By Rebecca Miller-Cripps

Mark your calendars for Sunday, May 21, when UCCE Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County will host its 22nd annual garden tour.

This year’s theme is “Over the Garden Gate,” as we tour “peeking into” various gardens from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For the very first time, the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden will feature a plant sale. Plants available for purchase have all been locally grown and are suitable for planting in the foothills area.

Self-guiding tickets to four beautiful gardens, ranging from Ridgewood to downtown Sonora, are $10 per person; children 12 and younger are free. Tickets are available in the Columbia area at Columbia Nursery on Parrotts Ferry Road and the Farmory near Columbia Airport. In Sonora, tickets can be purchased at Sonora Lumber on South Washington Street, Antiques, Etc. on North Washington Street and from the UCCE Office, 52 N. Washington St. Farther up Highway 108, tickets can be found at Mountain Book Shop in The Junction shopping center, Whole Foods Depot on Standard Road, and The Nest in Twain Harte. Tickets are also available from your favorite Master Gardener and will be available on the day of the tour at the Master Gardener demonstration garden at 251 S. Barretta St. in Sonora. The demonstration garden will also function as the will-call ticket site on the day of the tour.

Proceeds from the tour fund the Master Gardener Scholarship Fund for Columbia College students, provide operating funds for the demonstration garden, and help support school gardens. In addition, funds from the tour purchase gardening reference books available to the public at the Tuolumne County Library and for master gardener reference at the Master Gardener Library.

The Garden Tour began 21 years ago when former Master Gardener Gary Wood noticed a limited supply of gardening reference books available for use by Master Gardeners or the public. He suggested a garden tour to raise funds for books. The tour was so successful that it has become an annual event.

Garden tour tickets contain a map with directions to each of the homes. There will be directional signs on streets and roads leading to the gardens. Master Gardeners will be on hand at all the gardens to answer any questions you may have about the gardens on display, your own garden, or gardening in general.

Next week in this column we’ll take a tantalizing peek “over the garden gate” to get a taste of each of the gardens on the tour this year. In the meantime, here is a very quick sketch of each garden.

One is an established garden that has been renovated to showcase how you can make your own garden more water-efficient. Another garden embraces the native oaks on the site and offers a great variety of plant color and texture. The third garden delightfully leads you from one outdoor room to the next. And the fourth garden, the demonstration garden, offers respite, shade, refreshments, restroom facilities and extra tickets for your last-minute out-of-town guests, along with the first-ever plant sale.

To make your tour more pleasurable, here are a few helpful garden and etiquette tips:

• Bring a hat, sunscreen and water, and wear comfortable walking shoes. It’s likely that the weather will be sunny and warm.

• You will be visiting residential neighborhoods and parking may be limited. Carpool if possible.

• Plan a lunch break and pit stops. Restrooms will not be available in homes (snacks and restrooms available at the demonstration garden; Columbia Nursery provides restrooms and a small deli).

• Bring a camera. Ask permission from the Master Gardeners on duty before taking any photos.

• Stay on marked paths.

• Do not clip or injure plants in anyway.

• No smoking. No pets. No strollers. No food. No litter.

• Turn off your cell phone or at least put it on silent mode.

• And last, remember to “be generous with your praise, gentle in your criticism.”

We look forward to seeing you on the tour.

Rebecca Miller-Cripps is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.

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