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 back........to 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 relate...you 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 garage....is 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. ;-)