The Privilege of Visiting a Gardener's Garden

Do you know what the best thing is about visiting another gardener’s garden?

The possibility of getting some free cuttings or seeds? No! And don’t even ask. It’s against the unwritten rules of garden visiting to ask for cuttings, divisions, plants or seeds.

What? You don’t know the rules for passalong plants? Let me go over those quickly because if you don’t follow the rules, the passalong plant may not grow in your garden.

First, never, ever, ask the gardener for seeds or cuttings or plants when you visit their garden. If so inclined, the gardener may offer you something, but they are under no obligation to do so.

Second, never, ever, thank the giver for the plant. You can say something like “that will be a nice edition to my grass collection”, or “I’ll put this cactus under a window to make it burglar safe”. Or you could say “I’ll return the favor when you visit my garden.”

Just don’t say “thank you”. Saying “thank you” keeps the plant from thriving.

So what is the best thing about visiting another gardener’s garden?

It’s meeting the gardener who tends that garden!

When you meet the gardener in their own garden, you learn so much more about the garden than if you just walked around and viewed the garden on your own. It’s a chance for the gardener to tell you about not only the plants, soil, accents, etc., but also the stories of the garden.

They can tell you about how the garden was created, what they want it to be, how it looked yesterday and how it will look tomorrow. They can tell you about what they love in their garden, their favorite spot in the morning and their favorite spot in the evening.

There are just a few things to keep in mind when you visit another gardener’s garden.

Let the gardener lead you through the garden. Don’t rush ahead. Stroll beside or behind the gardener at a leisurely pace. Stay on the paths or in the lawn.

If you are a plant toucher (I am), hold your hands together to keep from instinctively reaching out and touching a plant, like you do in your own garden.

It should go without saying, no snipping a little cutting, taking a seed, tasting a vegetable or picking a flower without the permission of the gardener. In fact, these gifts of the garden should come from the gardener’s own hand and not by your efforts. (see above).

Don’t point out weeds or reach down to pull a weed. Are you sure it’s a weed? It’s not your garden, so leave it alone.

Don’t suggest what you would do differently, unless asked for your opinion or if the gardener invited you to visit to offer suggestions. Avoid asking the “why” questions like “why did you plant that”?

Ask before you take pictures or post about the garden on your blog.

Compliment honestly and freely and effusively. There is always something good to find in any gardener’s garden.

Finally, always remember that it is a privilege to visit another gardener’s garden.

A gardener's garden is often a highly personal space, even a private space, and always a special place. The gardener is letting you into their world, letting their guard down. Their garden is their creation. They are like a painter who, after hours spent behind an easel with their painting hidden from the eyes of others, finally turns the canvas around so others can see it.

(Oh, and one other thing to remember when visiting another gardener's garden. If you believe in garden fairies, never try to coax another gardener's garden fairies to leave with you to live in your own garden. Garden fairies turn quite mischievious under those circumstances and eventually go back to the garden they came from, anyway.)


  1. Carol,

    Very delightful post...and so true a garden is a gardener's personal canvas.

    Thanks for a good read!

  2. Thank you for posting those rules! I had no clue - and would have asked for cuttings, etc as I am always looking for ways to build up my garden without having to break the bank! Thankfully the gardens I normally visit are my mother-in-law's and my great-grandmother's both of whom are always loading up my car with goodies without me asking! :)

  3. Oh, I loved that last line! And I love visiting other gardener's gardens. It's like a little glimpse of their soul. You can tell a lot about a person by their garden. Whether they choose light or bright colors, whether the plants and gardens reflect their personality. And it's a darned good way to meet your neighbors!

  4. This should be required reading for everyone going to Spring Fling! I think the Austin gardeners will sleep easier knowing that all their visitors are familiar with the ground rules. Yes, don't pull someone else's weeds; it is like dusting someone else's house.

  5. I love to visit other people's gardens and get all their advice--thanks for the tips on proper garden etiquette.
    I love the comparison to a painter. I've always thought of a new garden as a blank canvas (I knew I wasn't the first person to think of that!). Since I have no artistic ability at all, gardening gives me a chance to be creative and create my own work of art.

  6. It is a very appropriate time to post these rules since so many of the bloggers will be descending on the Austin garden front in no time. I am just sad that I won't be able to put into action all these rules as I won't be able to attend. ~pout~ You will have such a good time. It is specially good that you warned all of trying to transport fairies over state lines. All sorts of mishaps might occur.

  7. Oops I have broken some of those rules, but I agree with you I love visiting other gardener’s garden.

  8. Lovely and insightful post, Carol. Having 3 of the Austin bloggers in my garden to plan and fill goodie bags on Friday, we were talking about your Garden-visiting Guidelines and how appropriate they are. I will tell you that everyone was very well-mannered in my garden and I will be mindful of your tips as I visit theirs next weekend for the Spring Fling. I can't believe it's only a week away. The bluebonnets must know that - they are popping up all over.

  9. Wonderful thoughts and suggestions, Carol. A garden is a very personal creation - like the artist who keeps the painting hidden.

    I would be honored to stroll your garden. And I would definitely refrain from weed-pulling. Also, I would help you scare the heck out of those wascally wabbits.

