March 28, 2013

Wonderful Things Come in Brown Paper Wrappers

Today’s mail brought an eagerly anticipated package, a publication with a brown paper cover.  Once upon a time, mail received in a ‘brown paper wrapper’ carried a certain unsavory connotation.  For the past six years, it has been a badge of honor. 

The publication in question is the 2013 edition of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Directory, 304 pages and hundreds of properties strong.  This 18-year-old program is a marvel of organization and good works.  The Garden Conservancy exists to preserve irreplaceable American gardens; the Open Days program is both a fund-raising tool and an educational outreach project. 

More than 3,000 individual gardens have been open for visitation since 1995 and, each year, approximately half of the gardens are new (we opened our own garden for the Conservancy in 2008).  The first garden of 2013 opened on March 23 in Houston; the last one will be on November 2 in Mount Kisco, NY.  I counted a total of 426 gardens in 17 states, certain of them open multiple times for roughly 500 visitation opportunities.

Gordon and Mary Hayward's garden
in Vermont will be open this summer.
The Garden Conservancy is strongest in New York and the Northeast.  Connecticut has 39 open gardens this year; 79 are in New York.  I note that for the first time this year, gardens will be open for the Conservancy in Charleston, South Carolina, all on May 25.  There are also a sizeable contingent of gardens in California and Washington.
Over the years, I have visited close to a hundred gardens under the auspices of the Conservancy.  A small number have been ‘reviewed’ in this blog (you can see write-ups here, here, here and here) but most are seen just for the pleasure and for the gathering of ideas.  No two gardens are alike.  Some are clearly professionally designed and maintained; others are just as clearly labors of love of the homeowner.  There are grand estates and quarter-acre pocket gardens.  I have never been to one that could be described as ‘non-descript’; each has a vision that is well articulated. 

Michael Trapp's garden in
Connecticut is memorable, and
open in 2013
A handful have been memorable duds – extravagant layouts conceived by landscapers and bereft of anything unusual.  Those are more than outweighed by the dozens of gardens that are one-of-a-kind visions. 
If you are a member of the Garden Conservancy, you receive a copy of the Open Days Directory as part of your membership.  Otherwise, look for them at garden centers and nurseries.  Entry to gardens is $5, members can also order a book of six tickets for $15.  We regularly go through several books of tickets each season.

The Open Days schedule is also available online, although certain garden owners request that their property be listed only in the directory.

If you’ve never been to an Open Days garden, make this the year that you start.  It is gardening education at its most enjoyable.

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