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Plus, inviting others into your garden is great motivation to spiff it up for your own longer-term enjoyment. Hosting a garden tour does take work, but with a bit of planning you’ll have a great time showing off all of the wonders your little bit of Eden has to offer.
Many communities host annual programs that connect the dots between neighborhoods, creating walking tours on specific dates, often with specific themes such as food gardening. Other communities may put together fundraising tours for local charities. Investigating and applying to be on this kind of tour is right for gardeners who are interested in having high volume traffic through their spaces, who may need some volunteer help to get ready, don’t mind being given outside direction (aka rules to follow), and who appreciate the advertising and potential liability coverage that comes from being a part of a bigger event.
For other gardeners, it may make sense to create a smaller, private event. This will give you the flexibility to know your guest list, choose your own date, and follow your own rules. It will also mean it is up to you to do just about everything ahead of time and during the tour itself. Then again, you could connect with just a few neighbors to create a personalized “around our block” tour that spreads the preparation work among a private group.
Well before your tour, you’ll want to do some planning and preparation beyond primping your garden to look its best. A few things to consider:
• Set a date for your event and decide what hours your garden will be open that day.
• Build out a calendar of tasks to get done ahead of your tour. Every garden is different, so how long it takes to prepare varies.
• Reach out to friends for help preparing the garden, invites, etc.
• Will your homeowners insurance cover any injuries or will attendees be required to sign any kind of release to protect you?
• Add friendly “do not enter” signs and temporary string barriers to private or unsafe areas.
• Prepare and send out invitations or advertise your event several weeks ahead of time.
• Plan a traffic flow map through your garden: Can visitors enter at one end and exit another so traffic flows in one direction? Will there be any bottlenecks you can work around?
• Decide if you will open your home for potty breaks, order a porta-potty for the day, or include a note on your invitations detailing restroom options.
• If you are hosting an “around our block” tour, create maps for your tourists to follow from garden to garden.
• Create street-side signs to put up just before the tour begins. (If the event is private, note this on the sign to dissuade uninvited strangers from dropping in.)
• Add a few decorative plant labels to unusual items about which you expect many questions.
• Designate an information table with plant books, business cards, and detail information about things like beehives, chicken coops or composters.
• Create and set out a guest book and pen for tourist comments.
• Ask a friend or two to be in the garden during the tour to help answer questions, direct traffic, and give you a break or two.
• Decide if you will serve food or drinks and plan an out-of-the-way self-serve spot for them as well as trash, composting and recycling stations for waste.
• If you aren’t serving food, be sure to have something for you and your volunteers to snack on during quick breaks.
• Have umbrellas on hand for hosts – to protect from potential rain or sun.
And, of course, work on beautifying your garden. Hosting a tour is exactly the type of occasion to really primp your space. For some, preparing may mean months of work. For others, it’s just the regular work that’s always happening anyway.
Repair any broken or hazardous spots. Rake up spent flowers and leaves. A day or two before the event, pop in a few bits of added annual color to any bare holes. Or, tuck in a bit of garden art to freshen up a bed that may be without blooms on tour day. Add a fresh layer of finished mulch. On the morning of the tour, sweep and rinse the patios to make them shine. If the garden looks dry or dusty, try to give it a light watering shortly before the tour opens. And, be sure to have a water bottle handy for yourself for the day. Fill a vase with flowers from your borders just before you open your garden gates for a day of showing off your outdoor labor of love.