Preparing for a Convention Tour in My Garden
Don Dean, Ramsey, Minnesota

   It is both an honor and a privilege to be chosen as a convention tour garden for the American Hosta Society Convention. The committee making the selection of gardens is often a group of people that have been to many conventions and toured many gardens. They determined that my garden is the caliber that attendees would appreciate seeing.  The Minnesota Convention Planning Committee has selected my gardens twice, once in 2000, and again in 2010, prior to me agreeing to be part of the garden selection committee.
   The Minnesota committee had a design to provide a wide variety of size and garden styles while taking into consideration the gardens proximity to one another, bus access, and other criteria. 

Don and Gail's ancestors got an early start on getting the garden ready - very early!

   I have held the view that the gardener "owes" the attendees the best experience that the garden can provide, and the committee deserves follow through by the gardener once the invitation has been accepted. How does the gardener then prepare for what may seem such a daunting task? Here is a plan that has worked for me, one that was better the second time around.

   Every gardener knows his or her own garden well. We know how long it takes to complete each task, what week of the year all the basics are completed, and what needs to be done only occasionally, all of which makes a huge difference in the sharpness of the garden's appearance.  The Fourth of July weekend is when all is completed in a typical year for my yard. That would be too late. A plan was required.
   There were several differences between preparation for the 2000 tour and the 2010 tour. The gardens had increased in both scope and number. My age had increased by ten. I had also grown ten years slower, but, hopefully, a bit wiser to make up for that. My plan needed to be revised accordingly.

Having a few friends over to help can make getting the garden ready a more pleasant task.

Starting Early in the Game

   The bottom line is to plan for the unpredictable as well as the predictable. Something unpredictable will happen. Tree trimming of dead limbs not only looks better, but dead limbs could become a disaster. A wind storm, sometimes not much of a storm, will bring down dead branches. A larger storm will bring down quite large limbs. It is better to get them off the trees a year or more in advance than to have them drop a week before attendees arrive. A crushed garden below is not very appealing. Worse would be to have attendees under the limb when it drops, and it will drop some day. I get mine down when the ground is frozen. Worst-case scenario is a few damaged plant tags show up when the snow melts in the spring.
   Changes in hard scape (timbers, walls, gardens, walkways, etc.) went on a three-year plan. Early friends in the hosta world taught the rule of hosta growth. First they sit, then they walk, and then they run. This refers to the hosta; it takes a year to establish root and appears to not grow, then begins to increase the number of divisions, and finally begins to clump up in the third year. Each cultivar will grow at a different rate, but this "rule" gives one a fair idea of the why of a three-year plan. I completed any new beds and planted them three years before attendees arrived. Many hosta moved into the new area were already small clumps; companion plants ranged from seedlings to immature second year plants, but all appeared to be an established bed by the third year, when attendees arrived.
   Pathways are a different story; they are one of those occasional jobs that make a huge difference. I used hardwood chips for most of my pathways through the gardens. I estimate a five-year plan on these. The majority of the chips have decomposed by the fifth year of being placed. They need to receive a fresh topcoat or be scraped down to the bare ground and started from the topsoil again. The latter was the case in both 2000 and 2010. This was a tough lesson in 2000. I left all paths to be  scraped until a few weeks before attendees arrived. It was a backbreaking job to do in a short period of time. The plan was changed. Preparing for the 2010 tour, I had most of the paths scraped in the fall of 2009 during cool weather. Only a few paths needed scraping several weeks before attendees arrived. Spreading the chips went quickly, with two friends coming over to help. Thirty yards disappeared from the driveway in short order, as one friend stayed in the path to spread chips while two of us shoveled and wheeled the chips to the spreader. I was older and wiser in 2010 with regard to paths.

