On Visiting Gardens

I just figured out something about visiting gardens while reading more of the letters in Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence: Discovered Letters of a Southern Gardener edited by Emily Herring Wilson.

Elizabeth wrote a letter to Ann Preston Bridgers in April 1945 about her visit to Lob’s Wood, the gardens of Carl Krippendorf, where apparently a late freeze had blackened the magnolias and lilacs and all the daffodils were wilting. She wrote,

“He was exactly like you about the frost, and I felt I could not bear to begin all over again. After we had walked over the thirty acres of daffodils, all wilted or wilting, and several miles of blackened lilacs and daffodils, he said, “You are very sweet. But you know and I know that it was not worth your coming.” I said I had come to see him, and did not care about the lilacs or daffodils, which was perfectly true but he was not listening.”

What did I figure out? That I much prefer to visit a garden with the gardener there, telling me the story of their garden, than to visit a garden just to see a collection of plants and how they are arranged and never find out how it all came to be.

Now, I do love to see a good collection of plants in a garden that is well-thought out, but seeing it with no background or story makes it one dimensional, like looking at a picture in a magazine with no other information.

I want to see a garden in all its dimensions, to hear the gardener describe it. I don’t care if the garden was recently blackened by frost, baked by the sun, half-planted, or full of weeds.  Of course, many gardeners would prefer not to let others see their gardens in those conditions, but it isn't just the garden we want to see. We also want to hear the story of the garden, and the story of the gardener.

And if the gardener is there to tell the story of their garden, or if I’ve read the story of it, I can see past weeds and frost damage, beyond overgrowth and unplanted areas and imagine it as the gardener planned for it to be, how they want it to be, and enjoy it so much more.


Yes, I quite agree Carol. A garden without a Gardener is just a collection of plants no matter what condition it is in. A garden really comes to life with the Gardener talking about it. You can feel the spirit.
Marie said…
So true. There's nothing better than walking through a garden with the gardener. I never tire hearing the stories and plans for the future of the garden - even if I've heard them before. I learn more about the habits of plants from the gardener than from the description in a catalog.
Rose said…
I'd never thought about this before, Carol, but you are so right! Learning about the origin and the significance of some of the plantings make a garden visit so much more meaningful. I also find that I enjoy visiting public gardens so much more when I'm with a gardening companion. Beckie and I, for example, can spend an hour viewing and talking about a garden that would take me 15 minutes to walk through on my own. Sharing our reactions and ideas is as much a part of the experience as simply seeing it.

By the way, glad to know the columbine story had a happy ending!
Turling said…
There is a show on television I haven't seen on in a while (hopefully it's just the off season) called A Gardener's Diary. They visit private gardens and tour them with the gardener while interviewing them about the garden over the half hour. Absolutely fascinating and one of the few shows I watch regularly. When it's on, of course. It would not be the same without the gardener, as you described.
A garden is an extension of the gardener's soul. Inseparable.
Unknown said…
You made a very good point about the story of the garden. That is the most intriguing story of all. The battle and the fight!

Love your blog design.
My goodness, Carol, that is so true. It is much more interesting to talk to another garden about how they got this or that plant, or why that is planted where it is. Oh yes, and someday soon I hope to visit your garden.~~Dee
Jayne said…
Hmm, that's something I never really thought about until you mentioned it Carol. I do enjoy visiting public gardens, but now I think about it, it's always better when I have read about how the gardens came to be, or if there's a custodian or gardener there to tell visitors all about it.
Jan said…
I, too, have to agree that visiting a garden with the gardener is the best way to see a garden. I love having someone there who can answer my questions, and I always have questions.

Always Growing
Carrie said…
That makes total sense! Here in Northern Ireland we have few grand gardens and those we do have are in the hands of the National Trust. Unfortunately you can get a tour of the houses associated with these gardens but never a garden walk. I love to research a little bit myself about the place and try to find out info on the garden, who planned it, what influenced them. It would be great if each place had a gardener/garden historian to talk to.
Linda/patchwork said…
This is so true. When you walk through a garden with the one who created it, you see things through their eyes, as well. And, you see more.
Great post.
I think this is why I was also drawn to garden blogging and garden bloggers initially--the best ones tell the stories of the making of their gardens. They're personal and intimate looks at gardening.

Unfortunately, some bloggers these days are what we call "competitive garden bloggers". They're more concerned with trying to sell you something (whether it is via ads or acting the garden guru) than sharing who they are. I guess before the Internet they were the ones who were more concerned with winning the prize ribbon at the garden show than just enjoying the process.

Luckily it's a big world--big enough for all kinds of gardeners. No one has to please me nor I anyone else.
Noel Morata said…

i love that quote above, gardens grow the best people, usually when i visit a garden i try to spend time with the owner or if it is a public garden a docent or even some care taker..you always getting interesting observations and stories that add to the experience and talking to another garden geek is always a treat!
All so true. The perfectionist in us can get all het up when showing someone else our gardens. Especially since it usually looked a lot better a couple of weeks ago. I can get quite panicky when a garden visitor really has "nothing to look at".

It is really learning the garden stories, good or bad that makes a garden trip even more meaningful and memorable.
Meems said…
Oh, I LOVE to visit a garden and find out all the nitty-gritty details of how it came to be and what the future plans might be.

Just last week I was at a function and a gardener friend lived not too far away. She told a couple of us to run by her house without her to take a look around the garden even though she couldn't come with us. As beautiful as all her roses were and as many interesting facets were in her garden, it left me wanting without her there to tell the stories.

On the same note, if family or friends go into my garden ahead of me it frustrates me not to be walking along side as they tour my garden. I want to be there to talk about it. But I'm chatty... as evidenced in this comment. :-)
beckie said…
Carol, you are so insightful. A garden without the gardener to explain, point out and tell stories is just a collection of plants. I was thinking about Rose when reading your post and how much fun we have when visiting gardens together-and she said what I was going to say. :) The very best way to go garden visiting is with the gardener and your best friend.
Once again, Carol, you have it the nail on the head - visiting a garden without the gardener there is like eating a dinner without tasting it. That's one of the reasons I always feel that public gardens lack soul - there is nobody to tell you the story of the garden.
Diana said…
It is so much more fun with the gardener. And it's fun to be the gardener, sharing stories and telling the tales of the journey, isn't it?
Gail said…
Exactly so Carol...it's much more fun to hear about the garden from the gardener. I loved visiting all the gardens we've been able to see at both SF trips, the icing on the cake was visiting with all the garden bloggers. gail
Cindy, MCOK said…
I agree wholeheartedly that touring the garden with the gardener makes it so much more meaningful. I look forward to seeing yours in 2011!
Pam/Digging said…
I love visiting a nice garden even without the gardener. But you are right--it is much better WITH the gardener at hand to tell you all about it. That's why, on public tours of private gardens, I'll always seek out the gardener to ask a few questions.
Sheila said…
Carol, I agree! I am just not crazy about visiting botanical gardens, but could spend hours in a neighbors yard discussing every little thing!
Town Mouse said…
One of the frequent comments during the recent garden tour was that people really liked having the garden owner there. So, everyone agrees, I think.