By Madaline Sparks
Columbines naturalized on a rock outcropping at Major General Ashley House.
As a professional gardener, I love to go on garden tours! The experience is always educating and inspiring. I recently attended the Trade Secrets Garden Tour. Four spectacular locations were open for viewing in Cornwall and Falls Village, CT and one in Sheffield, MA.
I won’t describe the gardens in detail here, but I would like to share my thoughts on the take-away from going on a garden tour. You can read full descriptions on their website.
1. Garden voyeurism.
The opportunity to be invited to wander the grounds of a beautiful garden (and snap away with our phones for reference later) is unbeatable. Let’s be honest, don’t we all have a little of the voyeur in us?
2. Being a good citizen.
The Trade Secrets Garden Tour is the major fundraiser for Women’s Support Services (WSS), whose mission is to create a community free of domestic violence and abuse. Most often, garden tours are organized as fundraisers for worthy causes so the whole effort is a win/win.
3. Plants, plants, and more plants!
It never fails that I discover plants and cultivars that I’ve not seen before. My phone is now filled with pictures of plants that I want to research.
4. Outside the box.
On the other hand, the gardens were also filled with plants I know very well. The exciting aspect of that is to see how another designer has employed them in a different way. It jolts me into re-imagining my own designs and how to use old favorites in ways that are unexpected and surprising.
5. Design ideas.
Parterre outside the conservatory at the garden of Bunny Williams.
The garden of Bunny Williams and John Rosselli, which appears on this tour every year, is a master class in the use of “garden rooms.” Walls are created by hedges, fences (from rustic to classic), stonewalls, allees, and pathways. Various structures, including a greenhouse, an outrageously clever pool house, a barn with an octagonal chicken coop and a conservatory, create spaces that must be reached by garden transitions. I call it the “Disneyland of Gardens” (and mean that in the most complimentary way).
More and more of my clients are interested in sustainable, low-maintenance landscapes that incorporate native plants and indigenous species. Of particular interest to me were the woodland gardens that I saw at the Williams/ Rosselli home and also at Pom’s Cabin Farm. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to see a wide range of native plants in situ, which are not typically found in abundance at most of our local nurseries and garden centers.
7. Classic design.
A view of the cottage garden at Coltsfoot Garden in Cornwall.
Three of the gardens on the tour exhibited the popular design style of English and French cottage gardens. The chance to see this classic type of garden interpreted in multiple forms was fascinating. Parterres were especially prominent. Cottage gardens are generally expected to be abundant and lush with vines, flowers, herbs, vegetables, small trees and shrubs. At maturity they evoke a feeling of wildness and abandon. These types of gardens must start with a somewhat formal and organized layout to contain the chaos of plants that mingle and spill in an informal way. Seeing the bones of these areas in spring, before the plants have taken over in their mid-summer exuberance, allowed me to view the layout and proportion without obstruction.
8. Sources for detail.
Tours are an excellent way to source ideas for solving landscaping design problems and finding inspiration for all the details that complete a garden that works on all levels. My iPhone is full of pictures of containers, bed edgings, paving stones, garden ornaments, fences, plant supports and other non-vegetative materials. Showing a mason a picture of a stone retaining wall pattern you admired means getting closer to the landscape of your dreams.
9. Container gardening
A collection of pots and garden ornaments at Williams/Roselli garden.
. I create a lot of container gardens for clients (and myself!) each year. Coming up with new ideas is a challenge and for those who like to change it up, one can get stuck. There were dozens and dozens of imaginative plant combinations and varieties that had my head spinning. And the pots, planters, boxes and tubs of all different shapes, sizes and materials were a revelation on their own!
10. Being in the moment.
Experiencing beauty is good for the mind and the soul. Even if you are not a gardener, the physical locations of the all properties were stunning and offered varying gorgeous views of the Housatonic River and the Litchfield Hills. And the route, an excuse to traverse roads that took me past hamlets, lakes, farms, and scenery that I’ve never explored, was a reward in itself.
For information about garden tours for the rest of season in the Rural Intelligence
region, check local county tourism listings and also the website of The Garden Conservancy, which lists the best private gardens to visit through their Open Days Program.