Laura Morton  , APLD  Laura Morton Design , Los Angeles, CA APLD Greater Los Angeles District Member & CA Chapter Sponsorship Chair

Laura Morton, APLD
Laura Morton Design, Los Angeles, CA
APLD Greater Los Angeles District Member & CA Chapter Sponsorship Chair

Garden Tours: A Perfect Marketing Opportunity

As landscape designers, the results of our creative vision are often documented and shared through photographs. In fact, aside from the plans you might create, the photographs will capture the built space and act as lasting evidence of your work. As designers, the truth is that we rarely get to enjoy a space we have created or share it with others unless the owners invite us to a party. Garden tours, however, are a special opportunity to share the experience of your imagination and gently advertise your skills.  

Participating in a garden tour can provide many benefits, whether as a volunteer docent on the day, or having one of your projects celebrated as part of the day’s events.  Usually, garden tours act as a fundraiser for a non-profit cause, so your business name will be linked to their message as the event is promoted in the press around town. Throughout the process (usually a few months), new relationships will be made and reinforced. Potential clients of like mind will connect to your business and a reputation with your peers will be built. On top of all of that, even though the actual tour day is fleeting, it’s a lasting memory to bask in the sunshine of your creation and witness other people enjoying it.

The first consideration is: Do you have a project that you are proud of, where your vision was well executed, and that you wish to document? Second: Will this client mind (or even enjoy) sharing it with a small horde of enthusiasts? Third: Be able to plan a site visit beforehand to see what’s involved in a spruce-up before even asking about the possibility of a garden tour.

If you are returning to a project that you haven’t seen in a while, any number of issues may require attention: trees and shrubs in need of a trim, mulch low, shaggy plantings ruling over others, pots looking a bit scraggly, or maybe the paving and cushions need a good clean.  

Experience has taught me that a client who had realistic cost expectations on a new project isn’t always prepared or in a position for more expenditure once it’s complete.  If the costs are not in their grasp or you go over the expected amount, you might sour a good relationship or overwhelm them with anxiety or a sense that they are being cornered. Of course, it may be ready for prime time with little investment.

Depending on the situation, I will usually offer some—if not most—of my time and expertise to organize and guide the punch-up to make it shine. But there will be costs. Though the client may be on-board for some (hopefully all) of the financial investment, I enter this venture knowing that I may also be investing some of my own capital into their space. In addition to potentially assisting with costs in the garden punch-up, there will be my own marketing materials: hiring a professional photographer, printing a card, hiring a helper, purchasing a special accessory, etc. Make sure this fits in your own budgeting, or get creative and negotiate some trades or loans for photos or credits where possible.

I have had some success negotiating with the original contractor to help with donated labor to spread mulch or make repairs or do maintenance. This works well when you work with that contractor on a regular basis. I have also found that with good planning and starting more than a month out, I can manage a lot with their regular maintenance crew instructing the execution of maintenance details—little by little so it’s not overwhelming—including dropping off a few plants or bags of mulch.

 The endgame for me is that once tidied up, I can arrange good photography of a more matured project for award submissions, website use, promotional purposes and posterity.  

 Plan to complete the necessary tasks with enough time for it to relax or grow in a bit before the tour so it doesn’t look trampled or overly trim. A day or so before the tour, organize a final maintenance visit and schedule your photoshoot.

All of these efforts will not be lost on the client either. They will likely invite friends to the tour and be proud to be part of it. They may enjoy the social aspect. Ask if they want to be introduced to the visitors and provide them a pass if possible to other gardens. And be sure to share any announcements, write-ups, or compliments you receive with your clients.  

The actual day will go quickly. Be prepared to do a checkup after the tour and leave the place impeccable with a thank you note or email with couple of photos of the day.

It sounds like a lot to do, but don’t worry! I promise that when it is actually happening and you are greeting and talking about the space, you will only feel the thrill. Everyone loves a visit to a garden; it's a chance to enter a dream.

Speaking of Garden Tours, mark your
2019 calendars for these:

April 6-7, 2019: The Theodore Payne Garden Tour
Garden submission deadline: October 1, 2019 at

April 14, 2019: The APLD Greater LA District 4th Annual Garden Tour
Garden submission deadline: November 1, 2018 at

April 26 -27, 2019: Gamble Garden Spring Tour in Palo Alto

May 3, 2019: The Laguna Beach Garden Club Garden Tour

May 4-5, 2019: Going Native Garden Tour in the San Francisco Bay Area
In the South Bay: May 4, 2019
In the North Bay: May 5, 2019
Submit a garden:

May 5, 2019: Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour

May 11-12, 2019: East Sacramento Garden Tour

May 16, 2019:  Newport Harbor Home and Garden Tour

May 17, 2019:  Secret Garden Tour of La Jolla

June 1-2, 2019: Paradise Garden Tour

June 22, 2019:  Mendocino Coast Garden Tour

The Garden Conservancy Open Days
Share your garden: Each year hundreds of exceptional gardens are selected to participate in Open Days. To nominate your garden or another garden you know to be a part of the program, download a Garden Nomination Form, e-mail, or call 1.845.424.6502 to request that a nomination form be sent to you.