tour aftermath: 375 visitors, 1 million questions

jack-with-thought-bubbleA BOUT 375 VISITORS AND A MILLION QUESTIONS LATER, Jack and I are resting comfortably—Jack in his giant terra cotta bowl out back (lined with kitty bedding, thank you), me in my favorite chair. Garden Conservancy Open Days are over (“Thanks goodness,” he says, in the funny way he talks), and it is possible we may not get up for quite some time. But before our next nap, a recap…in words and also in a slideshow…of new friends who visited from as far as Canada and Seattle, of the most-popular plants, and the most-asked questions (and their answers):

entry-pathAnd up the path they came.

WHO VISITED: We met Twitter friends like @GardenGuyKenn (all the way from Michigan) and other blog-commenters like Bobster (all the way from Rhode Island) and Leslie (from Connecticut) and Ailsa and Patti, from Ottawa, Ontario.

We met Joyce from Iowa and Michelle from Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania (31 miles from Wilkes-Barre, apparently) and Sandra from Clarks Summit (also Pennsylvania, 8 miles from Scranton) and Julie from Reston, Virginia, and Stephanie from Bainbridge Island, Washington, and Stephanie from Seattle (both Stephanies, both from prime garden country…a coincidence?). Someone signed in as being from Scotland, but can that be so? And all of you, thank you, whether from a mile down the road or a country or ocean away…or whether you just visited our virtual tour yesterday.

gifts-from-toursSome of those who came in person came with gifts (a ceramic frog candy dish containing chocolate kisses from a crazy, crafty neighbor; a true alpine iris; a really giant and odd reddish plant, that apparently looks like a cross between cockscomb/love lies bleeding/and The Plant That Took Over the Universe). Jack waited for his favorite blog commenter and repeat visitor, DenDen, who again brought him his favorite brand of cat treats. All good.

They came with greetings, and they came with questions, including these that I answered at least 88 times apiece (more in the slideshow, below):

Q. Whose garden is this (asked at the registration table, where I do the signing in and say hello myself)?

A. (Big smile from me. Then laughter from both of us after they realize the answer is, “Mine.”)

Q. What is the cat’s name?

A. Jack.

Q. How long have you been doing this?

A. I’ve been here almost 23 years. Part time the first 21 years or so, fulltime since 12/31/07, but who’s counting? My 11th year of charity garden tours.

Q. Who helps you, and how much work is this?

A. I don’t recommend you try this at home (like they say on the automobile commercials when they drive fast on a steep cliffside).

I worked alone here on weekends the first 10 years, and then came Susan, a neighbor who gardens for a living. She has worked with me three or two days a week (depending on the month) from March or April to November for a decade. We are both getting too old for this, and there is a lot of wandering around on both our parts saying, “Now what was I going to get out of the barn?” when we cannot recall by the time we cross the yard, and (when moving heavy pots on the hand truck uphill or downhill): “You know, this will be how one of us gets killed someday…run over by a Japanese maple, RIP.”

Seriously, though, to barely maintain this place takes six or seven total days of someone’s work each week in April into mid-June (ditto during fall cleanup), and we could use a whole other person. In May we frequently ask our friend Kelly, a local chef and musician, to come help as well so we don’t fall too far behind.

Even with the occasional pinch-hitter, we don’t get some of the outer areas edged or mulched until about mid-June or even July. We start near the house, and work outward, and do the best we can. Susan is a dynamo (and the only person allowed to call me Marge, so watch it, the rest of you).

krossa-regalQ. What do you do with all these big clay pots in the winter?

A. If there are perennials in them, such as hostas or heucheras or golden Hakonechloa grass, I remove the plants (plunging them in the empty vegetable garden for the winter) and then wheel or carry the pots into a shed or barn or onto the back porch.

If there are houseplants in them like bromeliads or fancy-leaf begonias, I take those plants into the house (sometimes in their pots, sometimes in plastic pots that I have simply tucked into the clay ones all summer outside). Many tropical things go into the basement, some in big plastic nursery pots with soil; others bare root (like cannas) in open garbage bags.

Q. What do you do with your Japanese maples (in very large clay pots) in the winter?

A. They are technically hardy, but hate the ice and wind, so we wheel them into the unheated garage for the winter, in their pots. They stay there until sometime in mid April or so, and require water once or twice in late winter so they don’t dry out once the potting soil thaws. Every third year they must be potted up or root-pruned.


