Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah
image The 2016 Garden Tour hosts and organization committee worked hard to make this year’s event a success.

June 16, 2016
Things I learned from some great gardeners

The 2016 Garden Tour is now in the history books, and what a great event it was! Tooele Valley residents (and quite a few visitors from the Wasatch Front) showed up mightily to support this great community event.

It was the first time the Tour was expanded to include the “Summer Blast” at the historic Benson Gristmill, and the community gave a resounding “YES!” to this happening. The venue was packed with approximately 800-1,000 people. The sights and sounds were fantastic, as were the aromas from the food trucks! We look forward to doing this all again next year.

My wife Maggie and I always look forward to the Tour because it’s exciting to see how hosts step up each year to put their yardscape on display for all to enjoy. As past Garden Tour hosts ourselves, we understand it’s a bit nerve-racking to work so hard and then open your yard to guests, hoping they will like what they see! Each time we visit the tour locations, it’s a marvel of creativity and ingenuity as these homeowners find new and innovative ways to design, arrange, surprise and delight the viewer with hardscapes as well as varieties that have been around for centuries and newer cultivars.

So, we’d like to feature interesting, unique and amazing things we learned from this year’s Tour.

One of my new favorite terms is “whimsy,” as it perfectly describes the use of “found” materials in the garden to create an emotional or “wow” reaction. We saw this technique at many of our 2016 locations. One tour host put hinges on a wrought-iron headboard to create a gate in their garden. We also saw an old wooden chair that had a hole cut in the seat big enough to house a potted plant.

We’ve seen old boots, small wheelbarrows, ornate screen doors or even metal wash tubs placed randomly in garden beds with flowers or ground cover flowing out of them. They look as if they were tossed aside in an unplanned way and just happened to sprout life from within! Other gardeners went searching in unlikely places, like junkyards or metal recyclers, to find items that would lend themselves aesthetically to a particular garden design. We saw three-foot-tall metal springs from machinery standing proudly in flower beds, large gears painted and displayed on posts and even fin assemblies from aerial fuel tanks or bombs that were used as planters!

Hardscapes were another popular mainstay on the tour this year. These are elements of a yardscape that will tend to last a long time and be essentially the same from year to year. You might say they are foundational to the overall garden space. There were a variety of surfaced paths that were delightful to stroll on. Water features are always intriguing and ranged from a simple fountain to a complete waterfall with a flowing creek bed.

We saw several homes with a fire pit area, created from various materials. Some included informal seating while others had padded porch swings or large benches around the pit. Sitting outside on a cool night, in the dark, around a crackling fire is almost irresistible! One homeowner even installed gas logs in their outdoor fire pit for ease of use (not to mention not getting smoke in the eyes!). Other hardscape elements incorporated at sites were large boulders, arbors, retaining walls, pergolas, and benches.

Varying elevations was a common theme in many of this year’s locations. Some owners had naturally sloping lots that easily lent themselves to elevation changes while others created elevations by mounding up large amounts of soil to create giant islands in their landscape. Many of these mounds not only had trees and plantings but pathways, as well, that meandered around or over them and often included a bench or other seating to allow visitors to stop and enjoy the beauty for a while. Still others achieved the look and feel of elevation by their planting arrangement — contrasting very tall plants and shrubs in the back of a bed with smaller ones in the front.

Another design element common to some of the homes was placing ornamental and edible plants in the same garden bed. Some of the edibles we saw included strawberries, rhubarb, dill, basil, lemongrass and other good-looking veggie plants that were enjoying life along side a wide variety of perennials.

It’s a great way to add “practical” plants to your garden that not only look beautiful but taste good as well. Cabbage, turnips, and kale are also great candidates for placement in ornamental areas.

A cool idea for landscape design is a tool area where gardeners can keep their commonly used garden tools readily accessible. Gardeners spend a lot of time weeding, watering, pruning, planting and fertilizing their landscape. Having tools and gloves close at hand, while not exposing them to the elements, is essential.

Several homes incorporated that need into their yardscape in clever ways. We saw a mailbox on a post in one garden with the word “Tools” painted on the outside. Others had small sheds or neatly kept buildings that housed shovels, rakes, fertilizer and the like in an attractive way that became part of the outdoor decor. Being practical doesn’t mean it needs to be ugly!

Another great idea is instead of potting annual flowers to decorate your porches and other garden spaces, use perennials that you want to add to your garden beds and enjoy them as potted plants. Then plant them, towards the end of the season, as a permanent part of your landscape. Get them in the ground early enough that they can get established before their winter’s sleep. Step and repeat this process the next year and so on. We are currently adopting this practice with lavender and blue flax that are potted on our porch right now.

We also saw quite a few outdoor rooms on the tour this year. These rooms ranged from uncovered seating with minimal support structures to permanent outdoor covered spaces with roofs and floors and lots of places to sit and relax. Depending on your budget and what you are trying to accomplish, there are unlimited ways to create an outdoor room space in your yard that will not only meet your family’s needs but also fit nicely in your yard’s design.

And speaking of family, kids were king on this year’s tour! Many homes had large, dedicated spaces in the yard for their kids and other playmates. One home actually built a meandering low-speed ATV track complete with hills at the bottom of their sloping property. Another home not only incorporated beautiful landscape for the adults including an outdoor room, vegetable gardens and a backyard deck with fire pit, then made it fun for the kids to live there as well!

They are kept engaged with a sports court, enclosed trampoline, tetherball area, club house and — get this — a fountain set up just like the dancing waters at the Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City. When turned on, small holes in the concrete floor squirt water into the air at random intervals and heights. The neighborhood kids love it so much that the owner has installed a flagpole in the front of the house and, only when the yellow flag is flying, the neighborhood kids are welcome to come and play in the water as well. Wow! You know that will be a great childhood memory for all the kids in the neighborhood when they grow up!

Congratulations to all of the tour hosts for making the 2016 tour remarkable and memorable! We broke attendance records again this year and work has already begun for next year’s event. Our thanks as well to our title sponsor — the Tooele Transcript Bulletin. They really helped us get the word out and were great to work with!

The 2017 Garden Tour will be June 10 with the Friday night Summer Blast being held on June 9. Mark your calendars and, if you were inspired by this year’s homes and take some of these ideas to heart, maybe YOUR home will be on the Tour in the not-so-distant future!

Jay Cooper

Garden Spot Columnist at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Jay Cooper is a new contributing writer for the Garden Spot column. He replaced Diane Sagers, who retired in November 2013 after writing the column for 27 years. Also known as Dirt Farmer Jay, Cooper and his wife have been residents of Erda since 2001 after moving to Utah from Tucson, AZ. A passionate gardener and avid reader of horticultural topics, for several years he has been a member of Utah State University’s Master Gardeners Program, and served as chapter president in 2013. Cooper says Tooele County has an active and vibrant gardening community, and the Garden Spot column will continue to share a wide range of gardening, landscaping, home skills and rural living themes.

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