Nothing concentrates the gardener's mind like an impending Garden Tour. Knowing that large numbers of strangers are going to be looking at your garden really makes you look at it. And not usually with joy and admiration, I'm afraid.
The first thing you become aware of when you know your garden is about to be inspected, is paths. Visitors need paths in order to know where to go, and you need the paths in order to keep the visitors out of the plantings. I'm not kidding about that - I've had people tromp right through sensitive plantings because they wanted to see something more closely. So it is imperative to have paths that keep people moving, allow them to get close enough to see the interesting bits, and yet keep them away from anything you don't want pinched, brushed, fondled, or otherwise abused. One person gently feeling the furry back of a New York Fern frond is one thing, but 50 people doing it is quite another.
And mine is a garden of paths.
Some, the ones in the sun, are covered with the same grey limestone gravel as the driveway and parking area, so they are easy to spot and people intuitively know where to walk. They do have an awful propensity for weeds, though. Everything wants to grow in the gravel! Until recently, I could spray them with a weed killer, but those are now illegal here. I'm not sure if they are illegal everywhere or in all situations, but the home gardener can no longer buy them. I've done a bit of experimenting with vinegar, and it does seem to work. You mix a bit of dish washing liquid and a bit of salt into the vinegar, and spray. One really good thing about this, actually there are two really good things, is that if it accidentally gets on something you don't want to kill, you can wash it off and no harm done. The other thing is that the sprayed thing turns brown within an hour or two. I'm thinking this might be the answer for the flagstone-type paths I have in the Herb Garden and the Rock Garden. It's practically impossible to pull grass or dandelions from between tightly fitted stones, but a spray will make it easy. And I don't believe vinegar and a bit of salt will be that bad for the environment. I hope.
In the Sampler Garden, and of course in the woods, my paths are just bare earth. In the Sampler I once spread many many wheelbarrows of wood chips,which looked wonderful. They weren't really that nice to walk on, but they sure looked good. Of course it didn't take very long for them to rot away. Now I have a system where, in the early Spring, I rake the leaves off the planted areas on to the path, and leave them there. After a month or so, they are pretty much broken up and I can move them back on to the plant areas as mulch. By then, too, I can see where the plants are. Probably most of the woodland things would come through the leaves fine, but I like to have seedlings pop up, and they won't if the leaf cover is too thick. I'm getting a bit of very welcome help in the Garden just now, and my Super Helper cleared all the paths in the Sampler. A good path makes the garden look good!
Woods paths suffer from windfalls. No tree will fall beside a path if it can fall across it. No branch will land in an open spot where you can easily pick it up if it can land on a precious plant where you will have to cut it into small pieces in an effort to save the thing it is crushing. And no small trees crash, only chain-saw-sized ones do. Enough said. My tree guy will be happy this Fall. (He's going to be very happy in fact. He's a bit of a dare-devil, and likes nothing better than to take down trees no insurance-minded person would go near. I have several waiting for him. One is a huge White Pine, over 24" diameter, leaning across a main trail.... the other is a giant White Spruce which has died and is much too close to my hydro line. Paul will be thrilled!)
The Rock Garden path suffers from Trilliums. They come up in the path, and I can't bear to yank them. I would dig them out and move them except that moving one path stone would mean moving the adjacent ones, which would mean re-building the path. I guess this week (the Tour is next weekend) I'll have to grit my teeth and yank.
Then, with a Tour imminent, one starts to count up what will be in bloom on the fateful day. This time, to my disappointment, I'll have to say, not much. A garden with a lot of native plants in it is a Spring and Fall garden. My peonies are in full bloom today and will be gone by next Saturday. My roses might be good, but the lavender that I count on to set them off is far behind yet. Quite a few of the lavenders didn't make it through the winter in good order and I have replaced them. They will bloom, but a bit later than usual. The geraniums, lady's-mantles, iris, yarrows and so on are all either over or nearly so. The heat and dryness we have been having have hurried them through their season. Obviously, I need to think more about flowers for the Summer.
Another thing a Tour makes you think about is those areas in the garden that you just haven't been able to cope with. The compost or burning piles that aren't very hidden..... the old shed that would teeter if you leaned on it but you haven't had time to take it down..... the bit of path that doesn't quite connect to the next path because there is a huge boulder in the way.... the side garden that the Horsetails have overrun totally.... well, we just won't go there, and that's the only solution to deal with them, don't go there.
Luckily, my ferns are in very good shape! Ferns do start a bit slowly in the Spring, but they hit their stride in June. They are in full growth, bright and bushy-tailed, right now and will be for the next several months. The Sampler Garden, the Fern Bed and the Marsh Trail are very nice right now. So there will be something worth looking at at Pine Ridge next weekend!