How to Win Friends and Influence the Environment: Put on a Garden Tour

After following this garden through four seasons, I finally know the gardener – thanks to the tour.

Garden tours don’t have to be about conventional garden aesthetics; they can also teach tour-goers to be better stewards of their land, while creating more beauty for them and their community.

So in that spirit, I’m organizing a garden tour for my town, one with a theme – Less Lawn, More Life (a phrase I stole from Evelyn Hadden).  So instead of the Solomonic task of choosing the best gardens in town, I’m choosing gardens that look good while demonstrating uses of land other than nothing-but-lawn (and hedges -my planned community is BIG on hedges).

Readers here already know the benefits of plants other than lawn, but to reiterate – better stormwater retention, more for pollinators and birds, less need for mowing and fertilizing, and let’s not forget – more to enjoy for the homeowner.  And for neighbors, too.   Sure, some homeowners love-love-love their lawn, but they can go admire the local golf course if they need to; this tour is for everyone else.

An unexpected result of my tour-organizing efforts has been meeting all the serious gardeners in town, with whom I naturally bond immediately and can talk plants for hours on end.  Though initially I joined the local community garden in hopes of meeting “my people,” I found instead lots of garden politics (see Elizabeth’s post on that very problem).  From ornamentalists I haven’t heard a word of bickering – yay.   And of all the gardeners whose doors I’ve knocked on to solicit them for the tour, all but one has enthusiastically agreed, the only exception being someone whose nongardening spouse nixed the idea.

But that’s not all I’m doing for the altruistic reason of helping more people garden and the selfish one of getting to know my tribe; I’m also organizing the town’s first plant “swap,” which won’t really be a swap but the chance for people to donate their extra plants to people with empty yards and the desire to turn them into gardens.

Construction left compacted clay that couldn’t support lawn, so this gardener is trying a variety of substitutes – containers, mulch, shallow-rooted groundcovers.

And the simplest friend-making tactic  of all?  Starting a local Yahoo group for gardeners.  With just 60 members so far, it’s already produced offers of extra plants from some gardeners I now count as friends, whose extras are now filling up my neighbors’ empty spaces.  Now when I walk around town I have gardens and gardeners to visit and check up on.  We talk plants.  No garden politics at all.


  1. Good goin! To do a tour more specific to less lawns and better stewardship (of what little environment a gardener controls) is brilliant! One unintended consequence of having a garden tour is the creation of a like-minded community of gardeners – and garden fans. Gives me the warm fluffies inside to think about the neighbors-that-never-would-have-met-otherwise throughout the city of Buffalo.

  2. Great idea, Susan! I hope you’ll keep us posted on how the event goes, with pictures of more gardens on the tour. Also, if you could write a post on the organizing issues that come with putting together a tour like this, that would be really helpful to those who might want to emulate you.

  3. Susan, are you still accepting members into your yahoo group? If so, how does one go about being included?

  4. I’m with you, I love touring gardens that are made by those who take care of the land and make beautiful gardens to boot! I wish I wasn’t so far away I would do that tour…

  5. Great idea…I long for something like that in my neck of the woods.
    I can’t drive far to the Open Day gardens but would still love to see what gardeners are doing everywhere, and anywhere.

    How do we start?

    I agree with you on the friendliness of gardens, instant rapport guaranteed !

    Susan, you’re always doing something great. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hey garden ranters, what’s with the attitude about community garden(er)s? It’s not that ornamentalists are easier to get along with, it’s that they rule their own domain and don’t have to form a committee or point to others who aren’t following the rules. It’s about being territorial! But don’t scare people away from community gardens; most of the time they’re fun and worthwhile. Maybe it’s California, but the 3 community gardens I belong to aren’t awash in politics or drama any more than the surrounding neighborhoods.

    I’ve also been involved in garden-tour organizing, plant swapping, and yahoo-group participating. A garden tour I cofounded had lots of drama for a while, and it was no longer fun, so I quit. But I’ve heard the persons responsible for the drama have left, so it may be safe to get involved again! (In my experience, the most vicious drama is at nonprofits, especially among empire-builders or control-obsessed people.)

