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Finding Inspiration: Spring garden tour opportunities

Among the many sights that visitors on the Lee County Master Gardener 2018 Garden Tour will see is Joel’s Orchids by the Lake, a lakeside property that features an orchid greenhouse, gracious outdoor entertainment areas and a vineyard.

By Katie Jackson

The merry, merry month of May is filled with opportunities to up our gardening game, including finding inspiration from fellow gardeners through public and private garden tours.

The thing about gardens is that they are everywhere, from little garden oases in many towns and cities to a plethora of fine public gardens and arboretums that offer year-round chances to see gardens in their glory and to learn more about gardening. In addition, the Alabama Tourism Department offers a map of Alabama’s Garden Trail ( that Alabamians and tourists alike can follow to their heart’s content.

But what about those private gardens tucked back in hidden places? Several organizations in the state—from Mobile to Dothan to Huntsville and parts in between—offer tours (usually in the spring and early summer) of just those kinds of garden gems and at least two of them are coming up this month on the weekend of May 19-20.

One of those is the Lee County Master Gardener’s Garden Tour, a two-day, self-guided biennial event that this year features 10 private gardens and two teaching/demonstration gardens in the Auburn/Opelika area.

The tour, which will run 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on May 19 and 1-5 p.m. on May 20, features a wide array of gardens, including the grounds of an historic Opelika home (where part of the movie “Norma Rae” was filmed), an orchid house, a small-space container garden and a 10-acre property populated with native plants as well as fruits and vegetables.

According to Sheila Allen and Ronda Hardgrave, coordinators for the Lee County event, the tour, which began in 2006, is a fund-raiser that supports LCMG’s projects, programs and scholarships but also an awareness-raiser that focuses on inspiration, motivation, education and the versatility of what “gardening” can be.

“Not all gardening is the same,” Allen says, “and the tour not only gives you great ideas for your own garden, it also shows that you can garden anywhere.”

It also offers rare glimpses of private, personal gardens. “These are gardens that we would never be able to see without the tour,” notes Hardgrave. 

This tour requires a bit of driving and, because of the large number of gardens on the tour, it typically takes visitors both days to see all of the gardens, but ticketholders can set their own pace over the two days. The price of admission also includes a picnic lunch provided on Saturday by Chicken Salad Chick, a cosponsor of the event.

Another garden tour planned for that weekend is the Historic Decatur Association Garden Tour, to be held 1-5 p.m. on May 20. This tour, which has been held annually for 30 years, encompasses two neighborhoods – the Old Decatur and Albany Historic Districts. The neighborhoods are a couple of miles apart so visitors can drive to each then park their cars for a lovely walk to see home and church gardens and neighborhood parks.

Tour chairwoman Cindy Upton said that planning for the event is still under way but she hopes to have up to eight sites on the tour, plus participants can amble past other historic homes in their prime spring garden finery.

Of course these two tours are just a taste of what’s likely to be available in communities throughout the state. To learn more about other garden tour opportunities, check with local public gardens and gardening organizations or with local and state chamber and tourism offices. You’re sure to discover many opportunities to enjoy gardens and you may even find the perfect Mother’s Day gift for the garden-loving moms in your life.

For More Information

Information on the Lee County Master Gardeners Garden Tour can be found at Advanced tickets are $30 ($28 each for groups of 10 or more) and can be purchased at several local businesses and at the Lee County Extension System or Auburn Chamber of Commerce offices. Tickets will also be available for $35 at the “gate” of any of the gardens on the days of the tour.

Information on the Historic Decatur Association Garden Tour is available at On the day of the tour, information on the gardens and maps of the tour route will be available at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Decatur, which will also offer refreshments.

If you know of other garden tours in the state, share them with us all on the Alabama Living Facebook page at

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at