Editor’s note: “Welcome to My Garden” is a monthly column of news and advice for gardeners and would-be gardeners in the Danville area.
Temptation has been leading me down the garden path this spring and my head is exploding with new ideas. You see, I can’t resist a garden tour and this is the time of year when gardeners like to show off their creations. Garden tours, both public and private, are one of the best ways to learn about plants and find creative ways to garden. I never pass up the chance to visit other gardens and I keep my eyes open for announcements of tours. Recently, I joined a good gardening friend, Susan Jonas, for a tour in Woodford County. The day was perfect and we were giddy driving to the first garden, wondering what kind of things we would see.
Even when the gardens aren’t a bit like mine, I find there’s always something I can learn. A grand formal garden at first glance may seem to offer nothing useful for a suburban backyard, but look a little closer. That huge cement urn on a pedestal is filled with a pleasing combination of plants that I can use on a smaller scale. The life-sized statue of a woman surrounded by ferns just might translate to my cement statue of a standing rabbit, which I can surround by similar ferns. Get the idea?
In a small cottage garden, I recently saw a perfect, little garden shed built by the homeowner from found materials. Can I fit something like that into my backyard? Or maybe the stepping-stone path lined with hostas and ferns, shaded by a small dogwood. At the end of the path were two chairs and a tiny table that looked so inviting one hardly realized that it was a narrow side yard barely eight feet wide.
Garden tours allow us into the backyards of private homes, farms and grand estates, places we might never see otherwise. The tours almost always are fundraisers, so you’ll have to buy a ticket. But there are plenty of gardens you can tour for free, some right here in Danville.
The Garden Club of Danville maintains four public gardens you can visit any time at no charge. The Herb Garden at Constitution Square is a great place to see labeled culinary and medicinal herbs growing in a traditional herb garden plan. The Apothecary Garden at the Ephraim McDowell House is designed around a lawn, like a backyard with trees and shrubs, to give you an idea of the medicinal herbs like those used by Dr. McDowell. You can see herb gardens need not be formal. There also is a flower garden at McDowell Place and another at the Boyle County Humane Society planted with both perennials and annuals.
In Lexington, you can visit the Arboretum on Alumni Drive for free and wander for hours through formal and informal gardens with labeled plants, or around the two-mile walking trail that takes you through all the geologic areas of Kentucky with every tree grown in the state. It’s a great place to see trees and shrubs you are considering in their natural settings. Henry Clay’s home, Ashland, in Lexington, has a beautiful walled garden that is an inspiration, plus mature trees and shrubs in all their glory, and a large peony garden that is stunning in May.
In Frankfort, Liberty Hall and the Orlando Brown House share a very large informal garden that is particularly beautiful and open year ‘round at no charge. I never leave there without some new idea. In spring, they divide many of the plants in their borders and offer them for sale at very reasonable prices.
Perfect gardens can be intimidating to those of us without professional help and big budgets. Remember they’ve been working for weeks, even months, to reach this tour-day perfection. No garden is perfect all the time. Just when you’re feeling that your own garden could never look this good, you might spot a peony that isn’t nearly as pretty as yours, or a bird bath that hasn’t got half the charm of the one in your garden. That’s reassuring!
The trick is to watch for plants, accessories and ideas that will work in your garden. I’ve never met a gardener who wasn’t eager to share information and sometimes even plants. Ask about unfamiliar plants or the source of some clever accessory you covet. You might not be able to afford the beautiful wrought iron bench, but a cheaper, even homemade bench can give the same effect. You’ll be sure to discover some plant that you’ve never seen before or see new combinations of plants you like. That’s what’s so wonderful about gardening. If you paint a picture or build a table, once it’s done, that’s it. A garden is never really finished, always offering the hope of improvement or change. You never stop learning.
I invite your questions and comments, including gardening tips you have fond helpful. Send your comments, questions or tips to email@example.com
Sarah Wiltsee is the president of the Garden Club of Danville.