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Guest books are the sort of thing you expect to see (and sign) at a country home or beach house, or at a wedding, but keep a guest book just for your garden, too, and you’ll have an independent record of some of the most beautiful moments in your own back yard. Visitors on garden tours, especially, may be eager to record their thoughts — and compliments — in a book.
“We always have a book for people to sign and write their comments,” says Meg Laughon, who was chairwoman of the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week tour in Lynchburg, Virginia, this year. (Historic Garden Week is produced by 47 GCV clubs throughout Virginia; visitors from across the state and from all over the world come to see almost 200 private homes and gardens open all over Virginia during Garden Week every spring.)
“We wanted our guest book to really be a keepsake for homeowners,” Meg says, so the club bought blank, lined, hardcover notebooks for each of the six homes and gardens open in Lynchburg. Club members decorated the front of each book with the date of the tour, the homeowner’s name, and the GCV’s motto: “To celebrate the beauty of the land, to conserve the gifts of nature, and to challenge future generations to build on this heritage.”
The small investment paid big rewards. Toni Piggott, whose 2.5-acre garden was open to 1,200 visitors one very busy tour day, treasures her book. “Reading the comments has been fascinating,” Toni says. “So many people came from out of town — from Boston, from Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and from all parts of Virginia.”
One visitor wrote: “Our favorite garden after two tours. Bravo!” Another wrote “Magazine quality!”, and a visitor from far away had no regrets: “It’s my favorite garden; it was well worth the miles to get here.”
A record of visitors can be as formal or informal as you like. In Petersburg, Virginia, Garden Week visitors also sign guest books at the gardens they visit, but they sign as they arrive. “It gives you a real outlook” on the scope of interest in the tour, says Molly Sammler, who was chairwoman of the Petersburg tour, “but it’s not like when you rent a cottage, where you put comments about the fun you have.”
A guest book need not be for a single occasion: it can become a record of the life of a garden. Gardens change over the seasons and the years, and a guest book will reflect that: it will fill with greetings, observations, and memories.
If asking your guests to sign an official book seems too formal, take a few tips from brides, who have been busily reinventing the tradition:
— Instead of a book, keep a pot or a basket of smooth river stones and a permanent marker in your garden. Guests can either sign their names or write a word or phrase on a stone (or on several). The writing will fade in time, but new contributions to the story will replace them.
— Make a tree, or a garden scene, of fingerprints on which guests can leave their mark. You can download a twiggy tree template from the internet, or draw your own. Colorful fingerprint ink is available at craft stores (or use watercolors); keep a package of moistened towelettes (baby wipes are recommended) nearby. After the garden party, you can frame the collective effort, or tuck it into your garden journal.
— Buy a gardening book you have always wanted and let guests sign the fly-leaves, as though it were a high-school yearbook, with their thoughts and impressions of your garden. The book, and the comments, will be a source of pleasure for years to come.