Even if your trip takes you to an unfamiliar part of the country, calling in at one of the more than 360 private gardens taking part in this year's Garden Conservancy Open Days Program will make you feel right at home. A welcoming spirit is essential to this nationwide garden-visiting program, established in 1995 on the model of a 70-some-year old tradition in England, where sharing one's outdoor space, however grand or humble, is almost commonplace -- as long as there are at least a few interesting plants to look at.
The Garden Conservancy was founded in 1989 with a mission to safeguard important American gardens. Most of those participating in its open days program are manned by their owners, usually the same people who planted those botanical treasures and who care for them. The chance to visit gardeners on their own turf is an intimate opportunity to gather ideas, ask questions, or simply enjoy the scenery.
From suburban backyards to rural estates, the conservancy's list encompasses a wide range of landscape styles and locations. Popular vacation spots such as southern Maine, southern California, and Long Island, New York all have gardenvisiting programs, with dates coinciding with peak blooms.
To prepare for a visit to any of the participating gardens, you need the Open Days Directory, which gives a description of each site, along with dates and directions. Available from the conservancy, the book costs $21.95. Tickets can be purchased at each of the gardens. $5 per person; children 12 and under are admitted free.
Here's a sampling of the gardens open this season in 2010. Wherever you go, take a camera and a notebook to record plants or ideas you want to try at home.
Nancy and Richard Forbes
July 17: South Dartmouth, Mass. A view of the Slocums river, meadows, woods, salt marshes, and a vegetable garden full of prize-winning dahlias.
July 18: Redding, Conn. Native meadows, sunken gardens, woodland walks, sculptures, and beautiful water features.
Braveboat Harbor Farm
July 24-25: York, Maine. Vegetable gardens, pears, apples, orchards, goldfish ponds, and a collection of magnolias, rhododendrons, and hydrangeas grow beautifully in this 50-year-old garden.
Stone Crop Gardens:
August 15: Cold Spring, NY. Twelve acres of woodland and water gardens, a grass garden, a cliff rock garden, perennial beds, and an enclosed English-style flower garden.
September 11: Gladstone, NJ. Surrounded by wetlands and woods, this rustic-style garden was named after Tallquapie, a Native American who sold land along the Raritan River.
September 12: Meriden, Conn. Several beautiful gardens full of tropical plants,vines, trees, and shrubs across one-third of an acre.
The Shuping Garden
September 18-19: Raleigh, NC. A 3-acre garden with courtyards, piazzas, redbuds, dogwoods, and stately magnolias.
September 25 - 26 Charlotte, NC. An oval lawn surrounded by roses, perennials, shrubs, conifers, Japanese maples, camellias and azaleas.
September 18-19: Raleigh, NC. A cattle pasture transformed into eclectic gardens filled with meandering paths and vibrant plants.
The Davies Garden
September 18-19: Raleigh, NC. A beautiful courtyard overlooking rose and perennial gardens.
September 25 - 26: Charlotte, NC. A shade garden with plenty of conifers, blueberries, blackberries, and peonies for sun-lovers.
Peggy & Eric Olsen
July 10: Barrington Hills, Ill. A country estate filled with roses, lilies, hydrangeas, and hostas on a 15-acre farm.
Cherry Lane Farm
July 18: Marengo, Ill. A 73-acre farm filled with a conifer collection, vegetable and flower gardens, and several secret gardens.
July 25: Mettawa, Ill. A 65-acre property with two ponds, a woodland tree house, and an English-style garden centerpiece.
Garden at Elm Tree
July 25: Lake Forest, Ill. Restored gardens filled with flowering bulbs, wildflowers, and Boxwood hedges.
The Gardens at Ball
August 1: West Chicago, Ill. Native plants in wetlands and woodlands restoration areas.
James deGrey David & Gary Peese
October 16: Austin, Texas. A 2-acre garden filled with element of the Mediterranean, Mexico and Texas.
October 16: Austin, Texas. A rose-lined drive leading to a large formal garden with Callery pear alee.
East Side Patch
October 16: Austin, Texas. Native perennials, cacti, succulents, bamboo, and wildlife.
October 23: San Antonio, Texas. Surrounded by plants and orchids, this garden is separated into four different areas, each with its own theme.
Oak Canyon Garden
October 23: San Antonio, Texas. A 40-year-old garden designed with limestone walkways and a view of the canyon below.
The Koi Garden
August 21: Olympia, Wash. A 1-acre garden showcasing several patios, tropical plants, a variety of trees, shrubs, and perennials.
Botanical Blue Family Gardens
August 21: Olympia, Wash. A 25-year-old garden with a collection of ornamental trees, shrubs, and perennials.
August 21: Olympia, Wash. A Japanese garden filled with ponds and waterfalls.
Mason Clearing in the Woodlands
August 21: Olympia, Washington. A tranquil garden surrounded by shrubs, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, ferns, hostas, and blueberries.
Sunset Beach Garden
August 21: Olympia, Washington. A garden with a mix of grasses, woodland shrubs, and native conifers.
Casa de Sueqos
July 24: Oakland, California. A garden once covered with ivy now showcases stone walls, patios, a koi pond, arbors, a shade house, nursery, and a garden cottage.
Garden for the Soul
July 24: Oakland, California. An evolving garden with a focus on plants and attracting wildlife.
July 24: Oakland, California. A low-maintenance garden with a unique collection of trees and plants.
Our Own Stuff Gallery Garden
July 24: Berkeley, California. Subtropical plants mix with sculptures in steel, stone, and ceramic in this 27-year-old garden.
July 24: Albany, California. Art has a strong presence in this garden with pavings, wavy walls, mosaic benches, and bronze sculptures.