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Questions to consider while taking the Soroptimist garden tour

“Won’t you come into the garden? I would like my roses to see you.”

— Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Irish playwright, 1751-1816

By all accounts, Richard Sheridan was quite the ladies’ man. I can just picture such a smooth talker whispering this line into a paramour’s ear, melting any reluctance by his hints that her beauty surpassed even the garden roses. I bet the lady accepted his invitation!

Sheridan’s flirtatious welcome makes me think how seldom most gardeners invite other people into their private Eden. I think this is because gardeners are a rather persnickety bunch, and we have a tendency to assume others are judging our horticultural efforts with the same critical scrutiny we use in pursuit of perfection. Besides, mightn’t visitors trample the daylilies?

That’s what makes the annual Soroptimist of North Valley’s Gardens for Good Tour so special. Every year, several local gardeners open their private outdoor domains to the public in support of the Soroptimist’s mission to help women and girls in the Rogue Valley. The generosity of these brave souls is certainly admirable.

The self-guided tour will take place this year from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 18, in the south Medford and Phoenix area. The Soroptimists have lined up a mixture of urban, cottage and country gardens with beautiful views of the valley in springtime. Plan for about an hour of driving time to visit all six gardens on the tour.

Attendees will receive a brochure with descriptions and colorful pictures of each garden and a map of the tour. Picnic tables will be available at two garden locations for brown-bag lunches.

Tickets for the tour are $20 each or $70 for car-poolers of four. Tickets can be purchased through May 16 at Judy’s Florist in Central Point and Grants Pass, Southern Oregon Nursery on Highway 99 in Medford, and the Blue Door Garden Store in Jacksonville, or buy tickets online through May 17 at www.soroptimistinnorthvalley.com/garden-tour. Tickets will also be for sale on tour day at RoxyAnn Winery in Medford.

Some garden visitors will be happy to wander around the sites and simply soak up the ambience created by the hosts, but others may want to engage with more focus. In that case, here are several questions to think about as you walk around — and don’t be shy about asking the hosts questions. Taking pictures of the gardens may be useful for future reference, but ask the hosts first if taking photos is OK.

Purpose and function: Every garden has a purpose, whether it is to produce summer vegetables, delight the senses through colorful and fragrant flowers, provide a private space for relaxing or a gathering place for family and friends. What’s going on in this garden?

Organization and flow: The way a garden is organized helps to accomplish its purpose(s). How do the gardeners and their guests move around, sit, recline and work in this garden? What spaces and structures help the gardeners accomplish their work?

Aesthetics: Every garden elicits sensory impressions. How does this garden make you feel? What colors and fragrances are most and least appealing to you? What do you hear? What textures, lines, shapes, shadows and empty spaces contribute to your impressions?

The style of the garden works with the house and overall landscape to create an aesthetically pleasing experience. Is the style of this garden more formal or informal? How does the style of the garden work with the house and overall landscape? What garden structures and hardscape features (garden art, rocks, creek beds, water features, fences/gates, trellises) contribute to your impressions about this garden?

Growing conditions: Each garden is situated in a particular microclimate that determines which plants will thrive. How is this garden exposed to sun and wind? What is the elevation, slope and drainage of this site? Where are hot spots, shady areas and wet areas located? What is the texture of the soil (sandy, loamy or a lot of clay)?

Plants and plant care: Perhaps most stimulating of all is the way the host gardeners have combined different kinds of plants to create the garden’s character. What kinds of plants grow well in this garden? Do some kinds of plants predominate? How do different plants work together to create a unified landscape?

What are the sun and moisture needs of the plants that grow well here? How is water provided? What are common insect pests and diseases that need to be managed for these plants? Do the plants have other maintenance needs (dividing, yearly replacing, lots of pruning or debris)?

Most of all, garden tours provide a wonderful opportunity to enjoy springtime outdoors and to be inspired by the host gardeners’ hard work. Be sure to heap them with lots of praise, and don’t trample the daylilies!

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.