“The Visokey garden in Winnetka, Illinois, embodies graceful modern geometry, repetition, color, texture and scale.”

The Wall Street Journal

Walk, Talk and Gawk

Hosting a garden tour can be as satisfying as orchestrating a perfect dinner party, says Marian McEvoy

by Marian McEvoy July 28, 2012 | 2:52 PM

Gardening is half pleasure, half peril. Anyone who’s planted a window box knows that the best laid plans don’t always pan out—Mother Nature has her own ideas. Some plantings leaf out, flower and fruit profusely every year; others stall, fester or crumple completely. Soil toil is great exercise, but aching backs, sunburn, broken nails and scratched up arms are definitely part of the process. Deluges and droughts are even more devastating. It’s no wonder that when plants survive and thrive, the people who tend them show them off.

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The Visokey Garden in Winnetka, Ill., embodies precise and graceful modern geometry, repetition, color, texture and scale. (Photo courtesy of The Garden Conservancy)

Enter the private garden tour. Hosting one can be as satisfying as unveiling a new décor or orchestrating a perfect dinner party. Taking an outdoor garden tour exposes you to new plants, inventive layouts and unusual designs and structures that could enrich your own outdoor space. When you feel you’re ready to stage your own garden party/tour, timing is everything. Some plantings come into their own during early or mid spring; some look better in summer or fall. If your allée of blush-pink peonies is more breathtaking than your clumps of asters and sedums, plan a garden tour in May. If your dahlias and hydrangeas pack more punch than your tulips, hyacinths or daffodils, go for a July or August tour. (If you keep a garden journal, you can pinpoint which plants flower when.) Once you’ve decided on the week and month, time of day is crucial, too. Take a tip from professional garden photographers, who work early in the morning or late in the afternoon. (They also love shooting landscapes on cloudy, foggy and rainy days, but that’s an acquired taste you don’t need to acquire.) In short, harsh midday sun makes gardens look homogenous and flat: Leaves and flowers tend to droop a bit under the heat. So do people, so nix a midday garden party.

Garden Tour Ideas

Most important, plan your garden party/tour as a walk, talk and gawk treasure hunt for about a dozen people. You don’t need a soundtrack or candles—your beautifully coddled, at-their-peak plants are the stars. Decide on a tour route that ends in a surprise treat. As you guide people past shrubs and flower beds, be prepared to identify specific plants, but if some of your guests are less than avid greenies, don’t hit them up with an overload of proper Latin names and pruning tips. The pot of gold at the end of the tour should be a lingering sunset and a small table set up with cocktails. A big pitcher of iced tea will hit the spot if it is garnished with sprigs of homegrown mint. A couple of bottles of Prosecco or pink Champagne will be great in the great outdoors if you toss in a few raspberries plucked from the prickly bushes climbing up your gazebo. If you live in California, try serving a big, icy pitcher of gin fizz made with the limes from the trees flanking your patio. Give a tour—celebrate the fruits of your labor.