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. Rosella says:

    I am dying of envy here, and plotting how to make a trip to upstate New York in August! It must be cooler than northern Virginia, surely?
    Your blog is outstanding — there is so much information, so well presented, so useful and interesting, that I am becoming quite addicted. And those cat treats are Dame Kiri te Katerwaul’s favourites, too.

  2. Julie says:

    *Swoon* I am in LOVE with your gardens, Margaret!

    How can I sign up for your August garden tour? I’m just an hour away from the NY/Canada border. I would love to visit.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Julie. No need to sign up, just show up! Seriously, check with the blog and the community blog like I included and the details will be there, and you can also email closer to the date to the blog address which is awaytogarden at gmail dot com. I am adjacent to Berkshire County, MA, which is a cultural mecca in summertime (Tanglewood, for instance, is summer home to the Boston Symphony…Shakespeare and Company plays are also minutes away…Jacob’s Pillow Dance theater…etc.). A good local blog to research for more ideas for your potential trip is Rural Intelligence. It is a lovely summer destination, WAY beyond my garden. (And p.s., The Garden Conservancy scheme may list open gardens that month en route for you, I don’t know, but worth a look.)

  3. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    Margaret what a wonderful day for the garden tour. Luckily NO rain. Your garden and house have a story book quality. It is interesting how the house is enveloped by the garden. Your progressive plantings, out from the house have a Yin and Yang quality. The Yin, to me is the close, protected spaces around the house, and the Yang is the more open space , with the great view from the top of the garden, at the point of the two chairs. From that vantage point, the house becomes small, and it is all about the view of the trees, and scenery looking west. My sister, not into gardening YET, loved your fancy pots on the gravel patio, and you color choices for the single plantings, in them. She was fascinated by all of your different kinds of plants you have. Behind you house, she saw the honeysuckle, and said “Why don’t you get one of those”? She was also attracted to the white , with gold rhododendron , in one of the beds, up on the hill. Would you believe that in 2004 , my first Garden Conservancy tour was of your garden? I saw it on line and made the trek to your neck of the woods. I remember you giving me directions to Millerton, and told me to go into a book store there. A few years later , I became a card carrying, tour book hauling member. After going to your place, we went to the Magowan & Mattila garden in Salisbury, Ct. I think my sister found her interest in gardening there. She was quite taken by the different trees and shrubs they have at their place. Going up to Great Barrington, we stopped at the Big Y. She saw a fancy Regal clematis there, and talked me into buying it. It will HOPEFULLY live on the lamp post in the garden out front.

  4. Dana says:

    Oh Margaret!

    My husband Don and I had a lovely visit to your little piece of heaven. We made the grand circle of the grounds at least 3 times and saw something new each time. One of the new green up-and-comin’ frogboys even came out and serenaded us. Don kept stopping at the Fringe Tree to breathe in it’s sweetness… on the other hand I was determined to see the windrow and made a mental note to order nectaroscordum this fall. (I thought they were some sort of nodding allium but Andrew and Bob at LC set me straight.)

    We made quite a day of it… stopping to see Loomis Creek and a late lunch at the brewpub in Great Barrington. Then back to New Hampshire where I bemoaned my zone 4b status and went out to cover the tomatoes and basil. (went down to 35 – whew!)

    Thank you so much for generously opening your garden. Enjoy some well deserved time off… you and Jack were the perfect hosts. >”<

  5. Hannah says:

    Hi there
    Just wanted to drop in and give you a drink (not really but it sounds like you could use one!) I wish I could come and visit but its too far for me (I’m in Vancouver). Have you ever thought about labelling the plants for such events or is that just too much more work?

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Hannah. My project to label the garden started last year, and will probably take me until I drop dead. I got through many of the big shrubs and the trees…but the problem is, my beds sre so big (wide/deep) that even when labeled, nobody can get to the labels without stepping in the beds (which is not a good thing, obviously). So I’d have to do signs at the edge of the bed…and I just know I will never get to it. This is why I need a volunteer or 10. :) Hope to see you soon again here.

  6. Tammy says:

    I am so excited that there will be another opportunity to see your garden this year! I KNOW it will be cooler there than Texas in Aug. I would so love to see it in person.

  7. Peter aka Dooryarder says:

    Thank you, Margaret – it was stunning, as usual. I always come away feeling rejuvenated, happy, inspired, wanting more – and like I learned a lot. Then there’s the funny thing I feel because, 40 years ago, I spent plenty of winter afternoons after school sledding down your hill – all the way to the long-gone train tracks.

    1. margaret says:

      @Peter: It is funny to think of you sledding down the hill…there were more houses in the now-woods here, then…someday we should go look at the foundations and see if you remember. See you all soon again I hope when it’s less hectic. Wow!

  8. James Golden says:

    Thanks for opening your garden, Margaret, and putting up with those million questions. Even at noon I loved the light tumbling down over the tall trees into the garden rooms on the left of the house, and the jewel-like plantings, the delightful color combinations, and the big-leaved rodgersias and astilboides. What a surprise to see my partner Phil and me standing beside your umbrella pine! We too visited Loomis Creek Nursery on the way back, but found no Pycnanthemum muticum.

  9. Catherine says:

    Swooning again – looks like a fabulous day for all. Must tell you that I’m very relieved to learn that your wonderful gardens take 2-3 people full-time! Much less guilt for my un-edged beds that need more weeding, pruning and editing still. Thank you so much for the on-going inspiration.


  10. Barbara H. says:

    Margaret, how ever do you find the time? First a wonderful virtual pre-tour and then this wonderful tour. I, too, am relieved to find that it takes more than one person to care for this wonderland.

    Thank you for your generous gift of time, writing, photos and of course, the garden. Wish I was closer (NE Alabama) so I could see it in person. If I ever do a garden trip I’ll plan it around your open days.

