As you may know, this past Sunday my garden was one of 46 on the St. Louis Sustainable Backyard Tour. The 75-100 visitors who saw my yard had lots of questions and hopefully liked what they saw.

Today I'll try to recreate their experience for you, taking you on the path around my yard that most people took. There are many photos in today's post, so let's jump in! People usually started with the walkway garden, as it is the first thing they saw.


They probably stopped to look at the bamboo in the parkway (aka "hell strip") -- in fact the first visitors of the day asked about these straight away:

In the walkway beds they got to see Agastaches and feverfew and sedum and sage...

...cannas, Verbena, grasses, and red-whisker clammyweed (my favorite common name!):

Native rose mallow, and irises...

... Caryopteris, mint, and Persicaria...

Then they'd walk to the driveway...

I got a few compliments on the trellis. The bed along the driveway won't really turn heads for another month or so...

But somebody identified the purple-leaved plant for me! It was given to me as "wild coleus", but I've found out that it's an edible herb called Perilla...

...and is a heavy reseeder. I didn't need to be told that part.

As they move down the driveway they might comment on the Hakone grass, thinking it was bamboo...

...beacuse bamboo is what draws them down the driveway, even though the Ph. bissetii here is not the most attractive bamboo in the yard right now...

...they'd turn the corner and get their first look at a nice bamboo:

...and would immediately move toward it:

They probably don't realize how miraculously clean the driveway is...

...with only my smaller elephant ear plants living here until they're bigger...

...and a selection of extra plants that I was giving away to whoever wanted one...

About half of the giveaway plants went to a new home!

But besides those, the driveway was plant-free! There were a hundred pots here on Saturday (which was a long day of cleanup).

To the left of the 'Aureocaulis' bamboo though, almost everybody asked about the castor bean plants:

Then surveyed the rest before moving down into the "prairie" beds:

Lots of questions about Rudbeckia maxima and the milkweed...

They might ask about the tripod trellis, as most of the vines are just barely getting going. I wish everybody could come back in 6 weeks!

I left some of the groundcover bamboos as-is, to show what happens when you get lazy and miss a year of rhizome pruning:

They'd then take a look at the fenced veggie beds that currently hold tomatoes, melons, beets, and a couple of cucumber plants...

...some people asked about the garlic, but not many...

...possibly because they were distracted by the 'Spectabilis' bamboo...

...or the cup plant, which at least a dozen people asked about, amazed by it's height:

But then they focused on the pond...

...with its goldfish, toad tadpoles, dragonflies, and bees (visiting the pickerel weed blooms).

Many people asked about the Japanese butterbur:

I told the kids that came to keep an eye out for the tiny toads, but I don't think anybody saw one:

They might enjoy some of the other bamboos...

As they moved toward the patio...

...attracted by the sound of the stream, which you can clearly hear when you're back at the pond. It draws you toward it...

Some people asked if the stream and pond were connected, and most people were surprised that the pond has no moving water or filtration.

On the patio they got a look at the maypop, and most people were surprised to find out that there is a cold-hardy, native passionflower vine!

They got a good look at the other side of the bamboo too...

...and as they moved up the stairs they saw (without knowing it) that I arranged some plants to make the "empty" planter box more attractive...

...then saw where most of my other potted plants went...

They look better arranged here than they ever did on the driveway I think, even though most are still in nursery pots.

Turning around to move under the deck...

...(which hasn't looked this clean for two years!) they'd probably go left...

...where the cold-hardy bananas are (at the right edge of the photo) and more bamboo of course:

Nobody commented on the stone...

...probably because looking up was more impressive...

Then moving up the south side of the house...

...they'd see too much Blue Globe thistle on the left, but come to the newer planting mounds...

...where the cactus now live. They might notice the cape honeysuckle, although nobody commented it on it.

Somebody thought it was a trumpet vine, which is understandable as they look similar.

Besides the cactus there are some grasses, and wonderful (but smelly) clary sage:

They might turn around to take one last look (they wouldn't have the sun in their eyes in the afternoon)...

...and then admire a few potted specimens that are not really too impressive yet...

...before taking a look at the front foundation plantings...

...and maybe another look at the walkway.

