Garden tour: a peak behind the locked gate

Kitchen garden

Do you glimpse a beautiful backyard and wish you could wander through the gate? Most cities allow voyeuristic opportunities every summer. Garden tours offer an opportunity to step into private sanctuaries, see what other gardeners are thinking about, and find inspiration.

At least two annual tours occur in Guelph. MacDonald-Stewart Art Centre holds Gardenscapes in June to raise money for art acquisitions. The properties included in this circuit tend to be larger and more mature.

Guelph Horticultural Society held its Garden Showcase last Sunday, July 6, and we attended. This seems a little late to find gardens at their best. I don’t know whether they chose to hold it later than usual because spring was so delayed this year. Fortunately, a good mix of rain and warm sun the past few weeks allowed the best show that could be expected for midsummer.

All the flowering trees were long faded. However, July is a good time to appreciate the cooling greens of ferns, hostas and groundcovers. Roses, daylilies and begonias added vivid accents. Well-designed mixed planters spiced everything up with colourful annuals.

Of the seven gardens, the one that impressed me most featured a large, productive kitchen garden (photo above) with neat rows of tomatoes, celery, onions and other vegetables. A small flock of chickens scratched in a fenced area along one side. Some of last year’s parsnips gone to made a rambunctious show of glossy foliage and yellow flowers against a shed wall. Ornamental borders made this far more than a utilitarian garden; it was a lush, lovely and functional use of space. It was inspiring to see principles of urban farming applied with rigour and good taste.

Lady Emma Hamilton rose

Visiting other people’s garden is good way of finding ideas. What plants interest you? What colour combinations work nicely? Can you find something you never would have thought of doing that appeals to you?

Probably the one most memorable flower for me was this Lady Emma Hamilton rose. David Austin roses are favourites of mine, such as Abraham Darby and especially the yellow Graham Thomas rose. This is a newer variety, and one I covet.

It was set near a small, unique ceramic fountain. Robin’s-egg blue glaze complemented the rose perfectly, emphasizing its orangeness. Blue and orange are my favourite complementary colours, but seldom appear in gardens because true blue flowers are hard to find and oranges tend to be raucous. I can imagine planting Emma Hamilton with blue larkspur, morning-glory or flax. The more common purplish-blues would not have such an interesting relationship with this rose.

I’ll save this idea for the time and opportunity to plant a perennial garden.

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