    The local plant swaps are mostly a way to pare down my collection. A couple of local libraries have sponsored plant swaps this year, but it’s a one-time thing and you never see those people again. I bring plants to “really free” markets, too.

    Another way to meet gardeners is meetup groups (, which are really proliferating in my area. And we also have monthly garden shares, where you share extra produce or plants, if you have any, and take what you need. Over a couple years, a core group has coalesced at the garden shares, so you see some of the same people.

    • You make excellent points – it’s about gardening as a group vs. on your own property. Not about what you’re growing. In deciding not to garden in the shared space, I kinda knew it would help keep ME from getting into garden politics – coz I’m certainly not immune.

  7. On Friend Winning: I love garden tours, but have yet to hook up with any one who wants to go with me. I would love to hang out with other gardeners, but I think my city is just too big.

    There are garden blogging groups, but they will only let you be a member if you blog, not just if you like to garden. 🙁

    The meet-up gardening groups have not been successful to-date in my big city. I know because I was one of two people who signed up for a generic garden group, and the group didn’t make.

    The Yahoo group members in my big city live on the opposite side of the city, and I’m a terrible driver.

    There are a lot of garden clubs in my big city, but most of these folks seem to be retired and are much older . I was a member of one, and the youngest in the group beside myself was 70+. When I’d ask members about their gardens, they’d say, “Oh, honey, I don’t garden anymore.”

    Plant swaps are great and I LOVE the people who go, but so far, there has been no one in my part of the city who attends. I’ve met tons of people from other towns though.

    I am moving from my big city to a new state/ town of 12,000 next May and my hope is to meet simple people who like to garden . Maybe I’ll organize a tour once my garden is in place, who knows?

    • I’ve participated in a small monthly garden group since 2005. Usually about 10 people come to each meeting, but I’d guess maybe 20-25 people attend one or more meetings each year, and the e-mail list is a lot larger. The focus is growing edibles, and at least 5 of us belong to a small community garden in the neighborhood.

      These neighborhood-based groups were organized at the end of a local conference on food growing. We divided into groups, based on which neighborhood/town we lived in, and decided where and when to meet.

      At first the structure was loose: meet, talk about seasonal concerns, share produce or seedlings, etc. For several years we’d decide on a topic a month in advance. At the meeting, each of us would contribute what we knew about the topic, or one person would volunteer to lead the presentation. One popular topic was favorite tools.

      Then we learned another neighborhood group had a more formal structure, with a year’s worth of presentations planned at the January meeting. So that’s what we do now: one person makes a presentation on a topic at each meeting. Topics have included cool-season vegetables, garden journaling, drip irrigation, vertical gardening, is organic food better?, and worm composting.

      Meetings are held at members’ houses, so we often have a tour of the garden. At the last meeting, people brought peaches, pears, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, and other produce to share, as well as broccoli seedlings.

      So, yes, this kind of thing works on a neighborhood scale.

  8. Susan, you are an inspiration! What a great multi-benefit undertaking… I am so glad it has been a positive experience so far, and imagine the positives will keep on coming. Any town would be lucky to have you.

  9. Susan, this post is filled with good ideas. I am a gardener, garden tour taker, garden blogger, garden club member and Master Gardener, but by nature gardening and blogging are solitary occupations. I seek out opportunities to meet other like-minded gardeners – your post has given me some new good ideas, as have some of the ideas offered by other readers in the comments. I will look forward to reading future posts about the new garden tour idea of yours. Thanks.

  10. I’m WITH you on every point here! Sure wish I lived closer to you. Don’t know if I have the energy to take this garden tour idea to the next level here where i live. ..But I so enjoy garden tours. Sub-consciously, I gravitate toward those that show Less Lawn/More Life!

  11. I am in Lehigh Acres FL and have a seven circuit, hand made Medieval Labyrinth on our half acre, surrounded by a native butterfly garden. If you’re passing through Fort Myers, check us out and stop in for a walk. This is at our residence…

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