Those who open their gardens to the public have a right to expect visitors to be on their best behavior, and most guests are very well mannered. Sometimes, though, situations arise that cause concern. Knowing about these unexpected situations and being prepared with a solution can save the day. Conversely, if you are a guest to someone else’s garden, follow the rules of garden tour etiquette very closely .
Situation: Someone brings their dog to the tour. They explain that the pet is well behaved and is a threat to nobody.
Solution: Have a greeter at the entrance of your garden. The greeter should be prepared to explain that pets are not allowed. While most folks would not consider bringing a pet to such an event, it has been known to happen. If the visitor gets a little upset, it helps to remember that they, not you, are the one with poor manners.
Rule: Leave your pets at home.
Situation: An enthusiastic gardener leaves the path to walk through the bed where some of your prize plants are just emerging.
Solution: Have friends stationed at strategic places along the route who serve as monitors. Most people will not be bold if they know that someone is watching. However, the monitor should be prepared to ask people to return to and stay on the path.
Rule: Stay on paths or other designated areas at all times.
Situation: An avid photographer stops to set up the camera and interferes with the flow of traffic-or worse, leaves the path to obtain a more advantageous view.
Solution: Have a monitor to ask them to make an appointment to return at a later time to take pictures.
Rule: Do not interfere with the flow of traffic when taking photographs. A few candid shots with a point and shoot usually cause no problems. A large camera and tripod, however, present a different problem. Perhaps it would be best for the photographer to ask for a special appointment for extensive photography.
Situation: A visitor asks the owner of the garden questions that require long explanations or brings examples of their garden pests or diseases for you to identify.
Solution: While the owner will be happy to answer questions that can be answered quickly, the tour is not the time for lengthy explanations. Have an information table on the premises. Direct the person to that table. Have them write the question down so that you can give it the time it deserves. Alternatively, invite your master gardener friends to man the table and handle questions and answers.
Rule: Do not ask questions that require lots of time to answer during a tour. Leave your insect pests and diseases in your own garden and prepare to ask an extension agent or other professional for advice.
Situation: A visitor asks to use the bathroom.
Solution: This is a difficult situation, but it always happens. Of course, you don't know the person, so this puts the contents of your home at risk. Be sure that you have a friend ready to accompany the visitor into your home and stay nearby until they exit the house.
Rule: Be sure to use the bathroom before you begin the tour, and stop at public restrooms in between stops, if necessary.
Situation: A person on the tour feels free to take a few discrete cuttings or to remove a few seedheads.
Solution: Have the monitor stationed nearby to ask the person to please refrain from cutting or gathering in your garden.
Rule: Never, ever, remove a cutting, a seedling, a seedhead, or any plant part without the owner's permission. Tour time is not the time to ask permission.
Situation: A visitor removes plant markers in order to see them more closely.
Solution: Ask your monitor to be prepared in the event that they see someone removing the markers. They should ask the visitor to kindly refrain from removing the markers.
Rule: Never remove a marker from a plant in the garden or in a container. Just as sure as you do, the marker will break when you attempt to push it back into the ground, or worse; someone else will want to see it or it will be passed around so that others can read it; then another marker is removed, and soon nobody knows where the markers belong.
Situation: Mosquitoes decide to come a-calling, and visitors get out the bug spray and start spraying their legs and arms. From past experience, you know that the mosquito repellant will damage your lawn and many of the plants in your garden.
Solution: Ask the visitor to step over to a solid surface patio or mulched area with no plants to apply the repellant.
Rule: Apply sunscreen, bug repellant and other substances before you enter a person's garden. If it becomes necessary to reapply, be sure to do so out of the range of any plant.
Situation: A garden "expert" seizes a teachable moment to tell you what is wrong with your garden.
Solution: Smile and say something like, "Isn't it great that we all have different ideas? Think how boring our world would be if we all liked the same things."
Rule: Never tell the hosts what they should or should not have done in the garden, or how beautiful petunias would have been in the container instead of marigolds. Remember that a garden is a very personal place.
Situation: A visitor explains that they grow a certain plant that they see in your garden, but theirs is bigger, better, more prolific, etc.
Solution: Ask them what their secret is. Or smile and say that yours is an environmentally sensitive garden where fertilizer and insecticide use are kept to a minimum.
Rule: Never brag about your garden or expound upon its perfection. The host will wonder why your garden is not the one on tour.
Situation: A visitor asks you for a drink of water.
Solution: Have a refreshment table with water available. Alternatively, have a monitor on duty whose job it is to fulfill such requests.
Rule: If your host has not offered something to drink, wait until later to quench your thirst unless you are about to faint or become ill.
Situation: Strangers enter your garden and do not bother to speak or express their appreciation of your efforts.
Solution: There may be no solution to this dilemma, but be sure that you, as host, do not get caught in a situation in which your time is monopolized by one person. Be sure that you are available to speak to your visitors.
Rule: Always, always, thank the hosts for opening their garden for public enjoyment. Compliment the garden, and explain briefly any elements that you particularly enjoyed.
Situation: A person who wishes to see your garden but who has another commitment the day of the tour asks to come a day early.
Solution: Explain that you will be busy getting ready for the tour and that, although you would love for the person to see your garden, you simply do not have time on the day before the tour to comply.
Rule: Never ask to come at any time other than the scheduled time to see a garden. Doing so is an imposition and an unrealistic expectation.
This garden is polished up and ready for a garden tour.
About Marie Harrison
Serving as a board member for Valparaiso Garden Club, the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs and the Deep South Region, and National Garden Clubs takes a chunk of my time and attention. Being a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener crowds a bit more into my busy days. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at www.mariesgardenanddesign.com.