Dressing up your garden for a party

June 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

When you invite people into your garden, you always take a chance. Will it be the one day that, despite your best efforts to provide continuous blooms, the only color will be green? Will your area be hit with a high-wind thunderstorm, knocking branches down? Perhaps a woodchuck or a herd of deer will show up for a feed just before the company comes.

My wife, Nancy, and I are worrying about such problems right now as we prepare to be part of a garden tour this coming Saturday to benefit the Arboretum at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. Contact him at 767-2297 or at: tomatwell@me.com.

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Once again, the tour sponsors cleverly asked us to participate at the perfect time, while we were bored on the tail end of a cold winter, thinking of the joys – rather than the toil – of working on our grounds. Also, we like what they are doing at the arboretum in one of Maine’s most-visited tourist attractions, and want to help. One area is complete, and about a dozen more sustainable landscape projects are scheduled to be developed within the park when finances permit.

Since then, we have been working regularly – if not constantly – to get ready for the visitors.

Some things we can’t control. This was a late spring, so blooms on many plants are delayed. For example, usually some of our day lilies would be in bloom on June 28, but this year, maybe not. The weather is one factor you can’t control when you invite people to your garden. As the airlines say, “acts of God.”

Most people who read this column likely will not have their gardens featured on a tour. But chances are you’ll host a backyard barbecue or a cocktail party, or maybe even a wedding or a rehearsal dinner. Given that, most of us could use tips on preparing our gardens for visitors.

Based on our experience, the most important advice I can give if you are planning a party is to rent a canopy. If it’s sunny (lucky you), the canopy offers shade. If it rains, or worse, it provides shelter. Arrange for the rental company to install the canopy or, if you have a helper or two, set it up yourself.

But parties are more forgiving than a garden tour. You hope your guests enjoy the garden, but really, the prime purpose is to enjoy the food, drinks and conversation.

When Nancy and I have company coming and discover a flaw in our home or garden, we say to each other, “If anyone notices that, they weren’t having a good time anyway.”

The first step in getting ready for company in the garden is neatness. A distinct edge between the garden and the lawn or between the lawn and the walkways makes the overall garden look neater. Edge the gardens so that line is distinct. Some people like to edge with a spade, but I prefer the traditional half-moon shaped edger, the kind that you (or at least I) keep stepping on. You can also get an edging attachment for gasoline-powered string trimmers, but machines and I barely co-exist.

You do have to weed, but give yourself a break: There is no such thing as a weed-free garden. Start weeding a few weeks before the event, and then go back and weed again a few days before it – all while muttering to yourself, “There is no such thing as a weed-free garden.”

We use bark mulch on our perennials and shrub beds, which helps control – but does not eliminate – weeds. We use an aged, dark brown mulch, which resembles humus rotting on the forest floor. To us, the red color of mulch made from cedar bark is jarring. A newer trend is mulch that is dyed black, which looks better than cedar mulch but still unnatural.

To compensate for a possible lack of flowers, include other things of interest in your yard. We’ve gone so far as to hire a jazz trio, but that was for a wedding reception. A well-planned garden will have some plants with colored or variegated white and green foliage, and they are eye-catchers. Garden features – sculptures, birdbaths, interesting pots, benches and other furniture – are also useful. They’ll attract the eye, and encourage people to sit and look at your gardens.

If you plan to prune trees or shrubs, do it at least a month before the event. Falling branches drop leaves and can knock down neighboring plants, and the cut branch will be a stark white. And if you decide you need to move plants, do it at least two weeks before the event and then water, water, water to keep the transplant from wilting.

Just a couple of days before the event, walk around your garden to take stock. You’ll be able to tell if shrubs are just coming into bloom and will be just right for the event, or if they are going to be spent and dropping their blooms. When petals begin to drop, I always wish that I had a yard vacuum.

If you find areas with nothing going on, go shopping. Buy pots with annuals in the full flourish of color, and stick them in the dull parts of the garden. We’ve done garden tours before, and one spring we found pots we’d forgotten in the garden from the year before. Before the tour started, we had stuffed plants, still in pots, in vacant spots around the garden. After, we were too tired to transplant them into the ground, but they lived out the summer nicely in the pots.

Visitors will know what you have done, but it isn’t cheating. They will appreciate the extra effort you took to provide something for them to look at.

Once your event is over, do what we plan to do for the rest of the summer: rest on your patio, porch or terrace and savor the beauty of your gardens.

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