I remember how, as a child, I always worked feverishly on some special gift for my mother for Christmas. I'd start on an elaborate project much too late, and work on it excitedly for several weeks imagining how surprised she'd be. Then the big day came and I would present my handywork, and she always was just as delighted as I'd imagined.
Garden Tour Day is now a lot like that for me, except more so. All year, I enjoy making small changes to the garden, tweaking the colors or pruning plants to harmonize better. While it's of course great joy just in the moment, I also think a little of all those visitors on Garden Tour day. In spring, the great cleanup operation starts. This year, I ran late because of the late storms and got help. It was a revelation to work with a professional gardener who doesn't use power tools and knows native plants. One week before the tour, the garden was in top shape except for a few missing plants that could not go in because the house paint still needed patching.
On Saturday before the tour I got up early, went to the CNPS plant sale for a few little trinkets, then set to work planting the new Arctostaphylos St. Helena, a perfect plant for the sunny spot near the fountain where the ill-fated Japanese maple the previous owners had put there had not made it back from dormancy.
If this plant really grows a foot a year, it will soon be just perfect for the spot!
More clean-up was needed here and there, and I fell into bed quite tired, but also giddy with anticipation. Sunday morning I got up and made a hearty breakfast, and then distributed the plant labels. I've written the names of many of the plants on yogurt lids and place the lids somewhere near the plants (as shown on the two photos above). Visitors appreciate that the writing is big, and I just collect the lids when the tour is over and put them aside for next year. I have some empty lids for the annual additions, and besides, I'm happy to answer questions.
By 8:30, Nicky from Gold Rush Nursery had arrived with a big rental truck and had started putting up tables and putting out plants. Above, she's almost ready. Her plants were very popular; they are healthy, many come in 4-inch pots and are quite affordable, and I don't know how she manages to have so many of them bloom at just the perfect time. She also labels butterfly and hummingbird plants, allowing everyone to find the perfect collection for their own special space.
Nurseries that have sales on tour day donate part of their profits to the Garden Tour for next year's expenses (mostly T-Shirts, signs, and publicity). The tour is entirely run by volunteer and no one makes any money.
While Nicky was setting up, I brought out 2 chairs and folding tables for my volunteers. The tables were for visitor sign-in and for materials from the water district and other sponsors. We were happy to hand out information about invasive plants, about CNPS, and about water conservation. Around 8:30, my volunteers arrived, I swept one more batch of leaves, put out my native plant books and the Before and After poster, and we were ready!
I had one assigned greeter for morning and one for afternoon. In addition, Alex, who lives around the corner, signed up as an all-day volunteer and stayed almost 5 hours. We were very happy to have him because we had a lot of visitors that day. We also had 3 docents in the morning (Mr. Mouse, my garden designer Chris Todd, and myself) and 2 docents in the afternoon (Ms Country Mouse and myself). Docents answered questions about the plants and about gardening with natives, and we were very busy all day.
It was especially fortunate that the Ceanothus 'Tilden Park' in front was in full bloom (and I'd trimmed back the Phacelia so the path was visible again). In the front, visitors also enjoyed the first blossoms of Penstemon heterophyllus and of Salvia 'Shirley's Creeper', a black sage.
I'd planted two black sages, and the one that's getting more sun was blooming much more impressively, shown here with the beautiful manzanita berries (click for a closer view).
In the back, the Ceanothus thyrsiflorus had, alas, not yet started to bloom, but the Carpenteria had just opened its first 6 blossoms. Amazingly, the Ribes sanguinium var. glutinosum was still showing the last faded blossoms. It's been an odd year weather-wise, quite cool for the most part and the results have been -- interesting.
Even Galvezia speciosa (island snap dragon) had a few small blossoms, immediately spotted by several native plant experts among the visitors (and completely ignored by the rest).
We had quite a few kids visit, and several boys from a church group spent quite a bit of time drawing the plants with colored pencils, which was fun to watch. We were sorry to have to block off the wooden bridge that small children especially usually enjoy crossing over.
But during garden clean-up, the gardener had discovered a small bird's nest under the frond of a fern. I determined soon that it was a junco's nest -- as soon as I was in the vicinity, a junco nearby protested loudly and when I googled the junco's nesting habits, the nest was a match. Fortunately, the bridge was fairly easy to block off and I hope we'll soon see the baby birds enjoying the garden.
The weather on tour day was perfect (if a bit cold in the shade), the visitors were fun and complementary, and the plant sale went very well. At 4pm, I closed the garden gate and collected my yogurt lids while Nicky sold the last small batch of plants to a neighbor and to a special visitor. Yes, Ms. Curbstonevalley and her husband had made the trip over the hill and were there for a cup of tea. Ms. Country Mouse and Mr. Mouse sat down with our guests while I prepared the tea. Then we heard about some of their adventures on the farm, told stories about the tour, and enjoyed the most amazing chocolate chip cookies brought from the farm.
Time went by much too quickly. We toured the garden together, but then Ms. Country Mouse had to start on her long way home and not long after all our guests were gone (though they left some cookies).
After collecting all materials, and bringing the tables inside, I looked at the total: 339 visitors! A new record. Exhausted and happy, we went out for dinner, shared some stories (what's your response when visitors say "I'm so jealous"? "Don't be!"?) and went to bed fairly early, glad that everything had gone so well.