Unearth ideas through California garden tours
by Nan Sterman
You know it's spring when gardeners throughout California open their gates to welcome the public. These popular garden tours are generally organized by garden clubs, garden societies and other groups of volunteers, often to benefit school gardens, charities and other not-for-profits. Some are walking tours - and usually supply maps so you can drive from site to site - while others may provide bus transportation.
Either way, garden tours are delightful, enlightening and perfect opportunities for gathering ideas for your own garden.
Steve Letz, owner of highly rated Letz Design Landscape in San Diego, encourages his clients to attend garden tours for just this reason. He suggests taking a notebook to record your first impressions of what you find in the featured garden.
"It's all about the senses," he says. "There may be water present, audibly or visually, or fragrance. Notice which colors stand out and make note of structures and hardscape."
Note the feeling you get from each garden and the names of plants you like. The most effective way to communicate what you liked with your landscape designer is to document what appeals to you with photos. Use either your phone or digital camera, then e-mail the images to your designer.
In most parts of the state, tours start around the end of March and continue into May. Watch your local newspaper for announcements or contact your local garden clubs and Master Gardener groups, both of which frequently organize tours.
Garden Conservancy Open Days tours happen in communities across the country. In California, tours are planned for Los Angeles on May 15, and Pasadena on May 1. In San Francisco, East Bay, Marin, the Peninsula, and Saratoga/South Bay dates have not been set at press time. Visit gardenconservancy.org/opendays for current dates and ticket information.
Wherever you tour, in addition to your notebook and camera, take a bottle of water, and wear sunscreen and comfortable shoes to make it through the day.
Sometimes, tours are so well attended that you have to wait a few moments to enter a garden. That's a good time to strike up a conversation with the person next to you. You may learn something interesting about gardening, or at the least, make a new friend.
Please keep in mind that you are a guest in these gardens. Do not take plants, cuttings, seeds or anything else without permission from the owner. Most important, though, be inspired and enjoy your day.
Nan Sterman is author of "California Gardener's Guide Volume II." She's a gardening expert, communicator and designer who has long grown an organic garden of plants that both feed her family and beautify her yard.