Tour gardens are pageant girls.
And, yes, I could have used contestants in the headline, but that wouldn’t be alliteration, would it? So, don’t take the girl thing personally. I know they are women, not girls, and I’m not hating on pageants either.
Do your thing. Just do it well.
Why are tour gardens pageant girls?
Each involves a lot of fluffing and fakery in the best sort of way. Think eyelash extensions and faux tans, both of which are fine by me. I adore a Fake Bake tan and eyelash extensions.
Acrylic nails are great for deadheading roses but don’t confuse them with a real garden or an All-American woman au naturel.
Both are also all about competition.
My husband will tell you that gardeners are the most competitive people he knows. Gardeners who love a particular plant are even more discerning. They will go to great lengths to get their gardens pageant, ‘er tour ready.
I’ve seen gardeners install new landscapes, build new buildings, create ponds–oh, wait, that’s me, or should I say, Bill? He doesn’t know it, but Bill would make the best pageant mom ever. He sees the overall woman–I mean–garden and works on improving what Mother Nature gave her. You may not remember, but three weeks before the Oklahoma Horticulture Society tour, he built a pond with a lot of help from his friends.
I could have killed him.
Our garden was again on tour two weeks ago. The American Hemerocallis Society Region 11 celebrated its summer meeting in Oklahoma, and my garden was one of six on tour. So, of course, Bill decided to build a potting shed similar to the one in the Country Gardens Magazine Spring 2017 issue. He finished it about five days before the tour. I would have panicked, but I was too busy weeding and laying mulch. After twenty-eight years of marriage, I just let him have his head and run with it.
Then, last weekend, I joined garden bloggers from all over the U.S., Great Britain, and Canada for the Garden Bloggers’ Fling, held this year in the Washington, D.C. area. I strolled through beautiful gardens and knew how much of the gardeners’ hearts and souls went into preparing for our visit.
In other words, I felt their joy and pain.
When you arrive at a tour garden, often the owner or their landscape designer will be outside to welcome you. They will be clean, cool, calm, and collected, but that’s not the real story. One owner whispered to me while on our bus that she was out weeding only thirty minutes before we arrived. How she got inside, showered, and put on makeup, I’ll never know. She’s seventy and moves faster than I ever will.
Owners and landscape designers smile and answer questions as though the garden always looks immaculately groomed. Maybe it’s different for landscape designers. After all, they often have crews to help.
Owner/gardeners are usually a one or two-person show. I can tell you from experience that everyone took three Advil and maybe a shot of whiskey for courage before you arrived.
Here’s what really happens to a tour garden before you walk through the arbor gate.
If it’s a daylily tour, work begins about two years prior. Gardeners will purchase many, many daylilies that are newer cultivars. Daylily aficionados don’t want to see older plants. It takes at least two years to increase the number of fans–individual plants–for a good show. Daylily people want the newest and brightest. Also, the gardener needs to go around and make an inventory of all the plants they didn’t label. Every daylily in an official tour garden must be labeled with the name, year of introduction, and hybridizer. Bill and I made a complete inventory and a map of our gardens.
It took us two days, and I don’t even have that many daylilies.
Three years prior, I bought garden markers. I am now very good friends with Bernie of Triple AAA Quality Engravers. You can use any kind of label, but these are the ones I chose because they don’t show up so much in photos if you’re not looking for them. Since the tour is over, I’ll move the labels behind the clumps. I’m not really a label person, but I’m glad to have the names of various plants at my fingertips.
How does this compare to the pageant contestant?
Imagine our young woman is vying for Miss Oklahoma. I’m no pageant mom, but I know several. Our contestant will be evaluated and placed in a local show where, if she wins, she will go on to bigger things. It takes a lot of hard work to get ready for a pageant and a lot of money. The same thing holds true for large garden tours. Pageant contestants get sponsors. I guess Bill and I are our garden’s sponsors.
So, after clucking over your new plants like a mother hen, it’s finally the year of the tour.
If it’s a fall tour, you have all summer to prepare. However, if you live in a hot climate, you have all summer to fail. The Death Star, i.e., summer sun can sure take its toll on a garden. I’ve been on spring and fall tours. Both are stressful but rewarding too.
This spring, I laid 135 bags of mulch–at last count. Yes, I could’ve bought mulch in bulk, but then I’d have to dig it out of the pile, and I find the bags easier to move. On a normal year, I just use my shredded leaves as mulch, but on tour, I like shredded pine bark.
I’ve pumped up the garden with leaf mulch for the past two years and then put on the finishing pine bark this year. Mulch is like makeup, or as one visitor said concealer. Anything that looks bad in the garden, you just rip it out and apply mulch. So, perhaps it’s like plucking your eyebrows and then putting on concealer. You get the idea.
But, first, you have to weed, and weed for months and months and months.
Weeding is the laser hair removal of the garden world. You weed until your hands have tendinitis. You basically become an investor in Advil or Aleve, and your reward for all that weeding is a glass of wine after a long day. Those baby oak trees that from little acorns grow are very hard to get out of the ground. This year, I had thousands of them. I’ll go outside today and find thirty or forty more.
There’s also a lot of fertilizing to plump up the garden plants.
Daylilies like high nitrogen fertilizer so I use an organic one. I like Mills Magic Rose Mix myself. However, anything with alfalfa like HuMore or sewage sludge like Milorganite will work. For pageant contestants, the equivalent would be lifting weights to get those defined muscles.
And, then, there’s the fluffling. Look at it like all the clothes and accessories a pageant contestant needs. In my case, I grow a cottage garden, so my contestant needs loads of plants to fill in spaces where I ripped out nonperformers. You must also buy them early enough that they grow in and look like part of the landscape. Since my Oklahoma garden is hot, that means pentas, salvias, lantana, echinaceas, etc. If you have roses, you want to deadhead them almost one month before the event. Then, they will hopefully bloom for your guests. Getting a garden tour ready takes much more planning than one would think.
And, you can’t control the weather. I don’t know what to compare this to in the pageant world, but perhaps, you can’t control your contestant. If she doesn’t stay on her high protein, high vegetable diet, she may gain weight. If she doesn’t do her cardio, I suppose she won’t look like a thoroughbred racehorse.
In my case, the garden made me gain eight pounds over the spring despite working like a dog. I didn’t have time to cook meals, and we ate a lot of carbs in our restaurant meals as I watched spring rains wash away seeds, gravel in the paths and the all-important mulch.
However, one fine June day the rains stopped, the buses came, and people unloaded to see what we worked so hard to achieve. I think the garden looked the best it ever has that day. I truly enjoyed having people over although I will never do a plant-specific tour again. They are just too stressful. My garden is a mix of many plants, and although I love daylilies, I’m not very serious about them–or any other plant.
I learned not to love any plant to exclusion when I lost over eighty roses to Rose Rosette Disease.
It was a lesson well learned. Diversity is always key. Well, that, fake eyelashes and faux tans.