The quick and dirty tricks of the yearly show gardener

If only everything could be like these hydrangeas, which pretty much look great all summer long.

Keep in mind that I’m not talking about gardens that are regularly visited by the public, via bus tours, Open Days, and appointments. Those are the real show gardens, and they don’t need to resort to subterfuge because they are maintained by dedicated owners (and sometimes staff) and they always look perfect.

The hanging basket I had just never popped. Time to toss it in favor of this one.

Garden Walk gardeners are left alone most of the year; they just need to be ready for the last weekend in July, when crowds of visitors descend on their neighborhoods. Because there are so many gardens, however, these visitors are not spending that much time in any particular garden. They can’t; there just isn’t time. So you can get away with things like:

These are houseplants but they can be popped into containers that have issues.
  • Buying full-grown plants at the last minute to hide unsuccessful planting areas.
  • Letting weeds thrive until a couple days before and then wacking all the pavement ones down with a trimmer. The others are only removed if they are a. obviously weeds, and b. noticeable.
  • The other good weed option is laying down fine-grained dark mulch a couple days before, which will cover small ones and maybe smother them. I truly believe plants are the best mulch, but I have areas where coverage happens really slowly, thanks to (severe) dry shade.
  • Buying the full-grown plants and not even bothering to plant them, if the containers can’t be seen.
  • Covering up—and adding color—with brand-new annuals wherever possible. Of course, there are certain areas of my garden where every plant is a possible annual.
Dark (undyed) mulch can work wonders.

Of course, I’m not speaking of all Garden Walk gardeners, but many of us really have to do a lot of last-minute maintenance, especially those of us with fulltime jobs. It’s cheating, but it’s kind of fun, too.

Hope to see you this weekend. If so, see if you can find any of my garden trickery.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. what a coincidence! I just had a garden tour of my garden yesterday–
    this is what I did–NO SHORT CUTS! I get in such a frenzy that I ’bout kill
    myself! Thankfully, my husband mows the yard & helps dead-head daylilies,
    etc. It was at least fairly cool for this time of year, but never is when I’m
    “prepping”, ya know? I guess this could be considered a “short cut”…we use
    grass clippings for mulch (applied immediately before it gets “hot” & smelly.)
    This greatly reduces weeding (altho I love to weed), adds nitrogen, & helps
    hold moisture for the plants. Now, I can relax–no more tours!!

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