Garden tours yield creative ideas: 4 ways to manage plants, problems and space

Some folks attend garden tours to get inspired, learn or to just enjoy the beauty of plants. I’m fascinated with how every gardener has a different approach to using plants, space and solving problems - it’s one of the things I appreciate most about the art of gardening. That’s why I never get tired of visiting them. No matter how grand or humble a garden might be, I always take home an idea I can use to improve my own. Last weekend, my friend Martha and I took a tour through a bunch of small neighborhood properties. Although none offered anything I’d term over the top, but each one had some interesting ideas. Read about few I filed away for future use and others that spurred me into action.

1. To prune or not:

Take a look at the way the owner of this garden manages her privet hedge (photo below). Privet is one of those weedy shrubs most of us prune constantly to keep under control - it never occurred to me to let it rip like this. Covered with white fragrant flowers, this shrub is beautiful, wild and wooly in its natural state. The owner pruned the top down and let the sides grow out. It was flourishing in a shady spot - a surprise to me as I generally see it in full sun! Maybe not for everyone, because you can see how wide it is, but this gardener had plenty of room to let it do its thing.

Here’s another interesting way to manage the same plant on another property - rather than hedging it, this gardener pruned it up into a multi-stemmed weeping tree. It was so unexpectedly pretty, I felt ashamed of myself for dissing it.

2.Plant management:

Here’s what you do when everything blooms before a garden tour - just spray paint the flower heads. This lady said everything in her garden bloomed two weeks early and she wanted to add a little color. Why not?

Give the same plants to 10 gardeners and they’ll each come up with something unique. I see these plants all the time, but this lush cluster of textural beauties captivated me. No room for any weeds, pack em in there!

Left to right: Lamium ‘Purple Dragon’, Pulmonaria, Lamium ‘White Nancy’, center: Verbena, top: Astilbe ‘Peach Blossom’

Here’s a perennial ground cover in a variety I have not tried. I’ve grown the brighter pink version, Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevans Beauty but the lighter pink tone of this one -‘Spessart’ is particularly special and more subtle. It covers ground quickly and looks tidy after it blooms. Definitely on the want and need list.

While driving to the next garden I hit the brakes when this little vignette caught my eye. Wow! I wish I knew the variety of clematis that is cascading over that fence. Love the idea of planting something vigorous enough achieve this look.

3.Containers and other useful stuff:

Now that’s how you dress up the edge of the driveway! Such an ingenious idea - so stylish and well executed.

It’s got it all going on - an attractive fence and Hydrangea paniculata in containers insure privacy and add beauty. Gravel mulch beneath keeps it looking tidy and weed free.

The container idea in the photo below is less grand, but it got my attention because I had been looking for a tall blue glazed pot for my garden and couldn’t find anything big enough I could afford. This one is fiberglass - inexpensively purchased at Big Lots and spray painted bright blue. Why didn’t I think of that? Not exactly what I had in mind, but good enough if you’re seeing it at a distance. The owner of this garden told me she changes her colors every year - next year it might be bright pink or green! I loved her playful spirit.

I admired this fire pit in another garden (because I need a new one!). The seating area around it was composed of rock and gravel. Simple, useful and elegantly integrated into the surrounding plantings.

4.Seating and privacy:

Achieving privacy is always a challenge in tight spots like this. This homeowner literally screened out the view neighboring house with these burlap panels. Simple right? Martha and I liked the enclosure and the idea of a comfy place to sit.

Our eyes met -“You should do that,” she said. After the tour, we raced home and sprang into action. We moved the furniture on the back patio -what we called the ‘Red Grill’ garden. I had an outdoor dining table and chairs here but we hardly ever used them because it was too sunny at meal times. We hauled them to the pergola in the front garden and relocated the comfy sofa and chairs in the pergola to the patio. Now we’re out here all the time. You can’t beat it for an end of the day gin and tonic. It’s now known as ‘The Lounge,’ although lately, I’m not lounging a whole lot.

The pergola idea was inspired by the garden in the below photo. When Martha and I looked at it, we both agreed mine was too crowded with the outdoor sofa and chairs.

Here’s the next iteration after we carted in the dining table and chairs. It’s a much better fit and more comfortable to dine in a little shade. We nicknamed it the ‘Red Grill Bistro’ (the red grill is hiding by the house) and it’s seeing a lot more action these days.

That’s what garden tours are all about. We all inspire one another. Just when you think there’s nothing left to do, seeing someone else’s compels you to change it up. Oh, and by the way - it’s probably best to go with a friend who can help you move stuff around when you get home!


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