10 things every gardener should put on their bucket list | George Weigel

Susan Howell

Not that I’m expecting an imminent demise, but I got to reminiscing this winter about some of the most impressive garden-y sights I’ve seen during my Medicare-grade years.

That, in turn, led me to put together the following top-10 list of the most interesting things that all gardeners should do or see at least once in their soiled life.

Let’s call it a “gardener’s bucket list” and run through it in reverse order:

10.) Grow a fig.

Italian immigrants to Hershey revered their homegrown figs so much that they brought divisions with them on the ship to plant in their new homeland.

A fresh fig is that tremendously delicious … but most Pennsylvanians think our climate is too cold to grow them.

Not so.

We can grow hardy varieties like ‘Chicago Hardy,’ ‘Brown Turkey,’ and ‘Celeste’ reliably and many more with just a little winter-protecting effort. They’re well worth it.

  • Read tips on how to grow figs in cold climates
New plants from cuttings

New plants can often be started by rooting cuttings taken from a mother plant.

9.) Propagate a new plant.

Starting and nurturing a baby plant from seed is very rewarding. Even more so is starting your own new babies from cuttings taken from other plants.

This process, known as “plant propagation,” is easier than you think and can save a ton of money on new plants when you can expand your own flock.

Read my 2021 post on some of the easiest plants to propagate by cuttings and how to do it.

Espaliering a tree

Pruning a tree, such as this apple tree, to a space-saving espalier form is easier than you think.

8.) Espalier.

Also easier than it looks is espaliering a plant, which involves pruning it into a flat, up-and-down plane, such as up a wall or across a trellis.

It’s mainly a space-saving technique, but espaliered plants also look very cool and make you seem much more talented as a gardener than you really are.

Basically, espalier involves thinning branches out of a small tree or large shrub and cutting off branches that try to grow forward or back. The rest are then trained – by staking and pruning – sideways and up.

If that’s not cool enough, try one of the many other interesting ways to prune, such as topiary, pollarding, cloud-pruning, pleaching, or even the art of “pooktre,” which involves training plants into objects.

  • Read George’s column on the many ways to trim the bushes
Tuber rose flowers

The flowers of the tuber rose are some of the most fragrant on the planet.

7.) Smell a tuber rose.

This little tender white-blooming summer bulb, known botanically as Polianthes tuberosa, has the best drop-dead sweet fragrance of any flower I’ve ever smelled.

If you can’t get your nose over one of those, make it a point to sniff most any lily or heirloom rose you run across.

Garden Walk Buffalo

This is one of hundreds of home gardens open for the touring during the annual Garden Walk Buffalo.

6.) Visit Garden Walk Buffalo.

America’s biggest home-garden tour happens the last weekend of July in – of all places – Buffalo, N.Y.

Yes, that’s the same city that’s legendary for snow. But come summer, Buffalonians plant some of the most creative and interesting little gardens that I’ve seen anywhere.

I tell people that with upwards of 400 gardens open for touring over two days, Garden Walk Buffalo is the best place to get ideas for your own yard. And it’s free, too.

Get a feel for this amazing event in a collection of 20 photos I took on a past Walk.

Philadelphia Flower Show

The annual Philadelphia Flower Show is the world’s biggest, oldest indoor flower show and is well worth experiencing at least once.

5.) See the Philadelphia Flower Show.

This annual nine-day spectacle is the world’s biggest and longest-running indoor garden show.

When it’s held at winter’s end in the Pennsylvania Convention Center instead of outdoors (as it was in June of 2021 and 2022 due to COVID-19), the show is magical. The sight and smell of flowers in full bloom in the show’s three dozen elaborate display gardens is an event to savor when it’s still so dark and cold outside.

Crowded conditions notwithstanding, the Philly show is something every gardener should see at least once. I’ve seen it about 30 times now and never get tired of it. I’ll be leading five bus day trips to this year’s show if you’d like to go.

Fresh ripe tomatoes

One of gardening’s greatest treasures is a fresh red tomato picked at the peak of ripeness.

4.) Grow your own tomatoes.

If you’re ever going to take a stab at gardening, the best place to start is with a tomato plant. You can’t beat the taste of a ripe tomato fresh-picked off the vine in summer – especially an heirloom variety but even a hybrid that’s bred for flavor.

‘Brandywine’ gets the most kudos, but it’s just one of many, many great tasters, including ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Big Beef,’ ‘Black Krim,’ ‘Sun Gold,’ ‘Pink Belgium,’ ‘Brandywise,’ ‘Brandy Boy,’ ‘Green Giant,’ ‘Nepal,’ ‘Garden Gem,’ ‘Garden Treasure,’ ‘Old Brooks,’ ‘German Giant,’ and ‘Chef’s Choice.’

Keukenhof gardens in the Netherlands

Public gardens display plants at their finest. The above is a springtime photo of the bulb blooms at the Netherlands’ famous Keukenhof gardens.

3.) Visit a world-class garden.

These are more for jaw-dropping “wow” effect than for copying in your home garden, but public gardens are great for showing off plants’ full potential – especially in the world’s top-tier gardens.

I like Chester County’s Longwood Gardens, the New York Botanical Garden, and St. Louis’ Missouri Botanical Garden as my top three U.S. gardens, while Canada’s Butchart Gardens, England’s Kew and Wisley gardens, and the Netherlands’ Keukenhof bulb garden are the best public gardens I’ve witnessed internationally.

It’s hard to beat a day strolling through blooms and fragrance and water features – especially when someone else is doing all of the work.


This is an example of a giant mosaiculture figure that was part of an exhibit years ago at the Montreal Botanical Garden.

2.) See mosaiculture.

Most people go blank at the mention of this word, but mosaiculture is a technique of covering structures or objects – usually way bigger-than-life ones – in carpets of live plants.

Mosaiculture is extremely difficult, which explains why exhibits of them are rare anywhere and almost unheard-of in the United States. (Atlanta Botanic Garden has one large specimen.)

I saw a show of dozens of mosaiculture exhibits years ago at the Montreal Botanical Garden, and it was the most amazing horticultural accomplishment I’ve ever seen.

Quebec staged a show of nearly 200 mosaicultures last summer if you want to have a look on the show’s website.

Otherwise, take a virtual tour I put together of photos from my visit to the Montreal mosaiculture show.

Gardening with a child

Introducing at least one child to gardening should be on a gardener’s bucket list.

1.) Introduce at least one child to gardening.

It could be something as simple as starting a marigold from seed or planting one of the aforementioned tomatoes, but doing it with a child could ignite a new lifelong passion.

Almost every great gardener I’ve interviewed over the years told me they got interested because a mom or a dad or a grandparent got down in the dirt with them in childhood.

Garden with a child. Any will do. You might be planting a seed in more ways than one.

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