Five Tips for Finding the Value in Open Garden Tours

Getting The Most From Open Garden Tours

Getting The Most From Open Garden Tours

Getting the Most from Open Garden Tours

Cities across the country from Newport, Rhode Island, to Dallas Texas, to San Diego, California, have master garden groups that showcase the private gardens in their city by hosting open garden tours. If you had the chance to tour local residential gardens created by landscape architects, garden designers or enthusiastic gardeners in your town, would you do it? What should you look for and how could you translate what you see to your own garden?

To get the most from these tours, go beyond how well the plants are growing, or whether the gardens include unique specimens that thrive best elsewhere. You need to dig into the details. Taking a broad look at elements of these beautiful gardens will allow you to see how to apply them to your own garden designs.

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Here are five tips to borrow from the best of these open garden tours for your Elderyarding® or Nature’s Heartprint garden.

Applying Texture in the Garden

Texture is an important element in any garden design. When taking an open garden tour, first look broadly at all of the different kinds of surfaces in each garden. Begin with the walking areas. On a recent tour, surfaces displayed included two colors of pea gravel (hard to walk on), decomposed granite gravel, square concrete pavers, rough shaped limestone pavers, and pavers interspersed with low-growing native grass.

Then look at the plants, from the ground cover to overhead. You might seen a striking contrast such as clumps of tall bamboo with their long narrow leaves set off by multiple hedges of round-leaved boxwood. Even without floral color, the contrast was visually beautiful and would be interesting to watch often. 

Finally, study the furnishings in the garden. Examine all of the elements like containers, seating, and decks. Maybe the designer contrasted the smooth teak of a bench with the foliage of a dwarf live tree. Would you use the same approach, setting the two next to each other to touch every time you walk by?

Shapes and Patterns

Here’s another aspect to try. Think about how color can affect your design. Would the combination be great to look at if a bench under a tree is allowed to weather to a gray that is similar to the tree’s leaves, making a horizontal line with the bench's seating boards that rises from the arm to become a vertical gray in the tree? Maybe you prefer that the bench is oiled regularly to keep its golden hue, where it plays with the shape differences between the bench and tree, or you place it under a tree that turns burgundy in autumn, making bench and tree a focal point in that special season.

Look deeply at forms in the garden. Maybe you noticed that a section of paving using rectangular old stones reflects the architecture of a modern house, but the paving was angled, directing the viewer’s eye to the octagonally shaped pool. Clumps of bamboo were set apart, creating a rhythmic pattern of alternating light and shade when walking along the side of the house. What catches your eye? What pleases you and reminds you of pleasant past lives and experiences?

Adding the Element of Sound

In climates where drought is a frequent visitor, water features are favorite elements in the garden. In one garden, a simple water element really stood out. In the garden, the shady side of the house contained a rectangular “panel” of lawn and a huge tree, with a gravel walk along the edge.

This cool calm spot was the planned view from the bedrooms, with masses of windows overlooking this tableau. Tucked away in the corner was a rectangular limestone trough with a pipe above emptying a tiny stream of water into the basin. Very little water was needed, yet the distance to the basin created a constant varying drizzle that added to the area's sense of peace and serenity.

Taking Safety into Account

Fifty-percent of falls among older adults happen outside. That's why safety is a crucial element of Elderyarding® principles. As you tour the open garden, notice what's comfortable and what causes you to hesitate. Maybe those light and shadow stripes in the bamboo garden draw your eye as they match paver and gravel. Then you become aware that the pavers are perfectly spaced, so you don't need to shuffle through small stones. Or maybe there's a perfect concrete seat at the top of a hill where you can stop and rest while friends hike up and down the steepness of the hillside's path.

What Not to Do...

While you're seeing everything, taking notes, or if permitted photos, also pay attention to the designs to which you mentally say “NO” immediately. Modern, mid-century designs are often highly geometric, and landscape designers live to use steel edging to create steps and level changes. Your older eyes may find it challenging to see those steps in shady areas, even if they're clear in the sun. Make a note! Or you may love the combination of agaves with big fat leaves sharing beds with soft low grasses, yet you aren't attracted to those same agaves when planted on a slope with various sun-loving grasses and succulents in a haphazard way. Jot that down, too!

Open garden tours give you the opportunity to learn more about your own preferences and your own emotional reactions and sensory responses to nature and landscaped spaces. By taking a different analytical approach when visiting residential gardens, you can open your mind to the possibilities for your own delightful landscape.

Ann Yakimovicz