July 15, 2013

The Berkshires Seemed Dreamlike....

If you are a member of a garden club or other civic organization, and you have ever thought, ‘Hey, we could raise some money by putting on a garden tour,’ here is my advice:  if you’ve never organized a tour before, don’t do anything until July 11, 2015.  Then, get yourself to Lenox, Massachusetts, and buy a ticket to the Lenox Garden Club’s ‘Hidden Treasures of the Berkshires’ garden and house tour.  After you’ve been on that tour, go home and replicate their efforts.
I know a thing or two about garden tours.  Five years ago, I watched as my wife, Betty, organized and ran an exceptionally innovative (and extremely successful) two-weekend tour for the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts.  Our own home has been part of the Garden Conservancy Open Days program and a stop on other garden tours. 
In short, I know what kind of work goes into a successful tour and this past weekend’s ‘Hidden Treasures’ tour was a class act.  Here’s why:
The weir and rapids at this property
were created as part of the
landscape design  Double-click
for a full-screen image.
Start with the tour ticket.  It’s a 34-page effort; a description of the homes and gardens on display, a map of how to get from garden to garden, plus a whole lot of full-color ads.  The first rule of a successful garden tour is to never, ever give short shrift to sponsors and the Lenox Garden Club brought in lots of them.  People go on tours because they’re looking for garden or home ideas.  The ads say, ‘Why not start with us?’  A sponsor-heavy tour also means an organization doesn’t need to depend on ideal weather (with lots of ‘walk-in’ tour-goers) to meet its financial goals.
Continue with the signage.  We sort of know our way around Berkshire County but the byways on which the gardens were located were unfamiliar to us.  No problem:  we got off the Mass Pike and were immediately presented with yellow signs point us to the appropriate gardens.  There was even a ticket sale and information table set up right across the road from a fast food restaurant within sight of the exit. When there was a fork in the road, those yellow signs kept us headed in the right direction. The tour recognized that not everyone has GPS.
An enclosed garden space at
one property provided an
opportunity to get close to plants
Remember that docents are the ‘special sauce’ in a tour and that a smiling, helpful docent can make the difference between an ‘OK’ tour and a memorable one.  The dozens of docents we met were uniformly friendly and ready to assist or answer questions.  (As an aside, one of the first docents we ran into was Jacqueline Connell who, when she isn’t in the Berkshires, is president of the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut.  Which goes to prove that being a docent is a noble calling.)
Make it easy to get to the gardens.  One of the outstanding features of the Lenox tour was that shuttle buses took us from parking areas to remote gardens.  One such garden was in the middle of a 500-acre estate and the only available parking was in a field by the main road.  A pair of 14-passenger buses made a continuous loop from the parking area.  Such transportation is not cheap, but it is a necessity if you want to ensure that everyone can enjoy the event.  Three of the gardens had such shuttles.
Keep the homeowners happy.  Four of the five properties encouraged visitors to take a look inside the house.  At three of those homes, docents were handing out booties to slip over shoes.  The ladies who gently but adamantly insisted that everyone who entered the homes don those booties deserve a round of applause and, possibly, a stiff drink.
Garden tours are about more than
horticulture.  The 'hardscape' at
this property included a covered
bridge built to a walking scale.
Make the gardens instructive.  A garden tour should offer a range of ideas.  Some gardens should be over the top, some should offer ideas accessible to even the most modest garden.  The Lenox tour offered a range of gardens but, if I can offer a single quibble, it is that they all appeared to have been professionally designed and maintained.  On the other hand, at the most luxurious garden (created by one of the region’s top designers), the homeowners were on hand to answer visitor questions.
Use the proceeds wisely.  The Lenox Garden Club has been around for more than a century and this tour was their 22nd edition of what is now a biennial event.  The tour book makes clear where the proceeds of the fund-raiser go.  In an excellent essay by club member Michelle Gillett, the beneficiaries are enumerated:  the Berkshire Botanical Garden, MassAudubon, Berkshire Natural Resource Council, the Nature Conservancy, Housatonic Valley Association, Trustees of Reservation/Naumkeag, and the Edith Wharton home, The Mount.  That’s an impressive list.

I tip my hat to the club for a job well done.

July 1, 2013

Hit the Road, Jack!

