My Top Ten Thoughts on Open Garden Events

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These thoughts are solely mine, and will be rather random, but I have my reasons. The process of opening one’s garden is a bit nutty and can be really stressful—even though it doesn’t have to be. Most folks will be there to support and encourage you and what you’ve done. Embrace those people.

Okay, here goes!!!

1: Don’t make it too tidy. Gardens are alive and are always in the midst of a live performance. You cannot control life as much as you’d like to so let it be. Let it be free!

2: If you’re worried about people judging you, well, that’s their burden to carry as jerks. That’s not your problem.

3: Put your time into the work of growing your plants well. Open your garden a few years in a row to show the shifts, changes, mistakes, and lessons learned. The odds are in your favor. Something will always work whether you planned it that way or not. Build on the things that work.

4: Plant plants where they will grow their best—your vision will fill in from there. Let the plants fall into place instead of forcing them in to where you think they should go. Pick the spot that needs to be filled first and get to know your conditions well.

5: If you have nothing good to say about a garden you visit, hold your tongue until you leave. Beware of what you say to others. You do NOT own the definition of what a “garden” is and I can assure you that whatever the hell you THINK it is, I can likely argue that you’re wrong, and I’m not the only one. More than likely you like whatever YOUR garden is and maybe, if that’s the case, you should just stay home. Rudeness is not acceptable. It’s amazing what I’ve overheard strangers saying while on tours. Don’t leave your stinking opinion in the air for others.

6: Let’s all go gently with the plant names. Yes, I know mine, but when my garden is open, after having worked on it for months, I might blank on a name. If you cannot speak to the homeowner, take a pic of the plant. Reach out to the garden owner later. They’ll likely be more than happy to tell you what it is. I would never expect a catalog of every plant in a garden and to quiz you on it. If you’re hosting, maybe make a list of your favorites in advance to hand out and point out to people. Label what you can, but don’t sweat it. (Rope in a friend or two if you expect a large crowd. They can also help to field questions from visitors.)

7: Photos. Ah, yes. Never, ever take photos without permission and ALWAYS ask about posting photos on social media. As a blogger (aka garden communicator), this is Rule #1. There are a lot of pics out there in the world, I know, and some of them are of things like my cat going through the drive-thru at a coffeeshop, but those sweet kids who love him always ask if they can post a photo of him on social media. Plants are not pets or people, but folks are connected to the spaces they make and we must respect that privacy. Just ask.

8: Try to do as much of the work as you can yourself. I open my garden for the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon and it’s a very plant-focused group so many people are advanced hobbyist/amateur home gardeners. Know your audience. If it’s a plant group, or a neighborhood group, hopefully you can inspire some questions about your work, and not your real estate and how much you spent on what you own. It’s not a contest to show off your wealth. Don’t let your fear of not being enough hold you back from jumping in to include your passionate work.

9: Don’t bring your pets unless you know in advance that’s ok. Someone mistakenly walked into my garden with a fairly small leashed dog that immediately chased my cat and it wasn’t cool. Ask, don’t assume.

10: Drink. Drink water the night before you open your garden, drink whatever special beverage you need the next day. Drink coffee during those early morning marathons as you garden away for months in advance. Keep drinking water to stay hydrated. Make iced tea for your crazy friend who comes over in the summer heat to help you. Make cocktails for your friends who come over to listen to you at night. Drink and be merry.

Have fun. Don’t take this open garden rat race thing too seriously. You’re just a person who loves plants and you’re just opening your garden to share it with NICE people. Keep telling your self that they’ll all be the nicest people you’ve ever met, and you know what, almost all of them will be…

Got any great advice or a funny story about an Open Garden? Please post about it in the comments. #themoreyouknow

My First HPSO (Hardy Plant Society of Oregon) Open Garden

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It’s been 2 months since my garden was open to a limited number of gardeners I didn’t know from Adam. I think I’ve almost recovered from the experience, but to be honest, I’m not completely sure. 2017 has been the year of renovation around here and we’re far from done.

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The front yard as it was that weekend. Hopefully next year the master plan for the Hell Strip from Hell will have been masterfully completed.

The whole endeavor is not for the faint of heart. Yet for me, it had to be done. If I don’t have a goal to achieve, I don’t get things done. This Virgo child may be down to earth, but I sure do get distracted by shiny/beautiful and/or delicious things quite easily. So yes, this garden and home have been so wrapped up in my emotional and physical lives for so long I just wanted to be rid of that extra baggage.

