another confusing flashback:  It was January 2004, and we had just finished putting the windmill tower up.  Winter set in and we had some time to think about what we wanted and needed to accomplish for the upcoming year.  We had two major events scheduled for June: our lovely niece was getting married and agreed to have her wedding pictures taken here, and we had been asked the previous summer to have our garden on a garden tour the day before the wedding.  

I was, as always, really nervous about hosting the garden walk.   I guess my anxiety stems from the very first time our garden was part of an organized garden tour.  In order to explain my anxiety issues with garden tours, I am going to have to flash back some more.....way 1999.

When Carl and I first started to get serious about gardening in the late 1980's, we went on every garden walk in the area.  (We still do.)  We just love gardens and seeing what other people do with their landscapes.  Around 1996, we also joined two local garden clubs.

Anyway, back in 1999, one of the groups (not naming any names here) asked us if we would put our garden on their tour.  Our first time hosting a garden walk!  It was an honor and a nightmare all rolled into one.  Pessimistic me didn't feel we were ready, even if it was a small garden club, but good ol' Optimistic Carl said why not?  After all, it was only fair to take our turn after how many other people's gardens we had visited.  This was also several years before we started working on the Quarry garden too, so we hadn't expanded as much as we would in the years to come.

The person putting the tour together assured us we would enjoy the experience very much; many of the members of their group were Master Gardeners (that title still strikes terror in my heart, we're not MG's and I get all tongue-tied around them for some reason)  who would appreciate our efforts and it would be so much fun.  Ok, if you say so.

The tour was set up like this:  there were three gardens involved; ours was first with touring times from 8AM-9AM; meaning the people coming for the tour would arrive here, tour for an hour and then move as a  group to the next two gardens.  Each garden was to have the entire group of visitors for one hour.

We worked as fast as we could to get our garden 'tour ready', trying to get everything perfect.  I'm sure most of you can just try to manicure everything, even the gravel in the driveway (that is, if you're silly like us, and don't have a paved one).  The night before, we were out with a spotlight hooked to a stepladder, weeding the front hosta bed at 2AM...that's how crazy I got.  We fell into bed exhausted by 2:30AM and after a fitful couple hours of sleep, boinged back out of bed at dawn to continue the Quest for Perfection.

Apparently, as you are about to see, my Quest failed.

Early the next morning, with the return of daylight, we could see more things that still needed doing--badly.  I was literally running the menfolk here around in circles, trying to figure out which task was the most important.  We missed some weeds in the hosta bed, despite working with a lightbulb on a ladder (go figure).  Quick, get me a trowel! and after pulling the weeds,  I now had weed pails to dump.   Where's the trailer?  Who mowed the lawn yesterday?  They missed an entire swat!  Oh, Carl, take the trailer out of here now, go park it out back!  Oh, look at the ligularias I planted yesterday!  They're wilting!  Get a hose, we need water, STAT!  (Note to self: Never plant new plants, especially ligularias, the day before a garden walk.)

I let the hose run on the wilted plants and then saw some other crisis, probably a bent blade of grass someone might trip over, or yet another hosta I had failed to deadhead.  I grabbed the shovels somebody left lying in the middle of the garden path and hurried to the garage to put them away.  It was now around 7:40AM.

I was coming out of the garage when I noticed a car drive up and park on the road in front of our house.  A lady got out of the vehicle and started leisurely walking up the driveway.    I remembered thinking, It's Show Time!  Already?  Wow, she's early.  She was a stranger to me, probably in her mid- to- late forties.

I called out, "Good Morning!" but she didn't seem to hear me.  She seemed to be lost in thought, admiring my mass-planting of daylilies out on the end of the driveway.   She had a notebook and a pen in her hand and looked very professional.   Ok, she's really a serious gardener, probably a Master Gardener,  I thought, and she must be taking notes for her reference.  Carl hollered for me to help him with something in the back yard, so I left my First Official Garden Tour Guest unattended and headed off to see what he needed. 

