The Garden Life: Open your garden to others



In three weeks, my garden will be open for the 2011 Hardy Plant Society of Oregon Study Weekend tour, which runs June 24-26. The tour of 20 gardens is limited to 500 participants this year, including a large Clark County contingent. If I had the power to do so, I would direct the Korean dogwood trees to hold on to their flowering bracts for an additional week and I would convince the Oriental poppies to hold off their bloom for at least three more. I want everything to be perfect for the big event.

Let me tell you one thing that most gardeners have in common. We rarely feel that our gardens are at their best on the day that other gardeners come to visit. I find myself saying things like, “If you could have seen it last week when the Asiatic lilies were in full flower,” or, “Come back in 10 days when the Clematis ‘Dr. Ruppel’ will amaze you with the size of its blossoms,” or “If we’d just had a little less rain this year (or a little more, two years ago) …”

Gardeners are always quick to apologize for their shortcomings. We see every weed we missed and the empty space of every plant that we lost this past winter.

However, most garden guests are fully satisfied with the picture before them, focusing on those plants that are at their peak and the parts of the garden that look their best. Through gardener’s eyes, the highlights rise above the weeds and visitors notice the small, camellialike blossoms on the Stewartia pseudocamellia, one of the latest trees to flower in the garden season. In the courtyard, they comment on assorted sedums that delight us with fat, succulent leaves in shades of gray, purple, maroon and emerald green that will one day flower in hot pink, yellow and rose-red blooms.

Whether it is a group of friends coming over to the house for a garden party or a group of strangers with a common interest, as soon as we open our gardens to others we begin to analyze how they will see our creations. Everything we have done by rote up until now goes through our most rigorous internal judgment. For some, this is as exciting as a surprise party. For many, this can take all the joy out of the moment. Either way, we must pass through many emotions before we learn to become comfortable in this situation.

Cultivating ideas

So what is it that makes a gardener willing to open their garden to the public? The first impulse to share with fellow gardeners probably comes from the pleasure we have felt in the past when we visited other gardens. As for me, I am always excited to see a new garden but I am equally compelled to get a sense of the person behind the garden’s creation. There is so much to learn from a garden’s gardener which cannot be learned in any other way. When we see a plant we love, we can now ask what is it, how does it grow, where can I get it.

What is it about someone else’s garden that makes us want their plants, their color combinations and their ideas? Every garden visit opens your mind to all the ideas you wish you had in your own garden. There is magic in sharing creativity, that proverbial element that grows the more you divide it. I covet the feeling I have when surrounded by a beautiful mix of trees, shrubs and flowering perennials. It’s like finding a section of a bookstore where every jacket cover draws your attention in and every page intrigues your mind to read further on.

I think the best reason to open your garden is that something special happens for the garden guest. We know from personal experience that the garden fills many needs for us, emotionally and spiritually, that are not met in other aspects of our lives. For some reason, when you visit a garden, you find what you need at the moment. We may not understand what it is and we don’t have to. We only have to know that there is a certain feeling attached to being in a garden. If it has happened to us, it will most likely happen to them, too. And that is reason enough.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified Master Gardener. Reach him at