  10. Great post.... lots of good thoughts and reasons to smile. I will remember next time to show my appreciaton by letting the generous gardner know what a wonderful addition the cutting(s) will be to my grass..or.. er... weeds :-)
    terra Nova Design

  11. carol - this was so great and so necessary. I've always wondered about things like this. Keep the garden rules coming.

  12. Thanks for posting those rules.
    Especially the one about garden fairies :-)

  13. Gail, Your welcome,

    SuzyQ, Keep in mind these "rules" like all rules related to gardening are far from "hard and fast". There may be exceptions, there will be exceptions!

    Brenda Kula, I agree that a gardener's garden reveals a lot about them.

    Kathy, I like that last line, I would never dust someone's house, so why weed their garden?

    Rose, Good point. We learn SO MUCH when we visit a gardener's garden.

    Lisa at Greenbow, Good point about transporting garden fairies across state lines... bad idea. We wish you were coming to Austin.

    Rusty in Miami, Don't tell anyone, but I've broken some of these "rules", too.

    Mary, You could bring your dogs to help get rid of the rabbits. I let me sister bring her new puppy over yesterday. We'll see if it keeps the rabbits away.

    Cabs, Yes there are ways to say "thank you" without actually using those two words.

    Gina, I'll keep 'em coming as long as you don't try too hard to follow them "to the the letter". Depending on circumstances, rules sometimes must be broken.

    Verobirdie, Yes, the garden fairy rule may be the most important one of all.

    Thanks all for the comments,
    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  14. Many times you make a best friend for life, and he/she will give the best of their garden. That's what happened to me. And, if they die or move very far away, you still have a piece of them in yours.~~Dee

  15. As one of the Austin bloggers who will be opening her garden to a number of other garden bloggers NEXT WEEKEND (!), I agree that it feels like inviting people into a private space. This is made a little nerve-wracking by knowing that said visitors are terrific recorders with photos and pen (so to speak), and private will be made public without my usual editing.

    And yet I feel less anxious knowing that the visitors are gardeners themselves, and will forgive a few weeds or bare places where a plant died or hasn't filled in, where the dream of the garden is greater than the garden itself.

    And thanks for laying out the rules, though I admit to having broken two of them myself: not saying thank you for seeds or cuttings (so hard!) and not touching without permission. I'm a toucher too.

  16. Dee/Reddirtrambling, That's what is so wonderful about passalong plants. Each one is more like a memory than a plant.

    Pam/digging, I love your comment.. "where the dream of the garden is greater than the garden itself." If you visit a garden without the gardener, that's what you miss, hearing about the dream of the garden. I know I'll end up breaking a few "rules" myself, especially the touching one. It's such an automatic reflex, to reach out and touch the plants. Stop me if I'm going to touch something that will bite back!

  17. I will, Carol. I do actually have a "biting" plant or two.

  18. I'm glad to hear these rules can sometimes be broken, because I've actually asked for starts of plants that I've seen in others' gardens. Not on the first visit, though. Usually only when we have a history of trading with each other.

  19. I'll never forget the time that someone I barely knew asked if he could dig and divide my prized peony...I was stunned...and then I said no, and explained that they don't like to be disturbed and often don't bloom for a year or two after. I'll never forget that strange feeling, it was weird to be asked such a question.

  20. Hi Carol, I just love to stroll through another gardener's garden and listen intently to all the thinking and heart behind every nook and cranny.

    Not only was this an entertaining post but I DO appreciate 'your take' on the unwritten rules. I've never asked for a cutting but I've certainly been tempted. Most gardeners are quite generous with cuttings.

    After reading one of my recent posts a friend of mine commented (in person) how they wished they had African Iris growing in their garden.Of course I immediately offered they come get some from my garden. You can imagine how tickled I was when they actually came to my house and we dug together for her to propagate them in her garden. What a treasure. It means so much more when I remember who gave me what plant. Anyway, I could go on and on ... oops I think I've already done that.

    Great POST!!!!
    Meems @Hoe&Shovel

  21. Carol, we all need reminding, occasionaly, of the 'rules'. And what better time than before the spring fling. You all have fun and take ots of pictures!! Oh, by he way are any of your hoes going along. What a great photo op!

  22. I've never heard of the rule of not saying thank you for passalongs. That would feel so strange, but fortunately, all my passalongs seem to come from my mom's garden, so I might not feel so bad about not saying thanks for the plants because I do so much work in her garden.

  23. Carol,

    Do these rules apply to sisters?? I've had some major violations then, haven't I?


  24. Uh oh, sorry fairies, you have to go back from whence you came! ;->

  25. I can't wait for summer when our small town has an open garden day for charity - the highlight of my year, although I do get pretty tired by the second day it is wonderful to see how differently people do their gardens

  26. Ask and it shall be given. Wonderful post. I would share almost everything in our garden which was shareable but I would have to do the digging, dividing, cutting.

  27. Although I'll only be playing along at home I'm really excited about Spring Fling. It is such a wonderful idea! What a great post (as usual)...these rules should be copyrighted and posted at all garden tours where less enlightened garden-tourers would especially benefit from the info. Have fun in Austin!

  28. Carol,

    Thank you so much for reminding us of the proper garden visiting etiquette. I do have one question, however. You specified that we should never pull a weed (in case it's not a weed) from another's garden, but what about public gardens? I often find myself overwhelmed by and unable to control the urge to pluck out any offending weeds that catch my eye! When is it okay to pull a weed from a garden that is not your own?



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