The great thing about garden tours in cities like Palo Alto, Pasadena, and Portland is that you get to see so many more gardens than are on the official tour. Driving or walking down streets in garden-y neighborhoods (where the featured gardens are usually located) will reveal front gardens that owners have generously designed to be shared with passersby.
At a recent seminar cosponsored with the Garden Conservancy, in answer to a question about plants that might suit a new garden, I strongly urged a stroll through the immediate neighborhood to observe what seemed to be doing well. I gave, as a particular example, the city of Palo Alto, which I described as one of the great “garden cities” of the West Coast. One can walk through almost any neighborhood in town and be totally captivated by the diversity of front garden designs and plantings—gifts to the street and to the pedestrian. I added that I had hoped to feature the city’s streetside gardens in a future issue of Pacific Horticulture.
Listening intently in the audience was Demi Lathrop, who, inspired by my comment, offered to write that article. What began as a simple project to capture the garden-rich landscape of Palo Alto’s neighborhoods ultimately grew into a much larger project, in which it became obvious that trees played a major role in the city’s public landscape. You can read her article beginning on page 3.
Demi explores the notion that trees weave together the streetscape of each neighborhood and the landscape fabric of the entire city. She focuses on gardens seen in the city’s elegant neighborhoods, as well as those in the more modest sections of town. Each has a characteristic mix of street trees and garden trees that unify the blocks, regardless of the diversity of the gardens. Readers can get a feel for this horticultural richness in Palo Alto on the annual spring garden tour sponsored by the Elizabeth F Gamble Garden Center (see page 12 and the Calendar) or on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Day (see page 43). But Palo Alto is not the only “garden city” on the West Coast. Readers in Venice, Pasadena, and Berkeley can enjoy similar experiences. Portland, Seattle (especially Queen Anne Hill), and Victoria, BC, all share a rich tradition of front-yard gardens. Spring garden tours in each of these towns will reveal an abundance of inspirational gardens—both front and back! Check the Garden Conservancy’s listing of open days on page 43 and the Calendar in the What’s Happening section for other tours in these communities and many more.
Make the most of any garden tour you join: take time to study the setting and design of the garden, not just the flowers; ask about the garden’s microclimate, as that will likely have had a significant impact on the selection of plants; try to understand how each garden represents the interests of its owners, and avoid judging the garden solely on whether it would be right for you. Invite some kindred spirits to join you and share your reactions to the gardens visited. Try to bring home at least one idea that might be worth exploring in your own garden
Spring is certainly the season to celebrate the garden. We urge you to do so by joining a garden tour in your area; many support valued horticultural institutions or worthwhile community causes. And take time to notice the neighboring front gardens that may not be part of the tour but may have much to say about the regional nature of garden design.