Let’s be frank, perhaps the best thing about garden tours is getting to poke around every last corner of a stranger’s property. Maybe even that dreamy garden that almost makes you cross the yellow line every time you drive by. Or maybe that’s just me and my questionable driving skills.
Garden tours are also a great way to get inspiration for your garden, see what grows well in your area and meet local plant lovers.
I recently attended the Chester Seaside Garden Tour in lovely Chester, NS. Here are some of my favourite moments from the gardens I visited.
Garden 1. The first garden on my list was all about sweeping perennial beds. As I wandered to the back of the garden, I took notice of the owner’s great vegetable garden, integrated into the ornamental beds, with lots of flowering herbs and bean teepees for vertical interest.
Then I saw a visitor slipping into a foot-wide pine needle path into the wooded area - the garden kept going and going. The first event on the path was the compost area tucked behind a think hemlock hedge, as I continued along the perennial-lined path, I reached the very back of the garden and met the owner in her tucked-away greenhouse.
I was surprised to find this property hadn’t been professionally designed - She did a great job of designing this cohesive and evocative garden on her own.
Take-away: The value of intrigue, and keeping some things hidden.
Garden 2. Next on the tour was the Risley Greenhouses. I thought this might be a commercial facility, but the complex with heated tropical greenhouses - a smaller replica of the greenhouse at Kew, a kitchen garden, cutting garden, maze and stroll gardens supports the activities of a residence with frequent guests.
The main greenhouse is dedicated to tropicals with one of the wings full of vegetables for the kitchen garden.
The garden features patios of local Scotia slate and crushed gravel paths that lead through gorgeously oriented kitchen and cutting gardens.
The property was absolutely immaculate and a treat to visit.
Take-away: Make your veggie gardens a gorgeous focal point, and local paving materials usually look the most natural and beautiful
Garden 3. The next garden was in a woodland setting and included many specimen plants, a thyme lawn, pond, and dry gardens, as well as many woodland garden areas.
The owner did a fantastic job integrating her cottage-style veggie garden into the larger property with teepees and foxglove, using espaliered fruit trees and providing so many private seating areas.
I think my favourite element was the flawless thyme lawn. It was positioned to elicit scent on the way to a seating area, but I think it was the perfect spot for a nap.
Take-away: Don’t forget to include private and social spaces in your garden.
Garden 4. The next garden was just footsteps from the harbour with extensive stonework and perennial gardens on a small, steeply sloping site.
The design made good use of the slope with seating terraces at varying levels and a driveway at the very top, screened by a hedge of highbush blueberry.
The owners commented that the garden was perfect for them, because it was incredibly low maintenance. The designers won with this one - lots of variation and interest, while keeping things simple and elegant.
Take-away: Use challenges to your advantage - create terraces to make the best use of a sloping site.
Garden 5. Darn, I missed #5. Sorry!
Garden 6. A short drive to Chester Basin led to an elegant garden with seaside views.
The property gently slopped to the water with several perfectly positioned seating areas adjacent to the house.
And once again we see how well the local gravel works as a durable and inexpensive path material
Take-away: Roofless ‘pergolas’ are perfect in a cool, foggy climate to maximize sun.
Garden 7. The last garden of the tour made great use of plants that love hot, dry, rocky places.
As well, there was an obvious love of daylilies as we saw gracefully curving, well-labelled beds dedicated to these plants.
What stole the show was the dry garden with lavender and Russian sage.
Take-away: Plants will always perform best if you give them their native environment.
Thanks for coming along on my tour. And thank-you to all the gardeners who opened their homes to their fellow curious gardeners.
Ange Dean is the principal landscape architect at Land Studio East. She creates meaningful private and public gardens and landscapes that get people outside to experience the restorative benefits of nature.