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Head on a swivel: My garden tour

by Timber Press on March 16, 2012

in Design

Garden writer Benjamin Vogt opened his home garden to visitors during the Wachiska Audubon Society 2011 Garden Tour last summer. Today, he talks about the exciting–and sometimes stressful–experience of sharing your garden with others.

It’s Sunday morning, Father’s Day, and already at 8am, three hours before the opening, it’s as muggy as an ocean. I couldn’t sleep a wink, even though when I got up I knew I had nothing to do. I’d spent days perfectly mulching the paths (literally one piece at a time), pinning back perennials, dividing plants for giveaways, and making a monarch butterfly station on the covered deck. Having a dearth of caterpillars, and wanting to promote milkweed in general (it’s not a weed!), I visited a local nature center and slowly convinced the head horticulturalist to let me steal some larvae from the prairie. I promised I wouldn’t eat them—I’d raised hundreds the year before.

If you’ve never had your garden on a tour, let me summarize for you in one word what it’s like:



My 75% native garden, prairie and Midwestern shrubs and perennials, forks midway at a disappearing water fountain. For five hours I stood at the right fork so everyone flowed in a nice clockwise fashion. By the time people got to me and realized who I was, they were either in love, denial, or envy. How many times did I answer a question with “that’s Amsonia hubrichtii?” Did my wife and I use our walkie talkies? No, but she ferried many people to me from the other end of the garden who wanted to ask what a plant was. “That’s Amsonia hubrichtii.” My wife also brought me a frozen dinner, which I ate while standing and talking. I didn’t even take a pit stop.

The steady flow of old folks, hippy GQ parents, anxious kids, plant nerds, novices, and experts numbered 500 in those five hours. I told them they’d be welcome back in a month when the eupatorium would be eight feet tall, and all the blooms bursting with insects. I insisted they return in the fall, too—that’s when 50% of my flowers come on. Several people said my garden was the best one of the five, which they almost skipped, and were amazed how thick and lush 1,500 feet could be in just four years. Some called me a liar when I said I spend only a few full days working in it, usually in the spring cut down. Right plant for the right spot, I said, research and then plant tightly. No need for chemicals at all.

In one single, breathless moment that day I noticed a little girl touching the water fountain and giggling as I was talking to a woman about writing, to a couple about what plants they’d like to add from my garden, and acknowledging some guy way down the line waving his hand and shouting something about a thistle. I nodded. I smiled. I was overjoyed and overspent. “Do you have a coaching business?” a few asked. No, but in a week I decided to start one. How couldn’t I?

At 4pm a few stragglers finally left, and I helped the volunteers at the ticket table pack up. Closing the gate behind me, shirt stuck to my skin, I walked the paths slowly and deliberately as if I never had before, surprised and charmed along the way. You bet I’d do this again. But first let me move this piece of mulch a foot to the left.

Benjamin Vogt is the author of Afterimage: Poems (SFA Press, May 2012), and two unpublished manuscripts: a mix of short essays, Sleep, Creep, Leap: The First Three Years of a Nebraska Garden, and a memoir, Morning Glory: A Story of Family and Culture in the Garden. His writing has recently appeared in ISLE, Orion, The Sun, and Verse Daily. Benjamin has a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska and an M.F.A. from The Ohio State University. He lives in Lincoln, NE where he runs Monarch Gardens and teaches at UNL.

Thanks so much, Benjamin! For more of his work, visit him at bevogt.com, or on his blog, The Deep Middle.

1 Mary @ Going Native March 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Beautiful garden and great writing.

2 Christopher C NC March 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm

In just four years a garden can be that thick and Lush? Piece of cake when you’re starting from a blank plot of grass. Try that when you already have the Lush and it is in desperate need of editing and organizing.

3 Blackswampgirl Kim March 16, 2012 at 6:05 pm

You’re so brave to have put your garden on tour! I would probably be walking alongside everyone, apologizing every four feet for something that I saw out of place but which they wouldn’t have even noticed otherwise… and I would single-handedly ruin it for them. lol.

Plus, I couldn’t handle the stress of getting ready. Leslie of “Growing a Garden in Davis” stopped by a couple of years ago, and I almost had a panic attack the day before. (I’m just barely exaggerating there.)

4 Sara March 19, 2012 at 6:28 am

Absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait until warmer weather!

5 Evelyn Hadden March 27, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Such lyrical writing, and how wonderful that you were able to introduce visitors to some of our rewarding and charismatic native plants. Your garden looks amazing!

6 Spence April 18, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I can’t wait for it to get warmer too. I like your garden because it looks so natural!

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