GratiTuesday Guest Post: MARS Garden Tour

Guest post by Donna, Retirement Reflections

For the past twenty-seven years, The Mount Arrowsmith Rhododendron Society (MARS) has organized an annual MARS Garden Tour on Vancouver Island. Participants have the opportunity to view backyards (of all shapes and sizes) that have been transformed into innovative sanctuaries. Although I am not a gardener, I look forward to attending this event each year. Below are a few highlights from our recent self-guided tour.

This property is one block down from our home. I’ve passed it hundreds of times, never knowing that there was an oasis hiding behind the cedar hedge!

These Master Gardeners had the right idea. Wine was served in the side yard, while tea was waiting on the front porch.  Centrally located chairs in the backyard made a perfect spot to soak in the serene sights, sounds, and fragrance. I wanted to move in!

One property owner said that she had worked steadily for the past three months to prepare for this Garden Tour. She is no stranger to hard work. Above is a photo of the house when she and her husband first bought it in 2008. Beside it is a photo of what her home looks like today. BTW – Richard REALLY wanted to drive away in their car.

At our next stop, these flowers caught my eye. Any plants that admit they ‘R. Grumpy’ are plants to which I can relate! (For those of you more interested in actual gardens, than wordplay, this rhododendron is a yakushimanum hybrid. It thrives in cooler climates and can reach three feet in height. It produces creamy flowers that are tinged pink in mid-spring. See, I was listening!)

Can you tell that my camera was attracted to bright colours, textures…and water views?

As in previous years, this garden tour also included:

  • Displays by local artists,
  • Floral art arrangements,
  • Master Gardeners to answer questions,
  • Music,
  • Refreshments,
  • Attendants at each garden to assist participants.

If you have the chance to visit this, or a similar garden tour, I highly recommend it.

As with so many enriching community events (that are often taken for granted), endless volunteer hours are required to make everything happen smoothly. Many of these generous volunteers remain unseen.

A heartfelt thank you to all who have worked tirelessly to put together the MARS Garden Tour (and so many other community events like it). When you have the opportunity, why not consider volunteering to support a well-loved activity in your community? Your efforts may make more of a difference than you realize.

Is there an annual community event in your area that you look forward to attending each year?

From Janis:

Thank you, Donna, for sharing your GratiTuesday guest post with us! A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into putting on these community events as your pictures from the beautiful MARS Garden Tour illustrate.

For those of you who haven’t yet discovered Donna’s blog, please check it out. Her tagline, “New Chapters, New Discoveries and New Adventures” says it all.

Please stop by next Tuesday when Pat from Retirement Transition shares her gratitude.

Author: Janis @

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

126 thoughts on “GratiTuesday Guest Post: MARS Garden Tour”

  1. Brightly coloured flowers are a terrific thing to be grateful for Donna. Thanks for including us in your garden tour. We have garden tours and house tours here in Ontario too, but my very favourite kind of community event is the studio tour. I just love to see the various ways people express their creativity and the work spaces where they make their magic. Unfortunately, studio tours get a bit expensive for people like me. Maybe I should switch to a garden tour this year!

    1. I love taking these tours – homes, gardens, studios – it is so interesting to see how people organize their space. You are right that the tours can get expensive so you have to pick and choose.

    2. Hi, Karen – I love studio tours as well. Jude (Dr. Sock Writes Here) is one of the artists of our local Studio Tour. A few of the gardens on this year’s tour were owned by artists who also had their studios open. It was a win-win (and since I had a tighter time line this year, the tour remained very affordable)!

  2. Donna and Janis, As a gardener I love this post. Garden tours are lots of fun! I always enjoy seeing what other gardeners are doing in their landscape. The mention of Vancouver Island also brought back memories from the 1980’s when I lived in Seattle and would visit Butchart Gardens for inspiration. Great photos Donna and ‘R. Grumpy’ gave me a morning laugh. I want the car, too!

    1. Hi, Kathy – Thank you for reading and commenting. Although I have lived on Vancouver Island for three years, I have never yet been to Butchart Gardens (sacrilege, I know)! I do plan to correct that this year. When I do, I will definitely post about it!

  3. Thanks, Donna, for sharing your garden tour and photos. I love gardens and my camera is full of pictures of flowers and plants from my morning walk by the Toronto Music Garden. I’d love to drive that car, too.
    Thanks, Janis, for introducing the guest post series and Donna here. It’s been a pleasure to follow your blog and Donna’s.

