Well, another season of open homes & gardens has come and gone. This year I spent three full days touring a variety of homes and gardens in my state, Virginia. They were all great! I loved the old stone home overlooking the Potomac with the lush shade garden of bleeding heart and ferns, the gigantic Tudor on a hilltop with the infinity pool, and the fully renovated 19th-century Georgian with the silk rugs that took 12 years to make.
I like to take pictures and mental notes. I must a get a Red Buckeye tree was this year’s big takeaway.
Here was another takeaway: I feel like a slack-jawed yokel walking through this person’s gigantic dining room.
As I shuffle along with a pack of other middle-aged-to-elderly folk so I can get a better look at the Tiffany lamps adorning some stranger’s parlor, well, sometimes I feel a bit like a salivating voyeur. A starry-eyed member of the teeming masses who swarm upon these forbidden domains once per year.
I don’t know how difficult it is to get these affluent homeowners to open up their homes and gardens to the public each year, but I wouldn’t blame them for being hesitant. I know I wouldn’t want to. Some properties can get hundreds or even thousands of people in one day tramping through their private living spaces.
And it’s not just dirty shoes and curious stares that we bring to these homes.
On a recent trip to a large property in central Virginia, the homeowner was nice enough to take fifty of us on a personal walk-through of her magnificent gardens. When she asked if there were any questions, one of my fellow travelers waved her hand around.
“Where do you get the money to pay for all this?” was her question.
Ugh. I wanted to crawl behind the homeowner’s imported French tuteur and hide. C’mon lady! I thought. Don’t make us look like a bunch of mouth-breathing hoi polloi!
But we kind of are, really. On many of these tours, the chatter among the visitors (myself included) focuses on how much things cost, how much help would be required to clean and maintain everything, with a great deal of speculation about how the wealth was acquired.
Sure, we are all generous with the compliments, but they are often followed up with vague suggestions that perhaps the amount spent by the homeowner was a tad grotesque.
“Sally, check out the field stone wall along the drive. It’s absolutely gorgeous! I bet this wall would pay for three years of long-term care at Mom’s assisted-living place.”
Another homeowner was nice enough to let my tour group use the bathroom in her pool house if we needed to. I did, so I got in line behind a gentleman shaped like a large butternut squash, who occupied the bathroom for a full fifteen minutes. After he finished, I went in and the room was absolutely toxic. It felt so wrong that this bathroom, with its beautiful limestone tile floor and high-end fixtures, should have been defiled by the gastric system of this man. Such bad form!
I now envision the wealthy homeowners bringing in a team of cleaners at the close of open garden day, swooping in and disinfecting everything we’ve touched.
And me, driving my ordinary car back to my rather ordinary home and garden, wondering if crowds of people would ever want to come tour it.
Being mostly relieved that the answer is no.