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The first renovation to take place was of the front garden. We widened the parking space and hired John Crain of Opal Gardens to build a custom fence. Made of Oregon juniper, you’ll find many fences that look like it in the far reaches of Northern Italy.

I learned a lot during the process and I continue to discover new things about myself as I rid the property of both objects and memories. If gardening is life (and it is for some of us), and if life is about adapting to change and problem solving, then my garden and I had not really been alive or even living for quite some time. There had been no big changes for too long and I still had a lot of spots with unresolved problems. Not so much now thank-you-very-much!

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To add to the more laid back feel a bored, sleepy lion was added to my concrete garden menagerie.

Last spring both my garden and I began a bit of transformation, and while my garden no longer looks and feels like the hot mess that it once was, I’m still waiting for my makeover. Sigh. I suppose it too is on its way.

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My garden throne. This hammock was found dumped by the side of the road years ago and I am so grateful for the comfort it’s given to my aching back over the years. To reward it, I finally gave it its own space.

Last winter my back went out, and while I was in physical therapy strengthening the damaged and weakened area of my lower spine I decided to think about happier things. I couldn’t bend over or lift much so why not force myself to improve? What else was going on while I was resting? Not much. I figured that opening my garden would mean that I’d be sure to follow through with my daily PT exercises—and it did! It worked!!!

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One of my favorite spots in the garden to rest my eyes. I’m happy with how it looked this year and with the new items. I think next year it will finally go over the top.

It was my coming out party as a gardener. After over a decade it was finally time for me to put my best foot forward. This meant facing unrealistic goals, dreaming up things I never could get finished (or afford) in time, and then accepting help from others when I really needed it, but hey, this is me we’re talking about now! Yes, of course I needed help. (Thank you Paul, Gail, Vanessa, Mary, Mi Yong, Evan, Kate, and John. If I forgot someone, please kick me and tell me to edit this ASAP. Oops. I have to kick myself. Alex and Elizabeth helped me with the lights and Julie and Bob let me borrow their orchard ladder. Thank you!)

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Grandpa Sam’s chair was given a new look and I purchased two more vintage chairs to give it company. Vanessa Gardner Nagel came up with this fancy use of a planter I’d purchased and never used. I love how it all came together.

Overall, the experience was outstanding and I recommend it to everyone mostly because of the comradely. Sure, we all have friends with amazingly perfect gardens who’ve earned national horticultural and design acclaim and they tell you it’s ok to open up your place before you’re all finished. Yeah. Uh-huh. I’m sure no one will criticize this or that since we all know we’ve been there at some point. Have we not?  Don’t listen to them and just plug along and do your best. In my case that meant staying up until 1am under lights on a warm summer evening making kokedama arrangements but by then I was both slightly relieved and more delirious than usual. It was almost over and it felt so good.

The forest fire smoke was finally lifting too so that was a relief. That smoke really slowed down progress this past summer.

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The living willow arbor where I spread some of Maurice the cat’s ashes. The garden is named after him: Campiello Maurizio.

Luckily for those of us who find this flavor of stress hilarious and just need to laugh it all off or else we’d explode there are these fancy things called cocktails that can help us relax. Since I can’t drink wine or beer any more they’re kind of my new thing. (My personal favorite is an Amaretto Sour if you’re wondering. Please hand me one if you ever meet me at an event. I’ll need it. Trust me. Ms. Nerves over here.)

Until you’ve opened up your garden to a group of discerning visitors, let me tell you, you won’t quite know what you’re in for—but the pain and suffering is all worth it.

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Ah yes… Let’s all thank that young man again for setting the Columbia River Gorge on fire just before I opened my garden. Talk about a hurdle. My severe asthma was incredibly uncomfortable.

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The smoke was so bad this summer that for many days I couldn’t leave the house.

I’ll try to post more anecdotes later about my experience. Clearly I’m a plantswoman and I wish that I’d been able to better highlight some of the rare and unusual plants I care about around here but many are still small, others don’t look great, and a few more have yet to germinate.

More on that soon too… I’m finally organized enough after all of this to begin selling more online again and to expand my business. I’m always looking for more seeds so please look at the page here on my blog of things that I’m looking for currently. If you have something for me I can trade seeds with you or send you some homemade Italian cookies of your choice.

CIAO for now!