I was up at 5:30 on the Garden Conservancy Open Day. I went outside and heard the birds’ dawn chorus while I dragged hoses around to everything that was newly planted. The weather report predicted our first day in the nineties. (Most years we really do have a summer in Oregon; it just starts in July.) The watering traipse took about an hour, but it seemed longer. After all this rush, I felt like I was now under the ocean, my mind moving slowly along the sea bottom.

“It is what it is.” That’s what my husband Lou tells me.

The nine-foot tall meadow rue (Thalictrum something—the tag, which declared it would grow six feet tall, is buried at the base) was gently waving in the early morning breeze.

Purple clouds of nine-foot meadow rue float in the early morning light.

Lou and I opened the front gate of the deer fence and hung up my theoretical deer scarer. I made it from bird scare flash tape. The long ribbons were stapled onto a strand that we stretched across the opening and tied around nails on the top of the posts. I sprayed the shiny ribbons with deer repellent and dumped repellent on the driveway as well.

The dancing tapes hang in the gate opening and (theoretically) deter deer.

The luminescent tapes dance and flash in the slightest breeze. In theory, no self-respecting deer should go near it. In theory. Our deer might do anything. So far, it has worked when we need to leave the gate open for long stretches in the day, but I’ve never had to use it at night. It’s fun to drive through.

Sonji and Andy arrived at nine and Sonji dove into the rose bed, madly deadheading what she could. Andy rolled up hoses.

I put out a big jug of mint lemonade. This is our house specialty. I dunk a large bunch of mojito-type mint into any lemonade and let it sit from 2 to 24 hours. Fresh and fabulous. My neighbor Marcia (lender of all that DR equipment) arranged a platter of cookies for the table under the grape arbor.

We set up an umbrella-shaded check-in table where we would take money and distribute handouts about the garden.

Lou is our greeter.

Then the cars started crunching down the gravel driveway.

Our guests arrive.

Some were old garden writer compatriots like Rachel Foster, a superb garden designer.

Rachel Foster and Marcia Swisher converse by the grape arbor.

Rachel and I walked around together. I pointed out how information she’d shared years ago had ended up in my own designs. For instance, my clematis climb on a wire panel railing. That stiff paneling, Rachel had said, was the perfect size opening for clematis. I never forgot that tip.

Clematis on wire panels.

Other folks I greeted and watched them as they moved off slowly from bed to bed, pointing out plants and talking to each other.

Guests gathered under the grape arbor for lemonade and cookies.

Early on, a Garden Club woman commented, “You use the same plant material we all do in the Northwest, but you do it in different ways.”

Thank you.

One visitor extravagantly declared it was, “The best garden I have ever seen.”

I appreciated her enthusiasm.

Actually, I appreciated everyone who came and explored. Most of them stayed at least 45 minutes. I watched the clock on that because 45 minutes of interest is the minimum standard for British home gardens to be considered for inclusion in their famous open day “yellow book.” Our Garden Conservancy doesn’t have that requirement, but I was absurdly pleased to see that my garden met it.

What I liked best about the Open Day is that I could enjoy being in my own garden until the sun was slanting through the Douglas fir trees, without once pulling a weed, or a hose.

At closing time, Lou and Marcia and I were seated under the arbor, drinking the last of the mint lemonade. Marcia asked me if I was happy. I was. This Open Day was the culmination of a garden 20 years in the making. But I was also aware that no matter how hard as we try, growing a garden means much is out of our control.

S**t happens. Sometimes literally.

That morning, just as the guests arrived, I was strolling up the lawn feeling all welcoming and proud of how everything looked. I was carrying a little purple watering marker flag that had been left behind in the clean up of one of the beds. People were standing all around, studying the plants, reading their handouts.

But before I could greet anyone, I discovered, in the middle of the greenest grass we’ve ever had, (Spring this year was incredibly rainy and we added cotton seed meal as a bonus.) there was a perfectly huge dog dropping.

Last night, when my friends brought us dinner in the garden they also brought their dog. I planted the purple flag in the grass next to the deposit so no one would step on it and went off to get a spade.

There it is: What’s the first act on her Open Day for the woman who had worked for six months to prepare her garden? Shovel a dog turd.

A garden, a dog, or your children will never let you get too high-hatted. You really can’t take credit for it all. Too many other factors come into play. But for gardeners everywhere, part of the fascination is dealing with all those variables. “It is what it is.”

It’s over.

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  1. I’m working up to the Open Days tour in my gardens Aug. 18… if anything is alive. It’s been a bloody hot summer in Denver… 5:30 seems like the perfect time to start watering!

    • marykate says:

      Hi Sheila, When the weather is so toasty, gardeners still want to look at other gardens and see what really is alive and thriving. Good luck with your Open Day. I’ll think of you when I water.

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