The Ypsilanti Garden Club's 2004 Garden Tour exemplified every gardening principle found in modern landscape books — laying out gardens like rooms, creating added interest with garden art, installing water features, taking advantage of different topographical levels, and mixing perennials and annuals — yet all the gardens were on city lots at modest homes.

For the last six years, the Ypsilanti Garden Club has been organizing these late August garden walks in conjunction with the city's Heritage Festival. Club members have been tempted to put the walk earlier in the summer when gardens are more likely to be at their peak, but they decided to keep the date where it is. Most people on the tour are gardeners themselves and appreciate seeing what is possible so late in the season. Attendees also say it's nice to go on a garden tour after the other tours are over.

Gardeners on the tour don't have to belong to the Ypsilanti Garden Club, and in fact most don't, although they often end up joining after being on the tour. Members of the eight-year-old club, who number about thirty, pick gardens for the tour by keeping their eyes out for interesting ones (something gardeners do anyway) and then going up to the door and asking the owners. According to club president Paul Mayes, most are pleased to be asked. When a few gardens have been lined up, the members try to find others in the same neighborhood. They also watch for logistical problems like roadwork.

On last year's tour, most of the owners were on hand to answer questions. Since gardeners love to talk about their gardens and most of the attendees seemed very knowledgeable, there was lots of comparing of notes. Unlike the vast gardens on some tours — gardens that require a professional staff — the Ypsilanti gardens brimmed with new ideas that home gardeners with enough time and energy could put into practice. The one exception was George and Laura Bird's garden, with 250 varieties of roses. According to Mayes, "it's as close to a nursery as you can get without being Great Lakes Roses."

The club uses its dues money to cover costs and gives all the tour proceeds to charities, including Growing Hope. Happily, this civic-mindedness last year extended to the tourgoers, who were offered cookies at two sites, baked by a garden club member who made twelve dozen for the day.

This year's tour is on Saturday, August 20.

[Review published August 2005]