Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rules for visiting a private garden

Spring has sprung and it is time for gardening. It is also about the time people start thinking that they'd like to see someone else's garden, in order to, you know, get ideas. As such, I thought it would be a good time to post a five simple rules about visiting other people's gardens. (I apologize in advance if I sound a bit scoldy about this, but you would be surprised how many people break at least one of these rules during a garden visit. And for what it is worth, I have broken every one of these rules myself at one time or another and regretted it, so this is your chance to learn from my mistakes!)

1. If you ask a gardener take a look at her garden and she says something like, "Gee. It doesn't look very good right now. I'd rather not show it to you," do not say, "Oh, I don't care about that. I just want to see it." A gardener wants to show off her garden in the best light, not when it is just coming out of the winter doldrums and she's been too busy to pull the spring weeds and there are unfinished garden projects afoot (see photo above). To press her on it would be akin to asking to see the bedroom when the bed is unmade and the laundry is not put away. If a gardener doesn't want you to see the garden right then, let it go.

2. When you visit a garden, say something nice about it. I don't care how tiny and insignificant it might be, say something nice. Gardens are hard work and heartache. The smallest improvement can be an enormous amount of labor. Show that you appreciate this. In other words, show that you know how hard it is to garden.

3. Do not ever point out a flaw. Never, ever. Do you think the gardener has not noticed the nutsedge herself? Do you think she has no clue that powdery mildew coats her squash? That the Mexican feather grass fills the cracks in the flagstones? That every single rosemary died during the last freeze? Of course she sees these terrible lapses in garden perfection. She is hoping that you will overlook the stuff she has not had time to address and notice the nice things instead. (See above.)

4. Do not offer advice unless asked. (I think this is pretty self-explanatory.)

5. Even if you are asked for advice, think twice about giving it. Sometimes what people really want is to tell you what they think should be done, and then get your confirmation. This is tricky. You're just going to have to figure out which it is. You will get it wrong sometimes.

That's it. Five rules for visiting private gardens. I think these apply whether you are visiting one informally or as part of a garden tour, since putting a garden on tour is an enormous act of courage and sacrifice, and should be recognized as such.

Happy spring, everyone!