Preparing Your Garden for a Tour

By: Lydia Plunk
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Lydia Plunk is a Southern-California writer admired for her enthusiastic observations focusing on her great passion: the glory of garden-centered…

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“We all walk through our neighborhoods wondering what’s on the other side of the fence.”
'Orange Ice' Bougainvillea, Agave bracteosa, Senecio mandraliscae, and Hunnemannia fumariifolia - a heavenly combination! Photo: Nan Sterman

‘Orange Ice’ Bougainvillea, Agave bracteosa, Senecio mandraliscae, and Hunnemannia fumariifolia – a heavenly combination! Photo: Nan Sterman

The phone rings. You are asked to invite the public to see how you use your outdoor space on a garden tour. Nan Sterman: author, garden journalist, speaker, and tour guide of gardens in California and Europe advises “Don’t get too worried about it. There is a reason you were asked—and it wasn’t to embarrass you.”

It was 2003 when the Encinitas Cultural Tourism Committee recommended the town initiate the now venerable Encinitas Garden Festival and Tour. Nan explains the appeal of the event as a way of satisfying natural curiosity “We all walk through our neighborhoods wondering what’s on the other side of the fence.”

It took two years to organize and advertise the first tour.  Nan settled into her role founding the selection committee. All expectations were exceeded when the brand new 501(c)(3) community fundraising organization sold out all 700 tickets, granting admission to 31 private residential gardens near downtown.

Each year since, gardens are selected for the self-guided walking tour of a specific neighborhood within the unique coastal town.  With the exception of 2007 when an unseasonable frost forced the cancellation of the event, each year  host over 1000 inquisitive visitors shod in comfortable shoes, carrying cameras and notepads to record inspirations, tour the featured gardens, humble through grand.

Nan is an influential pioneer in coaching gardeners to rethink personal garden spaces in water-challenged Southern California. Wherever her words wander, they spread wisdom as Johnny Appleseed spread fruiting trees.  When her own semi-rural neighborhood, Olivenhain was in the rotation for the tour, Nan’s garden was a highly requested destination.

She didn’t feel ready. Because the backyard was undergoing a major renovation she agreed to participate only if the tour could be restricted to the front yard.  The response wasn’t what she expected. Her garden was featured. The day of the event, the sign on the gate reminding people the back was closed to visitors only created an aura of intrigue. Exhausted and exhilarated, Nan and her husband were “thrilled by the feedback.”

Looking back, Nan shares what it takes to make the day your garden is on tour successful.

  • Months ahead, Nan promises “You will be hyper-aware of what needs to be fixed.” Her heavy lifting needs were served by a helper coming once a week.
  • Many decisions are highly personal. Some garden owners post signs to identify plantings as an arboretum does. Others develop lists of notable plants to hand out. But neither is a requirement to make a good showing.
  • About a month before the public arrives she advises you get a fresh perspective. “Get a friend to lend you their eyes.”
  • Two weeks before is when physical preparation gets serious.  This is the time for final touches to the garden.  Repot the potted plants and go shopping for any last minute fillers.
  • The last week, “try to not be always scrambling.”  Now is when Nan suggests you polish the garden surrounds with a final freshening. Chores such as “Washing down the house and cleaning the windows” make your home the gleaming gem in your garden setting.
  • The day before, take a moment to enjoy what is truly spectacular. The year her garden was on tour, Nan remembers “the African daisy Arctotis ‘Pink Sugar’ was amazing.  If I had 10 flats, I could have sold every single one.”
  • While many of the best garden tours provide volunteers to help the homeowners out, Nan takes pleasure in answering questions from a table set up under an umbrella.
  • When the big day arrives, be ready to enjoy, “It’s very exciting to see your garden the way someone else does.”

A Growing Passion, hosted by California-native Nan Sterman, launches on KPBS, May 2, 2013.

A Growing Passion, hosted by California-native Nan Sterman, launches on KPBS, May 2, 2013.

Watch for Nan’s new gardening and eco-landscape television series. A Growing Passion, will debut May 2nd at 8:30 pm on San Diego’s KPBS and KPBS.com.   Find out more and discover how you can help support A Growing Passion at www.agrowingpassion.com.