Q. What is the dark-leaved “viburnum” way out in the farthest beds, with white flowers?

A. It’s not a Viburnum, but Physocarpus ‘Diabolo,’ the ninebark. Deer love it (and so do I).

Q. What is the dark-leaved thing in the front yard with frothy white flowers?

A. That’s a non-vining Clematis, C. recta purpurea ‘Lime Close.’

Q. What’s that reddish vine on the back porch post, and the one with the painted leaves on the other wide of the house, and the fruit tree espaliered on the back?

asian-pear-summerA. A honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens; a male hardy kiwi, Actinidia kolomikta; an Asian pear (shown).

Q. There’s a pink Queen Anne’s lace out front. What is it?

A. Chaerophyllum hirsutum roseum.

Q. What is that large-leaved plant? And that one? And that one?

visitorsA. Petasites japonicus (naughty thug, below, so don’t get started with it); Astilboides tabularis (a dreamboat) and its cousin Rodgersia podophylla. I have the plain green one, but yum, anyhow. The latter two love shade.

Q. Are those some kind of giant onions in the vegetable garden (Alternate question pointing to same plant: Is that sugar cane in the vegetable garden)?

A. No, that is garlic. (Apparently actually following my own growing instructions carefully this year is really paying off in robust plants.)


Click the first thumbnail to get started, then toggle from slide to slide by using the arrows next to each caption.


The garden will be open again on August 22, for Copake Falls Day (my town’s second annual such event).  Hours to be determined and posted here or on the community’s blog as the time approaches. We will once again have a plant sale during the tours from nearby Loomis Creek Nursery, featuring plants I love and grow, which we did yesterday for the first time and was a big hit. Jack and I will see you all then.

  1. Christine R. says:

    I love seeing photos of your fantastic garden from the different angles! And am hopeful I can make it for the August Open Days – gotta plan a trip out up to the country from Chicago and visit my SIL who has a house nearby.
    Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. margaret says:

    Welcome, Mischelle. Ha! You and the Clarks Summit contingent were co-conspirators! Love it. I have ‘Coppertina’ ninebark next door at the little guest house/office (which I will try to have open in August too; big tree needed taking out and it has been very chaotic there this spring, no access to garden as a result lately). You will have to tell me you are *the ones* sent by the Cohen Bros. That can be our (wink-wink) secret code word. :)

    Welcome, Christine R. I do hope (as I expect your S-I-L does) that you come East that week. If not, I will continue to work on my photo skills and try to show it to you at least a little bit. See you soon here again on the blog I hope.

  3. catjane says:


    Both garden slide shows are lovely. I went through them several times, and I’m sure I will again. Beautiful!

    Thank you for your honest explanation of how many woman hours it takes to bring your garden to this level of perfection. Sometimes I want to cry. (Sometimes I do – a little.) I try to imagine how I would go about hiring someone to work with me. Any suggestions?

  4. Lisa says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Your many years of hard work has really paid off. The house and grounds are absolutely magnificent! I’ve seen summer and winter photographs of your property and you obviously incorporate many perennials that “die out” in the coldest months. I’ve always preferred evergreen trees, shrubs and plant material so the garden always seems “full” but I know I’m limiting myself from tremendous beauty. How do I overcome that “you’ve lost that lovin’ feelin” during the drab winter months when alot of things have to be cut back and the garden seems bare?

    Also, I’m somewhat of a garden novice although I love gardening. I feel light-years away from being a qualified Master Gardener, so where would you suggest I begin? I’d like to “master” my own 100′ square garden before teaching others…knowing that education, hands-on experience and “tried and true” knowledge are key.

    You’re a doll to share so much of your world on awaytogarden-com.ptn3h8t4-liquidwebsites.com and thesisterproject.com, both enormously gratifying creations. At the risk of sounding cliche’, you are truly my inspiration!

  5. Country gardener says:

    Hi Margaret, re your description of what it takes to maintain your garden, boy, can I relate. It never ends. It takes us forever to get the mulching on way off parts too. Cheers/Yvonne

  6. Candylei says:

    I wish I could have been the 376th person! There is so much to do here that I would have to hack my way out to the road. Only kidding a little. I hope you took a movie of that day for fun…like next winter when it’s white and freezing out. Keep up the good work.
    p.s. Okay, I also want to paint your garden.

  7. Lisa says:

    To Candylei – I love that “hack my way out to the road.” How often have I been *there.* About 4 years ago, I decided to upsize the home and downsize the yard, and I haven’t looked back since! When I had over an acre to mow, I refused to purchase a tractor, preferring instead to push mow (no self-propelled, here, baby, girl gotta be tough!). That was my exercise and my time of reflection and goal setting…of course, it also gave me plenty of time to survey all the things I still needed to do in the garden!