Things that I learned about hosting a tour:

  • Even though I provided an info sheet naming some of the more impressive plants in each bed, I missed several (castor bean, butterbur, cup plant). Next time I'll provide more answers in writing, not because I don't want to talk to people, but because I feel like some visitors' questions didn't get answered when my wife and I were busy talking to others.
  • Make sure you have at least one helper. You can't do it all yourself!
  • Don't have too elaborate a setup, in case a quick shower surprises you (twice!) and you have to quickly gather everything up to keep it dry.
  • Have as many umbrellas handy as you can find unless there's no chance for rain.
  • We had a jug of ice water and some glasses out, but nobody got a drink -- even though it was extremely hot and humid.
  • Make sure you drink more than you think you should. You'll be doing a lot of talking, and need to keep hydrated!
  • Take a break to eat something, even a snack.
  • I'm debating whether or not some signage in the yard would be helpful, or detract from the experience. I want to provide information, but don't want to ruin the views -- even attractive plant tags stick out too much for my tastes!

Thanks to everybody who visited -- hope to see you again next year!

(I wonder if there might be other opportunities to host a tour later in the summer?)


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Teri  – (June 25, 2014 at 12:57 PM)  

Perilla is wonderful! I used to get it in a CSA box from a Korean group. Here's one way I used it:

Gerhard Bock (Succulents and More)  – (June 25, 2014 at 1:12 PM)  

Wow, what a tour. I can't get over a) how green your yard is (I shouldn't be surprised), and b) how well your bamboo has recovered from your harsh winter. Everything looks so fantastic.

One garden I toured last month handed out a fairly exhaustive plant. I appreciated that, but I know it's a lot of work to create (and not every visitor might care).

Plant signs/tags are nice, but they subtly shift the ambience from a space to relax in to something more formal and possibly less inviting. But again, that depends on the visitor. Personally, I love plant tags, LOL.

Salty Pumpkin Studio  – (June 25, 2014 at 2:18 PM)  

Congratulations on your Wow Great tour! That's a lot of work. I'm glad you had a good crowd.
Plant name markers for one day might be fun. There's a lot of designs to chose from or make your own.

Alan  – (June 25, 2014 at 2:18 PM)  

Teri: not sure how I'll try the Perilla yet -- the rolls sound like a great idea!

Gerhard: You are amazed by the green here every summer! :) You meant that they passed out an "exhaustive plant LIST", right? If I ever get my yard map finished, I'd surely have it available for people who wanted it. I'm sure many don't care though -- I know when I visit the botanical garden (every week during the music festival) I don't really care about specific plants most of the time. Sometimes though I do want to learn what something is.

Mark and Gaz  – (June 25, 2014 at 3:46 PM)  

You've done a fantastic job with your garden Alan, and thanks for also taking us on a tour!

Lisa  – (June 25, 2014 at 6:53 PM)  

Beautiful photos! It's sometimes good to have a need to shift into high gear to get things organized for a big event - now you have the rest of the season to enjoy!

Lisa at Greenbow  – (June 25, 2014 at 7:55 PM)  

I enjoyed seeing overall views of your garden. I am rather new to reading your blog. I didn't realize you had so many bamboos. This surprises me since so many are difficult to manage. Yours appear to be under control. Isn't fun to have a garden tour occasionally to keep one from letting certain areas get too messy. Looks like great fun.

danger garden  – (June 26, 2014 at 12:27 AM)  

Thinking back to last winter I never would have believed your bamboo would be looking so lush and happy. Gawd you're going to hate mine! I really enjoyed this tour as we usually only see little bits and pieces of your garden. Also I'm with you on the plant tags, I hate them in a garden setting.

Alan  – (June 26, 2014 at 8:16 AM)  

Mark and Gaz: thank you!

Lisa: good point -- do you think I'll really be able to relax the rest of the summer?

Lisa at Greenbow: welcome, and yes, I do have 35 or so bamboos now (down by a few due to common sense and the helping hand of Nature)

Loree: Nobody was more surprised at the bamboo bounce-back than me! Almost every leaf dropped, but all of the important ones leafed back out furiously!

Alan  – (June 26, 2014 at 8:21 AM)  

Loree: also, I could never hate a bamboo. Your palmata in the stock tank looks quite nice. Don't stress -- the people coming to your garden *love* plants. They won't like everything you've done, but they'll love lots of it!

I had one guy on the tour who was not really a plant person, just accompanying his wife. He asked me about my stonework, and some technical details of how I attached certain components together. He found something to enjoy. :)

Charlie@Seattle Trekker  – (June 26, 2014 at 10:02 PM)  

Absolutely love the rich lushness of your garden, It is so inviting and has such a great feel. It must have been a lot of fun to have folks walk through and share their thoughts.

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