How did you get drawn into gardening? For a lot of green thumbs I’ve met, it started with a trip to a public garden, spending unhurried hours strolling paths lined with brilliant floral displays, or through wooded glades shaded by hundred-year-old trees.

 
NPGD logo
 
This Friday, May 11, is National Public Gardens Day (NPGD), and I predict that hundreds, maybe thousands of first time participants will look back years from now and say, “That’s when my love affair with gardening began.”

Haven’t heard of NPGD? That’s okay – it’s a relative newcomer, initiated in 2009 by the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) and Rain Bird, the irrigation folks.

Their mission? To celebrate gardens of all kinds, including public, botanical, educational, specialty, entertainment, zoological, and farm gardens, as well as arboreta and historical landscapes. Every Friday-before-Mother’s-Day for what I hope will be forever, APGA and Rain Bird will shine a special light on the institutions that bring beauty to our lives, protect the environment, conserve endangered species and habitats, educate and lobby for preservation, and give us an excuse to literally stop and smell the _______ (insert name of favorite fragrant plant).

Many of the nation’s public gardens will mark the day with special events and activities for schools, families, and visitors wishing to explore and discover their local public gardens.

 
Lotusland Aloe Garden and pond
Aloe Garden at Ganna Walska Lotusland, Montecito CA, tour stop.
 
For seasoned dirt diggers – like you loyal Fine Gardening readers – benefits include discovering new plants for your own garden, and filling up on fresh design ideas. And even if you don’t get turned on by deadheading and weeding, public gardens offer beauty, relaxation, family time, and raise consciousness regarding environmental stewardship.

Although the date for the event initially had moms in mind, you can use NPGD as an excuse for special events for school groups, family outings, or a romantic date.

Jumping Into the Deep End

Public gardens hold a special place in my heart, having spent more than twenty years as City Landscape Architect in the Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department. I got to put my two-cents in at some wonderful, green public open spaces. For some visitors, public gardens can be the gateway to a life filled with beauty and the spirit of stewardship of the environment. I enjoyed holding the gate open for them.

True Confession: I wasn’t aware of National Public Gardens Day until this year, when Julia McHugh, publicist for the Santa Barbara Zoological Garden, asked if I’d lead a tour of our delightful zoo. I had written a local blog post about the zoo’s horticultural wonders, so I knew my way around the grounds.

Next thing I knew, I was on the planning committee for Santa Barbara’s first foray into NPGD. Actually, not just a foray, but a full assault that includes bus tours to four fabulous public gardens (sold out in the first hour-and-a-half), as well as free carousels rides in the park, book signings, and tours of five other venues.

 
Lois Capps
Congresswoman Lois Capps with bouquet from
flowers at each tour stop. Molly Barker, exec director of
Casa del Herrero, left.
 
Next thing I knew, I was crowned as the lovely spokesmodel for our event, breathing down Van White’s neck (oh, if only…), shooting a video promo piece, and serving as MC at last week’s press conference.

What’s Happening Where?

The NPGS website has a map you can search for events in your area. And don’t miss the inspiring photos and up-to-the-minute info at the National Public Gardens Day Facebook page.

 
Portland Chinese Garden
Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, OR, is part of NPGD

Nothing going on in your neck of the woods? The NPGD website has lots of ideas on how to jump on the bandwagon next year, finding sponsors, rallying garden clubs, and sharing your love of gardens with friends, neighbors, and visitors (it’s good for tourism!).

An important event like this doesn’t have to end on May 11. Every day should be public garden day (provided they’re not closed, cuz you’d get in trouble hopping the fence).

To read the complete article, join now!

With FGplus, you'll get exclusive:

  • Articles – Exclusive articles for more advanced gardeners.
  • Videos – Join our editors on their behind-the-scenes journeys.
  • Digital Library – Gain access to our digital library of special issues.
  • Need help? Our Ask-the-Expert contributors will answer your questions.