Garden Clippings: The Gardener on the Road

Places to go, people to see, plants that need water.

I was on the road last week, a tourist for Comic-Con in San Diego. I will share: driving bumper to bumper for 4 ½ hours does not a vacation make and superhero fans have the polar opposite aesthetic from a gardener.

While I was away, it was hot and humid in the Valley. So by the time I returned, my buddleia looked like it was auditioning for Cirque du Soleil.

This time of year many of us are taking vacations for points further North and South and even over the pond. What’s a gardener to do?

Well, first off be prepared. There’s some things you can do to protect your plants while you’re away so that the phlox don’t plotz and the mums aren’t done by the time you arrive home.

Next, after sampling the bangers in London, or hot dogs in Chicago, or pizza by the slice in Times Square; after rubbing shoulders with humanity; after sitting in traffic--try touring someone else’s gardens as an antidote to the stress or indigestion.

I’m passing along some garden tips for the trip ahead.


For those going to the Olympic Games in London, take a side trip to world-famous Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent. Designed by novelist Virginia Woolf’s companion Vita Sackville-West, it is what we over here would consider typically English. Charming flowers in nooks and crannies as well as formal hedges and quaint narratives that only the Brits—who really perfected our idea of gardens-- can dream up.

The Midwest is picture postcard blue in July. If you’re in Chicago, after you check out the Picasso sculpture and drop a wad on Michigan Avenue, take a 20-minute drive North to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe and get inspired by the Model Railroad Garden. No detail is ignored as model trains traverse through tunnels, across bridges and around miniature national landmarks surrounded by a whimsical landscape design of miniature trees and shrubs. Think fairy gardens for guys.

What’s a trip to the South without a stop at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC? Just the drive up amidst the towering pines is gorgeous. The mansion sits tall overlooking 125,000 acres, including the gardens originally designed by uber-landscape-genius Frederick Law Olmsted, you know, he who designed Central Park. There’s an Italian garden, shrub garden, walled garden, trippy Victorian era flower carpets. And even if we’ll never ever be able to duplicate any of it, we can aspire to.

And for those flying back east to Manhattan to visit family or catch a show on Broadway, veer off to the Bronx home to New York Botanical Gardens which boasts the largest conservatory on the east coast. You will find perennial gardens, roses galore, try-this-at-home demonstration gardens, swaths of daylilies, a cool architectural rock garden, and patches of natives, orchids, tropicals, lily ponds, and desert plants.

Daytrippers who want to take the easy way out and not venture too far from home need only go as far as La Cañada Flintridge. Visit (or re-visit) Descanso Gardens’ 150 acres featuring our native woodlands and chapparral vegetation as well as their Camellia Forest, Japanese Garden, Sundial Garden, International Rosarium, Iris Garden and Mulberry Pond.


If you plan to be gone for two weeks (or more) hire a plant sitter. If  that seems an extravagance, then water everything thoroughly and use programmable irrigation timers (you can get one for $20) and test the system before you leave.

Put a generous layer of mulch over your garden beds.

Make sure all your plants, vegetables, vines are adequately supported and staked. Rain, wind and just plain growth will challenge their upright behavior.

If you have outdoor container plants, move them away from direct sunlight and place them in an area of partial shade before you leave.

Start a small herb garden in a self-watering planter. It’s simple and eco-friendly and by the time you get back you’ll have salad fixings.

Miki Henderson July 18, 2012 at 02:25 AM
What a lovely column and writer you are, I love your STEAL THIS IDEA stuff! I look forward to you every week!
Marla Hart July 20, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Thanks Miki. I'm still recovering --with my plants-- after being on the road. It looks like we'll all rebound!


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