  11. margaret says:

    Welcome, Barbara H. I think maybe I am a little hyperactive. :) Really, though, I enjoy the blogging; it helps me to focus my garden thinking (as does having tours and seeing what people ask about/say). See you soon again, I jope.

    @Catherine: You are welcome. I figure the total womanpower required to keep it semi-together here is 6 or 7 total days a week (3 from each of two people, me and Susan, plus 1 day of pinch-hitting from a third person in the busiest weeks). If we could do fulltime (10 days a week total, 5 apiece) it would be amazing…but cannot afford the $$$ nor the time.

    @Helen. Called moving company; some issue re: customs to work out..tens of thousands of live plants across border and such, but we are working on it. How cold is it there?

  12. susan says:

    I had the best time visiting your garden, I could not resist the ceramic frog, I know your big ones left. Inspired for my own garden.

  13. Ailsa says:

    Breathtaking. No less than I expected.
    We were your Canadian visitors, braving over-zealous (IMHO) speeding ticket-giving sherriffs, mis-pronouncing ‘Taconic’ (Tectonic?), laughing so hard tears were streaming down our faces and almost driving straight into Manhattan (better laughing, lost and late than glum and on schedule!), and glorious fresh arugula salad at Swoon in Hudson. It’s cold and rainy in Ottawa. You don’t want to cross the border (Toronto’s probably just as bad!). You give new meaning to ‘details.’ Every vista a treat, every combination considered. My very first fringe tree, and look, a cluster of three (!) golden metasequoia. The colour combinations (everyone should think about what colour they paint their door, chair and trim AND what colour of pot they choose), the textures at once opposed and complementary; a lesson in design, dedication and good growing. Kudos.
    Your place was better than Kykuit. And that little place was pretty good ;c)

  14. Leslie says:

    It was a real treat to see your gardens in person after reading about them and seeing your photos. Even got to pet Jack the Demon cat who was on his best behavior. Thank you so much for opening in your garden and answering all the questions – You know volunteer “docents” might be a help in the further gardens but it is always so nice to be able to talk with the actual gardener. Have pencilled in 22 August -gardens need to be seen in all seasons. Thanks again (I must search your site for info on the chairs and the tomato cages)

  15. Jeanne says:

    It was so wonderful to meet you and the charming Jack. And most of all to have the book, blog and twitter *animated*!!! Your gardens are beautiful, inspirational, works of art and balm for the spirit. Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing it all.

  16. chigal says:

    It must be fun watching those giant-leaved plants come back after the snow melts, every year. Does Jack ever make a habit of lounging in your pots after they’ve been planted? After leaving all but one corner of my cat’s favorite sun basking tub unplanted, for years, I’m now trying to grow a tomato vine under him (sunk laterally and coming up out of one end). The potting soil has perlite in it, mulch on top, so I’m hopeful. Think it’ll make it?

  17. Miriam Fischer says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I put the next “open garden” date in my calendar. I’m going to make every effort to make it – it looks positively soul-soothing (especially for a confirmed city-dweller like me).

  18. Charlotte Cantrell says:

    I am down here in HOT, sunny Florida, and I have to tell you about a “weed” that I almost cut down. I inherited my mother’s house about 3 years ago. So my husband and children and I moved into it. (It is my childhood home) anyway. the first spring I was too broken up and sad to do much of anything in the yard. The second spring we had to take down an old garage. So I really didn’t “do” much with the yard except trim some stuff. Well there was this 8 foot brush, tree, whatever that had been hidden by the old garage. So I told my husband that I was going to just trim around it, and cut off the suckers. Anyway, this spring I came down with double pneumonia, so I haven’t really been out side very much. Well yesterday, my husband and I were sitting on the patio (which use to be the foundation to the old garage), and my husband said look up. Over my head was that old 10 foot (now) “weed” tree full of Gardenia’s. It is gorgeous, and I never knew what it was. I think it’s a gift from my mother. So tell people when they find something in the yard, and they aren’t sure what it is. Trim it back some, and give it a year. It may just need rejuvenating, like we all do sometimes. ;o)
    P.S. Tell the “frogboy’s” Hi from Florida!

  19. margaret says:

    Welcome, Miriam…we will try to soothe the soul of all visitors, but that’s a tall order. I like having a goal! :) See you then.

    Welcome, Charlotte. When I think of the things I have almost cut down unknowingly (like the giant rhododendron in bloom at the tour, true!) I shudder. See you soon again.

    @Chigal: No, he likes the empty pot (and his favorite chair even better). The walls with all their chipmunk condos are also a favorite perch, of course.

    @Boodely: Just to be clear, his agent doesn’t *not* allow him to do any beefcake poses…he is a G-rated cat, you know.

  20. Mischelle says:

    Hi, this is Mischelle from Tunkhannock, PA, which is actually 31 miles from everywhere – “a geographical oddity”, to quote Ulysses Everitt McGill. (Gotta love those Cohen brothers .) The 3-hour drive to see your garden flew by as I had my friend Sandi (from Clarks Summit) to keep me company, and every mile was worth it. What a beautiful space!
    Your garden seems to be in the same zone as mine and we have a lot of plants in common – but instead of the beautiful old apple trees and to die for conifers I’m stuck with water-hungry Maples and Cottonwoods. Which means no lovely astilboides or Rodgersia for me. Drat! I only wish I had your talent for making it all flow so well. I left so inspired – and lamenting that I don’t have more space. My last words to Sandi as I dropped her off were, “I’d love to see it again later in the season”. Looks like I may get my wish!

    Oh, and I loved the “Diablo” ninebark. I have “Coppertina”, lovely as well, but not quite as large.

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