Aside from the gardens themselves, great garden tours require careful planning and dedication from loads of volunteers. That’s the idea behind this post. It’s a closer look at the ideas, strategies and support that made the 2013 Maple Grove Garden Tour a success. If you’ve ever planned a garden tour, or opened your garden to visitors, you’ll appreciate these 5 ideas for a better garden tour.
1. Know that visitors will arrive early
When we spoke with the homeowners at our gardens, they told us they had people show up as much as thirty minutes early for the tour. And, I’ve learned, your garden greeters need to be in place at the garden at least an hour before the tour officially opens. Effective marketing of your tour will create excitement and that means that some people will want to get to the tour early (just like crowds at a great yard sale or concert).
2. Enlist local media to preview gardens on the tour
A month before the tour, we put extra emphasis on marketing. Our featured gardens and workshop presenters were written about in blog posts and on-line newspapers, featured in local papers, advertised on nursery websites and flyers, and showcased on local TV news programs. One of our gardens was 6 miles beyond our city limits. By inviting media from our neighboring community, the tour received double coverage and we drew visitors from a wider radius than we would have otherwise. Even simple techniques can make a difference; garden tour coordinators marketed the tour on their vehicles.
3. Leverage support from local nurseries, landscapers and the community
We could have never offered our community the quality experience of this year’s garden tour without the support of our local nurseries and landscapers. Malmborg Nursery provided annuals and other plant material for our parade float. They generously allowed us to give the plants and containers away to pleasantly surprised people along the parade route.
Mark’s Lawn Service secured a beautiful new trailer for us to use in the parade and allowed us to tag onto his entry in the parade.
Lynde Nursery agreed to be part of the tour, hosted Joel Karsten, author of Straw Bale Gardening, and offered discounts to shoppers during the tour. Butterfly Gardens donated plants for the Art Center to create unique welcome containers for each garden. Lawn King sponsored Brenda Wickenhauser of Bailey Nursery who spoke on Fruiting Trees and Shrubs. Local dentist and Master Gardener Jamie Sledd purchased garden markers to recognize each of the gardens.
4. Bring garden resources to the garden tour
We worked with Butterfly Gardens to select a signature plant for this year’s garden tour. They selected the 2013 hosta of the year – Rainforest Sunrise. Butterfly Gardens recognized each of our gardens with a Rainforest Sunrise hosta and they featured the plant in the welcome containers that were created by the Art Center. Finally, we offered the Rainforest Sunrise hosta for sale at one of our tour locations for a special price of $10. We sold out of the Rainforest Sunrise hosta within the first hour of the tour.
We also brought garden experts directly to the tour by featuring them in the gardens. Each tour location offered three to five notable gardening experts who presented mini-presentations at the top and bottom of every hour. As I mentioned in a previous post, Author Joel Karsten spoke about his popular book Straw Bale Gardening.
Hedberg Nursery ‘s Lance Ortlepp and Buechel Stone’s Bruce McComb offered information on How Stone is Quarried, Building lasting patios and retaining walls using natural stone, and the fabulous garden product, Mulch Grip.
In all, fifteen different presenters offered information directly to visitors on everything from preserving vegetables to top perennials for 2013.
5. Know that your best ideas come from your homeowners
Each garden on a tour is unique and each homeowner offers distinctly different methods for getting their garden ready for a tour. The Petersons educational backgrounds in design and architecture led us to featuring the beauty and function afforded through the use of natural stone. They made-over a lifeless corner of their property and demonstrated what you can achieve with careful plant selection and a big vision.
While we’re talking vision, I can’t forget to highlight the creativity that sprang from our desire to draw more children to the tour this year. The Children’s Garden at Milbrandt Gardens inspired the home owner, Roz Milbrandt, to commission a Winnie the Pooh inspired map of her property with a Discovery Quest for kids featured on the back of the map.
In addition, part of the magic of the Discovery Quest was that children were given seed packets to inspire them to “go and grow” their own gardens thanks to generosity of seed supplier Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply.