In many places all over the country, the garden tour season is beckoning.  If you’re a subscriber to this site you’ve most likely got your engines revving and already have a few dates marked on the calendar.  Even as you read these words, I’m heading up to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania to finally see their tulip display. And not an “almost” tulip display, or “you should have come last week” tulip display, which is how I normally do it.  After 20 years on the East Coast, I think I may have timed it right. 

But I digress. Your engines – MY engines – are revving. But we live with people who may be forced, due to circumstances of birth, marital pairing, or car share, to visit gardens with us. 

Even if you’re an expert at dodging TPCs (Tepid Garden Companions), the time will come where you find yourself on a garden tour, in a public garden, or shopping for plants in an all-day way, with someone who thinks that gardening is something you do after retirement and just before death. And only because there are no more options.

Delaware Botanic Gardens

This is a picture of multicolored weeds to 87% of the country. (Delaware Botanic Gardens)


So here are a few things to consider as you take your tired [of gardens], your poor [of knowledge], your yearning to be free [of you], to visit a great garden this spring.  Whether you’re visiting the glories of the Huntington in San Marino, California, or the more modest charms of a neighborhood Back Alley Garden Tour in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the principles are the same. 

We don’t normally do listicles on GardenRant, so I’m dancing on thin ice here, but when I circled back to number them, these points had neatly fallen into that darling of SEO numbers: Ten. I had to run with it.

1.  Do your research ahead of time.

This is crazy important – both for your peace of mind when you’re visiting a garden that you’ve never seen before, and in order that you might find something that specifically appeals to your travel companion. Like a bench. Take a little time, pre-trip, to look online at maps of the garden, exhibits that might be interesting, and particularly if you’re travelling with little ones, whether there is a children’s garden.  A friend of mine took her friend and friend’s toddler to Longwood without ever knowing there was a world-class children’s garden tucked away in the four-acre conservatory. 

She’ll never make that mistake again. But then, she probably won’t be given the chance to.

children's garden

The dancing water spouts at Longwood Gardens can keep kids occupied for hours.

2.  Make sure everyone is wearing comfortable shoes.

Every once and awhile ‘comfortable’ meshes with ‘attractive,’ but it’s pretty rare.  Let the twin-sets and heels enjoy their crustless sandwiches, you’re there to see a garden; and thus, so is your companion.  Uncomfortable shoes are the first complaint you’ll hear, so hammer this point home to those with whom you are travelling. Before you travel.

3.  Bring insect repellent.

After tight fitting shoes, nothing dampens someone’s spirit like being eaten alive by bugs.  In our area, gnats can also be a big source of irritation, and remember, your Tepid Garden Companions have NO tolerance for further sources of irritation if they’re already feeling irritated.  The easiest and most discrete way of dealing with this is by bringing insect repellent wipes with you to pass out as needed.  Avoid judgy statements like “That’s odd, they’re not bothering me.”

(Judgy Spice – the sixth, lesser-known Spice Girl – is now my official nickname after an unfortunate insect episode in a North Carolina seaside garden. And a few other episodes if I’m being honest.)

4.  Keep an eye out for shady benches and cool places to sit

Knowing where your benches are is the equivalent of knowing your emergency exits on a plane (or knowing where your towel is for the Douglas Adams fans out there).  Benches are magical places where you can park a fading friend for a minute while you run over to that incredible garden vista and use up the rest of your phone’s memory.  Some people (like my husband) would like nothing better than to lie down in cool grass, watch the clouds for a while and doze off for a half-hour.  That’s a half hour I don’t have to listen to variations of “How big is this place anyway?”

garden chairs

If your companion starts crying when you bring them here, you’ve pushed them too far.

5.  Stop using Latin. Just stop.

Oh boy they don’t want to hear it.  They really don’t want to hear it.  If you’ve been gardening for some time, and do an equal amount of reading, or have a degree in Horticulture, you may think in Latin when you look at a plant. That’s a great thing for your profession/obsession, but a terrible thing for a friendship.


Not only do they not care that there is a peony in this mass of leaves if they can’t see the flower, they sure as hell don’t care that it’s a Paeonia obovata ‘Alba’, that you think taxonomists might now be calling Paeonia japonica. (Recognize the garden Scott Beuerlein?)

However, just like a child that speaks Italian to his Italian momma and English to his English daddy, it is absolutely possible to switch between them.  If your companion asks the name of a plant, tell them in English. And if you can’t remember the common name, make one up. They are never, ever going to remember – they’re thinking about their stomachs. Which brings me to my next point.

6.  Be aware of mealtimes.

If you can’t bring snacks, then know where the garden café is (see Point 1, above). If you’ve already had lunch, suggest a restorative mid-day cup of coffee or tea.  If it’s later, suggest something stronger – many gardens have beer and wine. 

Last year during Longwood’s Christmas display I noticed a distinct lack of pep in my companions around 4:30pm.  Had I insisted on another hour touring before we got something to eat, we would have never stayed for the glorious light display at sundown.  But a glass of good beer and a slice of pizza in a heated tent put the vroom back in their step and we were able to continue.  Tragedy avoided.

car picnic

Bringing a nice snack and a bottle of wine for a parking lot refresh goes a long way.

7.  Be aware of bathrooms.

Common sense and, surprise, you might want one too.

bathroom break

Sometimes, they have to make it obvious for me.

8.  Look for a tightening of facial muscles.

Everyone has their limits, and when you see those signs in your companions, it’s time to wrap it up.  I know you wanted to see the sunken garden, or have another go-round in the grotto, but if you’re having trouble empathizing with their plight, then imagine yourself being forced to endure spending several hours somewhere you don’t want to spend three minutes. For me, any sports hall of fame anywhere on the planet.  What the hell is that all about anyway?

plant nursery

My husband’s idea of hell. My idea of happiness. If my husband is not there at the time.

9.  Let go of your expectations.

The best way I can illustrate this is to ask you imagine the way you looked at a garden when you were a child.  It was a beautiful place filled with interesting features, but rarely did a specific plant stand out in your eyes. It was a holistic experience. 

Many [normal] people have never left that place.  Gardens are for relaxation, chatting with companions, maybe having a cup of tea and enjoying the sound of a fountain.  If you are too set on seeing every single plant combination and every single garden room of that garden, you and your companions are going to have a tough day. Try to let go and enjoy it the way they do instead.

And the gift store is only an option if they walk into it first. If so, you’ve got six minutes max.

To me: Mecca. To them: Pretty cool but is there a tea shop in that building?


10.  A treat on the way home

Ice cream, candy, Little Debbies, Doritos…whatever the service station has, and whatever you have to spend to make it easier for them to ignore their throbbing feet and sunburned cheeks. They’ll forgive you. Eventually.  Right now, there’s ice cream. – MW