The Year of the Tour Arrives

   A few garden basics are an annual process. Shrub pruning, weeding, freshly edged gardens, and a newly mowed lawn are each a given in this basic category. Woody shrubs sheared, and/or pruned, dramatically dress up the appearance of the gardens. Prune or shear within 4-5 weeks and pick up the mass of clippings. Then give the trimmings a few days to brown, followed by a final pick up or raking. This works well in the Minnesota climate.
   Weeding had always been a long and tedious task that required a thorough pass through three times each year. I always had weeded by trowel in display gardens. A hoe was used in growing beds, and a trowel was used up close to the plant's base. I operated from the view that I loved all the volunteer seedlings of perennials, especially the spring ephemerals. Weeding is an overwhelming task, especially when the knees get older and time seems shorter. I resorted to chemicals in 2010.
   I had heard much about a pre-emergent herbicide product called Oryzalin (Surflan) from some friends that had used it for years and were very pleased with the results. I followed their advice. Get the gardens cleaned thoroughly early in the season. Use a glyphosphate product like Round-Up on any perennial weeds before the hostas and desirable plants emerge; apply Oryzalin as directed, and follow all this up with a broadcast of fertilizer. I increased the intensity beyond the highest amount of recommended concentrate when mixing the Oryzalin since it was the first year of using it. It was applied with a sprayer. Marking the coverage space on the driveway and applying clear water from the sprayer upon the driveway calibrated the sprayer. Calibration assisted in determining the rate of application.
   The only trick was to get an even coating. This was accomplished by using plant tags as reference points within a paced off area to designate the total space for a single tank of coverage. This product was a great success. I did another walk through of careful "surgical" Round-Up application a couple weeks prior to the convention. That left few weeds to be pulled where the coverage was incomplete before the convention attendees arrived, and I had the gardens looking freshly weeded. The desirable perennials showed no ill effect from the product's use. I will add it to my annual routine.
   Labels need to be legible and accurate. Yes, even with the most careful effort, errors can and will occur. Do not worry. Someone will catch it and let you know with helpful intent, and the error can be corrected.

The Last Week of Preparation

   Finally, with regard to the gardens, nothing says your garden is ready for viewing more than freshly edged gardens and a newly mown lawn. It is like vacuuming the carpet just before dinner guests come over. It is likely to go unnoticed if it is done, but it is very noticeable if it is not done.
   I use plastic edging. It's not the prettiest, but it does the trick. The only lesson is to trim with a string trimmer the second to last lawn mowing before attendees arrive. The string trimmers throw a mess onto the foliage of the garden plants that needs to dry and fall off the foliage via wind, rain, or sprinkler. The lawn is last. A couple days prior to the arrival of the guests is great. Mowing too early can have the lawn look ratty. Be sure to watch the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
   Let your neighbors know when to expect the arrival of buses so as to not inconvenience them. Good fortune will provide you with neighbors that may offer their driveways to park your vehicle(s) to clear your premises and not block buses. Keep any docents' vehicles in mind during your arrangements.
  A sweep or wash of the driveway and sidewalks, washing of the deck and furniture, and picking up any obstacles that could be a tripping hazard within the last couple of days, will have your overall property ready.
   Get ready early on the day of the tours. Set up snacks and drinks prior to docents arriving. Early morning attendees appreciate a cup of coffee and light bite. Attendees will appreciate a cold beverage as the day progresses, especially if it gets hot. A simple lemonade and or ice water are ample choices for most. A half hour or more before the attendees arrive, meet with any docents that you have made arrangements with to assist with traffic flow and answer questions from your guests. I chose to have one docent tend the refreshments in order to free my wife and I to speak with the attendees. I also had printouts of my system of identification of seedling parentage in the event that someone was interested. There was a predictable interest within the group of AHS attendees. Any such preparation is greatly appreciated by visitors and will free you as the host to respond to other questions. Try your local garden group for docents. I was blessed with friends who know plants and could help with many perennials as well as hosta!

Conclusion

   Yes, being on tour is an honor and privilege but it can be a daunting task. My first time found me a nervous, anxious gardener. I was a great deal more at ease the second time around, just hustling to be ready with ample time to spare. The unpredictable predictably will happen! A late frost may occur, as it did this year on Mother's Day, 2010, that required a day's worth of trimming off damaged foliage throughout the gardens. It may hail. A limb may come down. Remember that these are all gardeners coming to see your gardens. They get it. They know the difference between what is within your control as the gardener and what is not. They have been there.
   I need only remember the many times that the convention attendees stepped up to wade through shin high torrents of water rushing through the drainage ditch, while sheets of rain pored down, in order to view a garden because they knew that the gardener had knocked himself out to prepare for those attendees arrival, or they worked together to get the bus off the crown of the road as it teeter-tottered, all hung up when the wheel dropped off the edge of the road.
   Get a plan and follow it, and the attendees will come. They will appreciate and applaud your efforts. They will also understand if the unfortunate occurs, even lend a hand. The AHS is full of wonderful people who appreciate the gardener as much as the garden, as I do when I'm the visitor.
 

How the garden looked

on the day of the tour

Editors' Note: Pictures of how Don's garden looked during the AHS National Convention garden tours can be seen in the convention section of this issue.

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