Gardens: A gift to share |

Gardens: A gift to share

Is your garden ready? Garden tours, weddings, visitors from editors or even a dinner party thrown for friends may send even the most peaceful gardener into frenzied activity.

One solution, of course, is to invite over only those people who accept you and your garden for all the wonderful individuality and even imperfections each offers.

My garden hat is off to those homeowners who are opening their gardens to the public this weekend. With winter weather that just would not quit in time to allow early maintenance, and every weed seed germinating in even the tidiest garden, this is a challenging year in which to “be ready” by mid-May.

Each garden has good and bad moments, much as the gardener does. At the very least, most gardeners will have to give up their expectations of perfection. In my own garden, the most perfect plant is the 350-year-old black oak behind the house. And if I had to give up all my other plants to keep only one, it would surely be this magnificent native. There is a powerful lesson here: This heritage tree has been and will hopefully continue to be perfect with no intervention from me.

The garden that challenges me the most is my rock garden, with the invasion of Johnson grass. But seen through my granddaughters eyes when she was five years old, it was

“Grandma’s magic garden.” Now almost 10 years old, it is still her favorite spot, and I still see the weeds. Last week as I sat on a bench looking out on this garden, I realized that what was most important was the moment. I was sharing the bench with a friend I had not seen in a long time. His own garden is always very tidy, but I realized that I was not bothered by the neglect in mine. Right now the vegetable garden nearby is more important, and I am not “open to the public.” I wonder if he noticed the weeds, or was he, too, appreciating the moment.

One year an editor from Sunset magazine was visiting my garden. Thrown into what I call the “gardener’s panic” the week before, I spread some compost over weeds I did not have time to pull. The compost was still hot, actively decomposing, and within 20 minutes had burned most of the foliage in my largest perennial bed. A good lesson in what not to do. And another of life’s lessons in humility. Of course I showed the editor what I had done.

Another year I was writing an article about Artemisias for Fine Gardening magazine. Because I had mentioned that most of them were growing in my garden, the editor decided to fly from the East Coast to take photographs. While my garden looked wonderful, I left her a message (another manifestation of “gardener’s panic”) advising that there were wonderful Artemisias at the UC Davis Arboretum. Her message back: “I thought you said that your garden was ready”. It had to be. She stayed for three days, photographing many areas of my garden. If a weed was in the way, she pulled it. And she loved my garden!

Open gardens are a gift to the fortunate visitors, whether it is a crowd on the garden tour or a select few over for afternoon tea. If you are a visitor at a garden that has been opened to you, express your appreciation to the resident gardener, and take time to sit on the first bench you see. A garden is meant to be in, not just walk through. And for that, it is “ready” anytime and in any season.

Carolyn Singer has been gardening in the foothills for 28 years. She is the author of “Deer in My Garden, Volume 1: Perennials and Subshrubs”. She will be teaching a class for Sierra College in October 2006 about landscaping and gardening in the foothills. She may be reached at

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