June 23, 2014

The Summer Garden Tour

Back in February, I was invited by the Danvers Garden Club to present ‘Gardening Is Murder’ at the organization’s monthly meeting.  As frequently happens, I spoke at the end of the evening and so had the opportunity to sit through the club’s business session. 

Although the snow was piled high outside, the primary subject for the evening was planning for ‘Enchanted Gardens’, a tour of ten member gardens that would not take place for another four months.  This was not a new topic; rather, this was the final logistics session.  The tickets, garden descriptions and tour map had all been printed.  That evening’s discussion was about docents, refreshments, raffle items and ticket sales.

The tour program.  Double-click
to see at full size
As I listened, I was struck by both the level of planning for the event and for the assumption that the chosen date would bring good weather.  The back-and-forth went on for half an hour: a checklist with a list of responsibilities that ensured nearly every able-bodied member of the club would be pressed into service.

This past weekend, Betty and I had the opportunity to see what was wrought by the club.  It was beautiful, and was augmented by falling on one of those ‘ten perfect days of the year’ that never seem to fall on a Saturday or Sunday.

The Collins garden is all about color
Until the 18th Century, Danvers was part of neighboring Salem and, for the record, the ‘Salem’ witch trials took place in what is now Danvers (many of the historical homes of the period still stand).  It is a town of older, small houses on village-sized lots, but it also has its share of estate-sized properties.  ‘Enchanted Gardens’ focused on those small, intimate properties where homeowners creatively used shrubs and walls to create distinct ‘rooms’ that invited exploration.

Here are some notes on three of the ten gardens:

We started with a suburban garden, where the Collins family showed they believe in color and unusual plant selection to make a statement about gardening.  On the front porch was a chartreuse-color container overflowing with yellow, peach, pink and red calibrochoa.  By the garage was a plant stand with pots in colors of plum, orange, pike and chartreuse.  Though most contained simple petunias or New Guinea impatiens, the overall effect was to create an entire, memorable wall of color.  The garden also incorporates some cultivars with which I was unfamiliar, such as a Delphinium ‘Summer Blues’ that trades the larkspur’s usual stake-it-or-else flower spikes for a mound of beautiful blue flowers.

The Skane garden was about texture
Any garden that features a table laid out with freshly made mimosas gets a ‘thumbs up’ from me, but the small village garden of Ian Skane would have been memorable even without drinks.  The guide indicated this was the garden of “Melanie and Ian Skane” but Ian immediately acknowledged that he is the gardener and not his spouse. His co-gardener is his mother, who was also on hand to talk about the property.  She is English by birth and grew up with gardens; she transmitted that love of growing things to her son. 

Geometry plus color at the
Sanborn garden
The Skane garden uses a fence to divide one planting area visible from the street from other, more private places to the side and rear of the home.  Much of the rear garden is shades of green, but with textures and leaf size providing the drama.  The lone bright bursts of color come from clutches of yellow oenothera, which Ian gleefully says he pulls out by the armload after the bloom passes. 

At the foot of the verandah, a
vegetable garden
Kathy and David Sanborn have a home on the part of town that touches the Danvers River leading into Beverly Harbor.  The home is gracious and, down a glorious geometric stone and gravel walkway lined with hosta and hydrangea, there’s a wonderful verandah.  And what is at the base of the verandah is anything but the expected:  there’s a beautiful, working vegetable garden in raised beds.  There are also containers overflowing with flowers at every turn.  This is a home where every square foot of the property has been thought through.

Bright containers overflowing
There is a purpose to all the hard work that members of the garden club went through to make that day happen.  I learned that more than 300 tickets were sold (at $20 for advance purchases and $25 on the day of the tour).  Tours also incur expenses, but it would not be unreasonable to conclude that the club netted several thousand dollars for its considerable effort.

And what does the club do with that money?  Give it away, mostly, by re-investing it in the community.  The balance of that business meeting I sat through in February was about planting sites around the town, scholarships awarded, donations to garden-related causes, and garden therapy at area nursing homes.  I would guess that virtually every dime raised for the tour gets put back into making Danvers a more attractive place to live.

So the next time you see a clutch of balloons and a sign saying ‘garden tour this way’, take an hour or two out of your schedule and go help a worthy cause.  It’s a little beauty that may brighten your day.

1 comment:

  1. Neal, when we were living in England we always took advantage of "Open Garden" days. It was a chance to see something new and make note of ideas. I loved the fact that the "mother of the gardener" at the Skanes was a Brit. They do love their gardens. It sounds like the Sanborn garden was an inspiration. And I loved the Collins' use of colorful pots. Thanks so much for the tour!