June is a popular month for garden tours in my area. It’s late enough that the garden has progressed beyond tulips, but early enough that everything still looks fresh, and many perennials are blooming.
Unlike public gardens, where you can pay admission almost any day of the week and roam at will, tours of private gardens are rare opportunities, usually just one or two days, to experience the gardens homeowners have created for themselves. You’re bound to be surprised and delighted at the creative oases that people have created, and, in some cases, hired skilled gardeners to create for them. Sometimes the humblest of homes have the most amazing gardens, and even in the most expensively landscaped gardens you may see elements or ways of gardening that you can adapt for your own garden.
If you’re in the Toronto area, I have a garden tour to tell you about! If you live elsewhere, skip down the post to my Tips for Touring Gardens.
A Garden Tour, and Come Hear Me Talk!
On Saturday, June 23rd, it’s the second ever Long Branch by the Lake Garden Tour. Almost 40 homeowners in this pocket in the southwest of Toronto have signed up to share their gardens, for free, with any garden enthusiasts who are able to come and visit that day. between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm
Why am I so excited about this tour? Well, for a few reasons. One is that they’ve invited me to speak! I’ll be presenting a talk on “Making More Plants” on the lower level (downstairs) of Thrive Organic Kitchen and Cafe (3473 Lake Shore Boulevard West) at 1:00 pm. Like the rest of the tour, the talk is free. Lunch isn’t free, but you can certainly purchase some delicious options at Thrive before (or after) my talk, or at one of the other area businesses. I’m going to be talking about how to multiply your plants (dividing plants, taking cuttings, etc.)
And I’m not the only speaker! Well known area garden writer Helen Battersby is speaking on “Eat your garden!” at 9:15 a.m. in the fabulous garden at 2 Twenty Eighth Street. Helen will wrap up her talk just before 10 am, when the rest of the gardens open and the tour itself starts.
Another reason I think this is a great tour is because it’s being organized by some really great people. I’ve sat in on some of their planning meetings and love how enthusiastic they are about sharing their love of gardening and their great neighbourhood.
Some of the gardeners are newbies and others are highly experienced. Their garden styles are diverse and so are the sizes of their properties.
I wrote about the first Long Branch by the Lake Garden Tour two years ago, in 2016. You can check out that post to get an idea of some of the gardens on this year’s tour (I think most of the 2016 gardeners are opening up their garden gates again), but there are plenty more.
And one of the interesting things about the Long Branch area is that it’s actually in a different growing zone than other areas of the Greater Toronto Area. It’s zone 7A, while most of the rest of Toronto is 6B (or even 6A if you get far enough away from the lake).
The garden tour is self-guided, so you need to pick up a map, which you can do from now until tour day at more than 100 locations in Toronto and beyond. If you’re in the area, I think you’ll enjoy this tour. And if you come to my talk, please stop and say hello!
Tips for Touring Gardens
I’ve been fortunate to visit many fabulous home gardens as part of organized garden tours. Here are the tips I’ve learned in order to have a great garden tour experience:
- Dress for the weather. Garden tours are rain or shine activities. Some days you’ll experience both, and be glad to have sunscreen, a sunhat and your umbrella!
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- If a map and/or descriptions of the gardens have been provided, start your day by reviewing it so you don’t miss the best stuff.
- Pace yourself. Acknowledge at the beginning of the day that you can only physically get to so many gardens in one day–if the tour has more gardens on it than that you’ll need to prioritize and visit the ones that are most interesting to you first.
- Especially if it’s hot, be sure to drink lots of water during the day. Plan to stop for snacks and/or lunch.
- Bring your camera with a fully charged battery and an empty memory card. Most garden tours will allow photographs of the gardens but not the home interiors (No matter how many large windows face the gardens, resist the urge to peer inside or take photographs.)
- Try not to block prime spots in the garden when you’re not actively using them. Certainly take your turn to enjoy the view and/or take photographs, but move to the side to let others enjoy the spot before checking your text messages or digging in your bag to apply more sunscreen.
- No matter how much he or she likes gardens, it’s probably best to leave your dog (and any other pets) at home. Your pet may be well behaved but the homeowner’s pets might resent their presence in the garden.
- Be generous with your praise and remember that old adage of “if you don’t have something nice to say don’t say anything.” We all have different ideas of what makes a garden fabulous and we all have different amounts of time and other resources to devote to gardening.
- Talk to the homeowners if they’re in the garden. They’re a friendly bunch (they’ve just invited you and dozens or hundreds of others to visit!) and will be happy to answer your questions about their garden. Thank them for sharing their garden with you!
And a few etiquette points, that boil down, essentially, to respecting the boundaries of the tour:
- Don’t start before the starting time and don’t go into gardens after the designated closing time.
- Look but don’t touch. If everyone fondles the fothergilla there won’t be any fuzz left on the blooms by the end of the day. If you have children with you this rule applies to them too–teach them that when they’re visiting other people’s gardens they’re not to pull off leaves or stems, pick flowers, or dig in the garden beds.
- Don’t take any plants or cuttings home with you unless the homeowner explicitly offers them to you.
- Stay within designated walking areas–follow garden paths and use stepping stones within planted areas, where provided. Avoid stepping into garden beds for a closer look or photo–you don’t know if there’s something planted in that spot under your foot that looks like bare soil to you.
- The homeowner’s patio furniture is not a picnic area. Don’t eat your lunch in homeowner’s gardens.
- Respect the homeowner’s wishes regarding allowing bicycles or strollers into the garden. When in doubt, presume that bulky items should be left on the driveway.
- Be conscious that neighbours of the garden on the tour have not chosen to open up their yards for the tour–stay on the tour participant’s property and don’t block neighbouring driveways.
Those are my tips for having a great garden tour experience. I hope you have the opportunity to go on a garden tour this summer–they’re a lot of fun and a wonderful opportunity to learn!
Notable 2018 Garden Tours Near Toronto
Besides the Long Branch by the Lake Garden Tour, here are a few other opportunities to view some great private gardens:
In Toronto this weekend is the always excellent annual garden tour hosted by the Toronto Botanical Garden. This year it features fine home gardens just north of the Toronto Botanical Garden. It runs both Saturday and Sunday, June 9th and 10th, from 11 am to 4 pm. Tickets and more information are available here.
Just west of Toronto, the Mississauga Garden Festival takes place on Sunday, June 24th.