Fretting and Sweating and Squinting and Drinking

“Garden party.” No two words strike more terror in a gardener’s heart if you happen to be the host.

People are coming To Look at Your Garden. Which means it has to be perfect, right? It doesn’t matter that it’s 96 degrees outside or that we’ve just experienced the windstorm of the century. No, garden party prep means no weeds in sight and everything greened up and neatly mulched. Flowers must be blooming in profusion. There can’t be any sign of insect damage or disease. And most importantly, it must look completely effortless – like Nature just showed up at your house and randomly decided to put on one of her most spectacular displays.

I’m laughing as I write this. But it’s a wry chuckle, because deep down I know I subscribe to this view. It’s absolutely silly to think that your garden has to compare with the splendid landscapes you find in places like the Missouri Botanical Garden or Chicago’s Lurie Garden, to name just a few. But if you spend time toiling in your yard – and you then have the audacity to invite people to come over and enjoy it – it’s an all-too-easy mindset to fall into.

That said, I like throwing garden parties (on balance) and I encourage my clients to throw them too, even if they’re newbie gardeners. For me, at least, it takes the threat of someone coming over to force me to do all of the things I can happily ignore when it’s just me in the garden: picking up piles of empty plant containers, actually putting the hoses in the hose pots, tackling the one spot of weeding I’ve been avoiding all season, putting up tools, etc. etc. I’m always surprised how much better the garden looks just for having been cleaned up a little – and that effort takes no gardening skills whatsoever.

I’ve also discovered that you learn a lot when you invite people into your garden. Fellow gardeners in particular are very curious. Without fail, someone will ask you a question about a plant that you don’t know the answer to, and you will have to go look it up. They’ll also see your garden with fresh eyes and will compliment you on aspects of the garden you haven’t previously appreciated. If fact, they’ll probably compliment you about a lot of things in the garden and you’ll end up feeling pretty good about it, after all. And if they don’t – well, it might just be time to make some new friends.

A wise person once told me that people don’t remember the details when they visit your house – they just remember how they felt when they were there. The same holds true for your garden. If the garden feels warm and welcoming, then people are going to enjoy being in it despite (or maybe even because of) its imperfections.

I sometimes advise people to find a spot in their garden where they can sit and squint at it. Squinting blurs your vision – in a good way – so that you see only the wonderful shapes and colors around you, not all those pesky details. Think about it: haven’t some of the best gardeners – Claude Monet and Gertrude Jekyll come to mind – had some of the worst eyesight?

So hand your guests a nice glass of wine as they step into the garden. Encourage them to sip frequently as they stroll around. Tell them not to wear their sunglasses so they have to squint. And most importantly, enjoy the experience of sharing your garden – people are going to love it, and it will make you love it more too.

Claude Monet’s Front Door at Giverny, July 2015


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