One of my cherished memories of a July morning is this:  I am standing in cool grass surrounded by a seaside garden in its full summer glory; a symphony of color and form.  Beyond the garden is the ocean or, more specifically, Little Narragansett Bay.  The breeze from the water is delicious; the sight of sailboats bobbing in the water makes the contrast with the garden all the more vivid…
It is a truth universally acknowledged that gardeners love to show off their handiwork, especially for a worthy cause.  And, July is the heart of the garden tour season here in New England.
A garden in Windham, NH to be
open July 13 and 14
Perhaps your July will be spent in a distant vacation spot but, if you live in New England and are staying local for some part of the month, or visiting this part of the country from elsewhere, consider taking a day (or many days) and going on a garden tour.  You may be benefitting a local garden club’s civic development programs or a national garden preservation organization but, mostly, you will be benefitting yourself.  Seeing someone else’s garden opens our eyes to the possibilities in our own back yard.
You could start on Tuesday, July 9th when the Falmouth Garden Club hosts ‘Falmouth Blooms’, a look at nine private in-town gardens.  The tour runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and tickets will be available the day of the tour at the Falmouth Historical Society Education Center, 65 Palmer Avenue.
A Japanese-inspired garden to be
open in Canterbury, NH July 13-14
The next day, you can tour a series of private gardens in East Sandwich from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  The tour benefits the environmental education programs of the Thornton W. Burgess Society and its Green Briar Nature Center.  Tickets are available at the Nature Center, 6 Discovery Hill Rd. in East Sandwich.
The garden tour floodgates open on Saturday, July 13 as the Garden Conservancy Open Days Program spotlights five gardens in Westport, Dartmouth, and South Dartmouth; two gardens in Stonington, Connecticut; and six gardens in Nashua, Londonderry, Canterbury, Goffstown, Chichester and Windham, New Hampshire.  The Merrimack Valley gardens will also be open on Sunday, as will one in Rockville, Connecticut.  You can get capsule descriptions and locations of all of the Open Days gardens, which are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., here
A seaside garden to be open July 13
in South Dartmouth, MA
That same day, one of the ‘grand dames’ of garden tours will be held as the Lenox Garden Club hosts the ‘Hidden Treasures of the Berkshires’ in Lee and Tyringham.  The five gardens include a thousand-acre estate with the remains of a ‘Marble Palace’ and two Gilded Age estates remodeled for contemporary living.  You can get more information here.

Also on July 13, The Private Gardens of the Kennebunks tour will be held in Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, Maine.  You can get details about the tour here.  The 19th annual edition of the event benefits the region's child abuse prevention organization.  The hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
On Sunday, July 14, the Provincetown Art Association will host a Secret Garden tour through P’town’s East End between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.  A fleet of shuttles will make continuous stops among the gardens and you can get additional information about the tour here.  Also on Sunday, the Georges River Land Trust in Rockland, Maine, hosts its immensely popular ‘Gardens in the Watershed’ tour.  This tour is more than just pretty flowers. Among the seven gardens are a working farm, a nursery and a sunflower business, and the price of a tour ticket includes short talks on gardening-related topics.  You can get more information here.
The Pergola at the Farm House
in Bar Harbor, ME, open July 28
Saturday, July 20, will be a very busy day for garden tours.  If you’re in the Berkshires, you can be part of the Gardens of Pittsfield tour either Saturday or Sunday.  Just to the south, the New Marlborough Cultural Council hosts a garden tour in that community on Saturday.

Also on July 20, Bedrock Garden in Lee, NH opens for the one day per month that Jill Nooney welcomes drop-in guests.  The 36-acre garden is rich in both horticulture and sculpture.
In the Worcester area, the Garden Conservancy will open two gardens in Stow and one each in Sterling, North Grafton, and Boylston on July 20. Those gardens are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  In Vermont’s Equinox Valley, The Garden Conservancy offers two gardens in Manchester and one each in East Arlington and South Londonderry.  If you’d like to see gardens in nearby Connecticut, two gardens in Meriden will be open on Saturday and, on Sunday, four gardens in Farmington, Canton and New Hartford.

Finally, on July 28, there are Open Days in Bar Harbor, Maine.  Three properties, two of them inextricably linked to Beatrix Farrand, are among them. Garland Farm was Ms. Farrand’s last home and garden; The Farm House is the only surviving Farrand-designed garden (1928) in its original state in Bar Harbor and has been owned by the same family for the past century. The third property, Kenarden, is notable for its Italianate garden and lush, romantic flower gardens.  The three properties are open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. only.