Shih-tsu with flower in mouth

Garden Etiquette Gaffes

No one wants to commit an etiquette gaffe, but when it comes to garden tours, plant shows and sales, and going to nurseries big and small, it's easy to do. We get caught up in all things spring and can be, well, clueless.

Garden hat decorated with succulents by Laura Balaoro for Better Homes & Gardens (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Perfect for spring garden touring: A garden hat decorated with succulents. By Laura Balaoro for Better Homes & Gardens. Get hat-decorating how-to and design ideas.

Yes, we’ll wear sunscreen, closed-toe shoes and bring a hat and drinking water. We’ll park legally, duh. But have you considered…

  • Owners of private gardens would rather you don’t bring pets; uninvited or unregistered guests; anything on wheels; or cumbersome bags or backpacks.
  • Beverages are best left in the car. You want your hands free, and you sure don't want to spend time hunting a trash can.
  • Access may be challenging. I like how the SDHS/APLD Garden Tour (Sat., April 14) diplomatically advises, “Stay on paths and respect your own abilities to navigate stairs, steps, paths and walkways.”
  • Watch out for mud puddles, uneven terrain, and plants with sharp tips or spines.
  • Rethink wearing floaty clothes that can get snagged. And those adorable sandals.
  • Accidentally break something? Mortifying, I know. But do tell the host or whomever is in charge. Don’t try to hide it, or leave it to be found and fixed later.

Pulverulence (powdery coating) on a succulent leaf (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Avoid touching succulent leaves that have a powdery coating. It rubs off easily, and you’ll leave behind fingerprints. (Which means we can find out who did it, ha.)

Heed these nursery no-no’s

Succulent leaves that can be propagated (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Don’t filch fallen pieces of plants. They may be headed for the trash, but the nursery or vendor is in the business of selling plants, not giving them away.

  • Keep an eye on your kids. Employees cringe when children throw rocks, jump off retaining walls, pick flowers, and splash in water features.

Crested pilosocereus at Botanic Wonders (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Tempted to take a tag to help you remember? Aiee! It’s better for both you and the nursery to photograph the tag with the plant.

  • If you pick up a succulent or other nursery plant, take care to set it down where it was. Otherwise it might miss its regular watering schedule or get too much (or too little) sun exposure.

Tips from San Diego’s ultimate garden host

I’m indebted to Jim Bishop, past-president of the San Diego Horticultural Society, for helping me with much of the above...and for yet another tip you may find both endearing and amusing (as I do):

  • Probably best not to bring food into anyone’s garden…but bringing a special treat for the owner is often welcomed.

Jim Bishop's cup of gold vine in the casita

Re plant IDs, Jim advises, “If you want to know the name of a plant, and the host isn’t available, take a photo and ask later. Nothing worse than being asked what ‘the yellow flower is’ when 50 different ones are blooming!” Photo: Jim Bishop

  • Finally and importantly, Always thank the host for opening their garden, and thank any volunteers for helping out.

Btw, Jim’s garden, which has been on numerous Mission Hills Garden Walks, isn't in 2024, but do enjoy it virtually in his stunning Facebook photos.

And if you’ve yet to do so, be sure to watch my two-part You Tube tour and interview with Jim:

P.S. Helpful ideas for hosts

When showing my garden to friends, neighbors, or small groups, I usually...

  • Offer cuttings. If I have plenty to give away, I'll have bags handy. I say, “I’m happy to share cuttings, so don’t hesitate to ask. No worries, if it’s something I don’t want to part with, I’ll tell you.”
  • I snip cuttings myself rather than handing a guest clippers. I think it makes us both more comfortable.
  • Three cuttings are better than one. It delights the recipient and makes the host seem incredibly generous. (Ahem.)

Kids with spring flowers (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

A friend's grandkids loved all the flowers. They took some home and made a play "salad" with the rest.

  • If there's an abundance of flowers or fruit, I ask guests to take some home. It's a shame for appealing perishables to go to waste. I won’t miss them, and people invariably hesitate to ask.
  • If I've told friends to BYOV (bring your own vase), I'll have boxes and packing materials handy to stabilize arrangements on the ride home.
  • Throughout the year, I save glass jars that'll fit car cupholders.

Did I miss anything? Do you have your own tips and experiences to share? Please tell us in the Comments below!

Related Info on This Site

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San Diego Cactus & Succulent Show and Sale, vendor area (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

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6 Comments

  1. Connie Beck on April 12, 2024 at 8:52 am

    Don’t “weed” someone else’s garden! I have had seedlings I was happy to have show up in unexpected places that I was planning to let stay but visitors kicked them out for me under the guise of weeding.

    • Debra on April 12, 2024 at 11:00 am

      I’ve had gardeners do that, but never guests! Gosh, who would lean over and pull an innocent little seedling? But I guess it happens. Wait, I do it all the time in my MIL’s garden, but she really does have weeds…at least, I think she does. Hm.

  2. Donna Maclagan on April 15, 2024 at 7:34 pm

    Thank you. Great ideas.

    • Debra on April 19, 2024 at 6:14 pm

      Thanks so much, Donna!

  3. Debra on May 6, 2024 at 7:27 pm

    (From an email from Lisa R): you know – i agree with your suggestions…but may need to add that people should be told if the gardens you are visiting are accessible – i hate paying $35 for a special event only to find out that at least half of the gardens are not level or that there is not parking on a level area…seems like there is responsibility on both sides of this – but tours should always include accessibility concerns before you pay – none of us are getting any younger…. thanks for listening –

  4. Brenda Tabor on May 14, 2024 at 10:14 pm

    ‘Access may be challenging’ misses the mark! This is the age of the ADU. While gardens are private property, it’s time to be clear about accessibility for those of us who must use walkers or wheelchairs to get around. If a venue is not accessible, state that. As a Master Gardener who uses a walker and a wheelchair, I’ll find another venue.

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