With Carl's crisis averted, I returned to the front yard.  We still had ten minutes before the tour officially started.  As I came around the corner of the house, I saw that the ligularia had now indeed gotten enough water...though it was still wilted, it was in it's own little lake.  I dashed to the front of the house to turn off the faucet and disconnect the hose.  I was rolling the hose up so no one would trip over it when the lady approached me.  I said hello for the second time, but she had no time for pleasantries.  

"Have you EVER seen such a garden?" she asked me, but not in the complimentary tone I'd been told people would use when congratulating me on my botanical prowess.  I was confused.

I kept rolling up the hose while she continued, "I mean, really, did you see out by the end of the driveway?  They have Stella d' Oro daylilies planted out there, and if that's not bad enough, they haven't been deadheaded!  Who plants that many plain jane Stellas in one place and then doesn't deadhead them?!  How tacky."

Oh....dear.......I KNEW there would be something glaringly obvious that I would forget to do! I wondered if it would be impolite to head out there and deadhead the day lilies right then and there, but decided against it.

And once again I remembered the lady who organized this tour telling me how much fun we were going to have visiting with fellow gardeners and all the compliments we would likely receive to give our frail beginning gardener egos a boost.   So far, ah....I wasn't feeling too boosted, if you know what I mean.  I wanted to run back to bed, pull the sheets over my head and hide. 

 Before I could answer her, she was off and running again, "And the color combinations in those flower pots in the driveway!   Who in their right mind would put pink petunias and yellow marigolds together?"  She drawled out the words 'petunias' and 'marigolds'  very slowly to show her disdain for the oh-so- common plants.  Here was another eye-opener for me and an admission; I love all flowers. I thought every gardener did.  I was so naive.  I was in the presence of a Plant Snob for the second time since I'd started gardening.

"Anyone who plants annuals is really clueless, if I never saw another petunia in my life, I'd be happy. And what are these planters made out of?  It looks like some kind of junk.   I cannot believe how small some of the hostas are, either.  They must not believe in fertilizer or they're too cheap to use it."

I was about to tell her that the planters were junk (old aluminum light shades Carl had found in the garbage) and 'cheap' would be the operative word, yes, we are, but she was still on a roll.  I finished wrestling with the hose and headed for the garage to put it away.  My garden guest followed me, chatting away like we were old friends.
"They do have quite a few newer hostas, though, and that must have cost a bundle.  But, really..." and here she dropped her voice conspiratorially, in case the owners were lurking, "Did you take a look at the house?....You'd think if they have enough money to spend on new plants, they'd have built something bigger and nicer, wouldn't you?  And the driveway is gravel?!  Haven't they heard of blacktop?"  

I shook my head mutely, deadheaded an offending petunia in the junk planter, and crunched across my abhorrent gravel driveway back to the garage to shut the door.  Is this lady for real?  I kept thinking someone was going to jump out of the shrubbery and yell,  "Smile! You're on Candid Camera!"  I really couldn't believe this was happening. 

She continued,  "I don't understand why the garden club set this walk up the way they did....they want us to stay at each garden for an entire HOUR?  What's to see?  Are you going to stick around here that long?  Say, do you know where the next garden is? I'm not familiar with this area, so would it be ok if I followed you to the next place?  I'd hate to get lost, you know.  How long are you going to stay here yet?"

"Oh, I'll be here for the entire hour," I said.

 "Really?   There's not that much here to look at," she said.  I had clearly disappointed her now.  "Why do you want to stay here for the whole hour?"

 "Because I live here."
One of my six junk light shade planters

She gawked at me as if I'd suddenly sprouted a second head, complete with yellow marigolds and pink petunias growing out of it.  Now I wished I had a camera because the look on her face when she found out she was talking to the garden's owner was hands down the funniest sight I've ever seen!  