  8. ML says:

    In a previous blog you mentioned a garden bed edger that you like a lot. I can’t find the posting. Would you please repeat the brand?

  9. Gail Hochsprung says:

    Margaret So sorry to have missed your tour of your wonderful gardens I will make every effort to come in August I have loved gardening for so many years and ours are still a plan in motion For the past 30 years we started from nothing with a new house 2 young children and just the want for a hobby Now we definitely have found one and just love every moment Each year you sort of forget what you have in the beds and then they are super full just in front of your nose See you in August

  10. margaret says:

    Welcome, Gail. Yes: You sort of forget, and then, BAM!, a big surprise when it all pops up out of nowhere. See you here on the blog and here in August, too, I hope.

  11. Lisa says:


    I was so in awe of your home and gardens, I shared the virtual tour with several of my co-workers. They, like me, were all blown away at how gorgeous everything is! We marveled over everything down to the sheds and the frogs! My boss *especially* loves the frogs!

    We’re all going home on this Friday inspired to pull out the garden tools and try to emulate your success…I’ll touch base in 20 or so years to let you know how close we are! It’s absolutely amazing that the gardens are this fantastic when you basically stayed in the City during the week….how did you possibly stand being away???

  12. Bill says:

    Your place is just fantastic, Margaret. And, I’d be interested, too as Lisa is, to hear how you were able to improve and sustain your garden grounds while working most of the time in the city, and then, how you decided that you’d had enough of the city and would spend all your time in your upstate place.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Bill: The more I worked (career I mean) and the bigger the garden got, the more I needed help in the garden, and found a neighbor who did that freelance. We have worked together here for many years now, a tag team. How I decided I’d had enough is the subject of the book I sold and am writing, so not sure I can answer briefly. I had always wanted to “drop out,” and live in a rural environment, from a pretty early age, but was also drawn to career and success and so on, so eventually when I had enjoyed some of that, I thought, “Uh-oh, time will run out if I don’t try the other soon.” That’s the short version. Midlife helps us make important decisions sometimes.

  13. wkeithscott says:

    Hi Margaret: I don’t get much time to lounge in an nice chair, at least this year, ++ so busy, [us] in the garden. But, I really appreciate your regular web site, and your link’s, and now friends as well.
    Only yesterday, picking up an dew late summer thing’s at an N. TO/ON, Canada nursery. Did notice an fab… Hydrangea Pinky Winky, incredible I must say. To observe it now by friend – link here -Wilkerson Mill Gdns., an rosy pink flower tipped with an acme white derivative. I’m rushing back Monday morning to buy it, for an mid garden small raised by position. I wandered through the comments, and recent visitors day investigators, frogs/toad’s et al.
    Thank You ever so much, you help make life [garden[ more fun, and appreciative…to stop an bit an smell the roses.
    So Long for now!
    k +

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, WKeithScott, and thanks for the kind words. You remind me of Wilkerson Mills…I have to go look for what’s up with them, as I haven’t in awhile. Thanks for that reminder! More toads today, which was fun; their bellies that hang right onto the ground just delight me. See you soon again here I hope.

  14. margaret,

    here is a voice from illinois. have always enjoyed your work and this past weekend felt like i could almost reach out and touch you. i know, that just sounded strange!
    anyways, my sister and i were visiting eddie and jaithan. you and your blogs were a big topic of conversation, particularly how talented and genuinely nice you are.
    hope to come up sometime when your gardens are open and meet in person.
    thank you for inspiration!
    scentimental gardens
    landscape design/build
    blog; http://www.5thandstate.blogspot.com (just wrote about our eddie visit)

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Debra. How sweet of you to send such a nice message. Be sure to tell those boys next time you are visiting them to just pressure me into a special tour. Eddie and Jaithan have been very kind to me, and are neighbors as well, so I’m always happy to hear from them. See you soon again here and eventually in person, I hope. :)

  15. Bill says:

    Who does Jack think he is? You would think he owns the place! Not to change the subject, but I found worm bins to be faster than compost bins to convert my kitchen waste into nutrient rich soil for potted plants and new transplants outdoors. A regular composter takes 5 weeks or more to do anything with the material. Earthworms convert it in about a week and into smaller particles.

  16. Cathy says:

    I was surprised to see that you remove hostas and other perennials from clay pots for the winter. I leave mine in the pot and winter in an unheated garage. Come spring i bring out and water and away they go again. I do this with many ornamental grasses and also hostas. Why do you remove your plants?

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