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Get a glimpse of paradise: at open days, sneak a peek at glorious private gardens. (Travel).

You don't need to know a Brachyscome from a Boltonia (fyi: both are daisies) to enjoy a garden tour. Sure, visiting private gardens is a great way to learn about plants--and about design, hardscape materials, and every other aspect of the landscaper's art.

But let's be honest. Touring is also a great way to snoop without guilt. Having a peek at someone else's masterwork is like slipping on another life for a while. Would I like living in this neighborhood, city; state? Could I embrace this climate, lifestyle, income bracket? In other words, garden touring is "let's pretend" for grown-ups.

There is no better way to engage in such flights of fancy than by taking in the Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program. A New York--based nonprofit organization, the conservancy identifies outstanding properties and then organizes a calendar of viewing days so the rest of us can see them for a charge of $5 per visit. Of the nearly 400 gardens in this year's program, 136 are in the West.

Gardens in California (including Main County, San Francisco, the San Francisco Peninsula, and the East Bay) are available for touring in

April, May, and June. Gardens in Oregon (Portland and Salem) are open April through July, those in Washington (Bainbridge Island and Seattle) are open in May and June, and in Colorado (Denver and Colorado Springs) they're open in June. For a complete, detailed schedule, visit the conservancy's website, listed at right.

While the gardens that are open to the public vary from year to year, they are, almost always, stunning. In Northern California, this year's highlights include a terraced garden with a view of the San Francisco skyline. One Oregon star is a tropical oasis that blends Japanese and Thai influences. The formal Italian garden with boxwood hedges and billowing roses shown here can be seen April 27 in Los Angeles.

To take advantage of the program, you need to invest in the Open Days Directory which lists the gardens and the dates they're open. Site descriptions and driving instructions are also included. There is a national version, which covers the entire program, and a West Coast edition covering only Washington, Oregon, and California. Complete directory: $16, plus $4.50 for shipping and handling; Western version: $5, plus $1.95. With either, you can obtain a certificate good for admission to one garden. To order: or (888) 842-2442.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Garden Conservancy

Great private gardens are fragile creations, ones that often don't survive their owners' deaths or the sale of property. The Garden Conservancy is a nonprofit organization founded in 1989 and dedicated to preserving such gardens for the public. Although based in New York, it has Western roots. Ruth Bancroft's succulent garden in Walnut Creek, California, was the achievement that prompted the formation of the conservancy and also was its first preservation project. To glimpse the Bancroft grounds (which you can visit) and other conservancy projects, see the organization's website, listed at right.
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Title Annotation:directory of tours of private gardens available
Author:Cohoon, Sharon
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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