To this day, though, the one thing I would love to ask her is this:  When she started talking to me, who did she think I was?  I'm putting hoses away and going in and out of the that something a fellow garden tour guest does?    I was amazed she never put two and two together before I told her.

By this time, many cars were arriving and more people I actually knew were coming up the driveway to greet me.  The tour had begun.  The Garden Critic turned a bright shade of red and quickly melted into the ranks of the newly arrived people.  I didn't have time to pay much attention to her after that, but she didn't leave.  I suppose she couldn't leave, because she had told me she didn't know how to get to the next garden.

And, all the rest of the twenty or so tour group attendees on that very first garden walk day were very nice, and made us feel as if we were doing something right in our garden.  At one point, they asked Carl and I  to come forward and asked us a few questions on when we started gardening and why.   As they all gathered around to listen, I saw our critic in the back of the group steal a furtive glance at me.  When our eyes met, she blushed and looked down, keeping her gaze glued to the lawn (where, no doubt, she noted our burgeoning dandelion problems, HA!)

In telling this tale I'm not looking for sympathy, in fact, after the tour was over and I told Carl and the boys what happened, we all had a good laugh over it.  Sure, her comments had hurt a bit, but she had made some valid points, hey, to each his own, right?

Since that very first garden tour, we have hosted many more over the years.   I have heard all sorts of comments, mostly good and some bad;  though none as damning as my First Official Garden Tour Guest.  At least, not to my face.  She was in a league of her own.  And I never saw her again.

There's a lesson to be learned from this, just like the old adage, 'If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.'  You never know who you're talking to. 

P.S.  To this day,  I continue to grow revolting pink petunias and yellow marigolds in their junk planters on the gravel driveway AND I rarely deadhead the Stella d'Oro's.   Some people never change.  ;-)



Alison said...

So happy to hear about how you responded to the First Official Garden Tour Guest! You're right, I found myself wondering why she didn't realize sooner who you were. I think you showed remarkable restraint not strangling her with that garden hose!

I love all flowers too, petunias, marigolds, pansies... And I will probably never ever host any kind of garden group in my garden, just because I know I would also be up at 2 a.m. sweating the silly details. Every once in a while I think maybe I'll host a garden swap, or maybe I'll join a garden group, and then I come to my senses.

When we redid our back garden earlier this year, I interviewed three different garden designers. I didn't really click with any of them, but I did finally hire one, just because I was second-guessing myself. Once I got her final design, I realized that I didn't like being told what to do, what to like and what not to like. I did implement certain elements of her plan, and she did put me onto some native shrubs and plants that I didn't know about.

But, one of the three wanted me to put in nothing but ornamental grasses. When I told her I wanted to plant Hydrangeas, she said, literally, "No, you don't." Another tried to talk me out of our water feature. Too big for the space!

I guess that was all just a long-winded way of saying: Your garden is a personal thing, your own form of artistic expression.

And I never deadhead any of my daylilies.

fer said...

This is a great story, with a nice ending and a moral. Thanks for sharing, is an inspiration for us beginner gardeners.

FlowerLady said...

What a great story Karen. I'm afraid I would have been in tears after hearing all that that first guest said to you. Sheesh! She really showed that she wasn't very sophisticated, with her not knowing who she was talking to, and her cutting, snobbish remarks. Yes, we can have good laughs afterwards, but things like that still hurt. I'm glad to hear you are still growing your petunias and marigolds in those 'junky' pots. Good for you!!!

Hugs ~ FlowerLady

Granny Lyn's Garden said...

Great story Karen,shows what a gracious lady you are. Wonder how she will feel when she sees you garden on Wisconsin Gardener? Will that be soon, I hope I didn't miss it !

Hocking Hills Gardener said...

LOL! What a great story.I do not know how you kept from telling her to move on down the road. I bet she didn't come back to anymore of your garden tours. LOL! She would have been so disappointed looking at my garden beds then because I grow them to suit myself and not everyone else. I also do love my petunias, Stella and old fashioned geraniums.I also have a fair amount of garden junk around because I like it.

Shirley said...

For all the details she noticed in your garden it is surprising she missed other details like you coiling the garden hose! Dead giveaway! A very entertaining read, you showed true class of character in handling this visitor. Good for you!!

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Karen, I used to worry a lot about what went with what. I love all colors and somehow they all work together just like in nature. I worry more now about textures, soft versus hard. That visitor had to have been out of it - I would love to see her garden!


xoxoxo said...

Oh that was too good! I admire all things in all gardens. It shows someone has done something! No matter if I like the plant personally or not, I am encouraged!
No matter the space--it can always have life :)
So glad you told her who's the boss!

Missy said...

You have a great knack of turning a traumatic moment into a funny story Karen. I'm glad you didn't let such a small-minded person put you off coninuing to share your garden. My guess at why she failed to notice you were the owner is that she wasn't very bright.

Karen said...

Alison, Wouldn't it have been funny if I had strangled my first (and subsequently only!) garden guest with the hose? LOL (Of course, now I'd be gardening behind prison walls, ha!) I have to admit, I thought it was a set-up at first...I really could not believe anyone could be so dense. She appeared so normal.

I am glad you got some ideas from the designers but then decided to follow your own heart with your garden. I know you are creating the garden of your dreams and it is so beautiful already, I can only imagine what the future will hold. The ideas some designers have; I really like ornamental grasses, but a garden planted with nothing BUT ornamental grasses? and no pond or hydrangeas?? I wonder if the garden critic from my yard moved to your area and became a landscape designer?? I would love to tour your garden, Alison! And though I do get uptight before every garden walk here, there are way more benefits to it than negatives. Why I hit the rotten apple in the barrel right off the bat is anyone's guess, but every time I think of her, I smile. She was 'something else'.

Karen said...

Thank you, fer, I'm glad you liked the story.

FlowerLady, you know me too well, I was close to tears at first, the lady really had me feeling bad about the whole experience, but then the other tour people were so much nicer, which made me realize she was just a crank. Oh, no one can criticize me enough to quit growing the flowers I love, I'm hopelessly in love with my marigolds, petunias and zinnias!

Karen said...

Hi Lynda, I haven't heard from Wisconsin Gardener since they filmed the garden, maybe we broke the camera?? They did say, though, that it would probably air in the spring (though they didn't say of what They're supposed to give us a heads up before it's aired, so I'll let you know.

Lona, yes, she was a hoot. I don't think she ever did come back here (though I can't say for certain, maybe she wore a disguise?) Everybody has a different gardening style, thank goodness! Can you imagine how boring it would be if we all gardened exactly alike?

Shirley, you're right, I still don't know who she thought I was; that will forever remain a mystery...I mean what more did I have to do to prove I lived there? The longer she talked, the hole she was digging got deeper, I should have let her keep going...I wonder what else she didn't like? Ha.

Eileen, wouldn't it be fun to see her garden? And the odd thing is, I did ask later on if anyone knew her, and nobody did! She could have read it in the paper or something, I guess, but it was so strange. The people we meet sometimes...

xoxoxo, I'm glad you enjoyed the story, too. I agree with you wholeheartedly; every garden is as unique as the gardener tending it, and who is to say what is right or wrong? I wonder where my critic lives....I wish I had asked her before blowing my 'cover'. She was a one in a million, thank goodness.

Missy, I think you're right, she just wasn't all that smart. It was one of the most bizarre (and looking back on it, funny) experiences in my life. I wish you could have seen her face!

Sall's Country Life said...

Karen, Being in retail for 14 years, this lady doesn't surprise me at all. And I will be laughing about your story all day. However, if I was in your shoes at the time, I would've been fuming and had my whole day wrecked! I love how you handled it, one classy lady you are!! Snobs like her won't even stop in my yard, they probably think it's abandoned and that the petunias and marigolds are just volunteer weeds. May you and Carl enjoy many more garden walks, and never stray from your own genuine path!