    1. Hoorah! Your comment came out of moderation! I MISS the Toronto Music Gardens. That is one of the many, many (many) reasons that I need to add a trip to Toronto to my travel list soon!

  4. Garden tours are so inspirational. My town has a “secret garden tour” in March, and I always come home with all sorts of ideas (that I never incorporate into my own garden), but it’s fun just the same. I love that the gardens in your photographs range from elegant to quirky. Nice job!

    1. Hi, Suzanne – A “Secret Garden Tour” sounds very intriguing. Like you, I also leave our Garden Tours with a resolve to incorporate some of the ideas in our own garden, but somehow….I never seem to do this!

    1. Hi, Kate – What some people can do with small yards is absolutely amazing to me. The MARS tour is fantastic at including all kinds of properties – large and small, downtown and more rural, expensive and affordable. The tour truly does offer something for everyone (including tea and wine)!

  5. I enjoy garden tours and appreciate all the effort that goes into maintaining a gorgeous garden that is worthy of being on a garden tour. Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your world. Very pretty.

      1. Ummm…that really depends on perspective. Each March, after it has rained steadily on the Island for seven LONG months, I share the attitude of the ‘R. Grumpy’ plant!

    1. Hi, Janis – Thank you for inviting me to Guest Host. I’ve just poured myself a tall cup of coffee . I look forward to interacting with all commenters. BTW – Natalie from ‘Natalie the Explorer’ mentioned that she left a comment on this post but could not see it. Did she take a detour to your Spam Folder?

  6. We have garden tours here in South Africa which is always a treat. Tea and cake, food stalls and wine etc all make for a jolly outing. These garden tours are usually in aid of a chosen charity. And now that I recall, potted cuttings are also sold to visitors. Thanks Donna, enjoyed this! Gorgeous photos 😀🌷

    1. Hi, Deb – I greatly appreciate you popping over. I too love seeing other people’s vision and their commitment to turning their ideas into reality. I often need to work on that part a bit harder!

  7. Hi Donna AND Janis! Don’t you just love garden tours and community events like this one? I always try to make an extra effort to attend them because they are such a great way to see beauty, share ideas and meet your neighbors. How wonderful is that! Thanks for your photos of green because it is starting to get really HOT and DRY where I am! Very refreshing! And congrats on your new series Janis! ~Kathy

    1. Thanks, Kathy – Even though I am not a gardener (quite the opposite actually), this tour is one of my favourite community events. The sun is shining, the hard work has paid off and the gardens are absolutely stunning. On the day of this tour (which officially began at 10 am), Richard and I needed to be on the Ferry at 12:45 pm. So, I began a self-guided tour at 8 a.m. I figured I would just view the front yard gardens. It was amazing how many people generously invited me to explore their full gardens (especially when they heard I was heading home for Mother’s Day)!

  8. Hi Janis and Donna – wonderful tour … while the garden looks stunning – I’ve been amazed at how ‘delicious’ the rhododendrons and azaleas have been here on the Island. Sounds like an ideal place to visit to learn lots, see such interesting plants and get some great ideas. Cheers Hilary

    1. Hi, Hilary – The rhododendrons and azaleas have certainly been stunning. I have zero regrets about retiring to beautiful Vancouver Island (okay, maybe sometimes during the relentless winter rain….). If you get a chance to do the Garden Tour next year, I highly recommend it!

  9. Loved the garden tour. I’ve never gone on one, and now I see what I’ve missed. But I do enjoy seeing the gardening efforts of my neighbors whenever we’re out and about.

    We have a small yard, and I really enjoy watching everything come to life each spring in my garden. Sadly, age and arthritis has caused me to downsize, but I’m not giving up on it yet! I keep Tylenol at the ready! Lol.

    Very enjoyable post. Interesting mention about Natalie not seeing her comment. Of all the posts I comment on, only one doesn’t pop up with ‘comment awaiting moderation’. With all the others I sit in the ‘in moderation’ folder., even though I’m a regular.
    🔹 Ginger 🔹

    1. I always feel sorry that your comments go straight into moderation, Ginger. I can’t figure out how to fix it. You always leave such great comments, it really isn’t fair at all that you have to wait to see them. Maybe it has something to do with you not having a blog of your own, but that doesn’t make sense.

    2. HI, Ginger – Thanks so much for commenting. I agree that it is very frustrating about the spam/moderation prisons for regular commenters. One of my longest and most faithful readers still continues to get trapped in my spam/moderation folder. I brought this up as a topic at my WordPress Meet Up Group last weekend…sadly, there were no definitive answers (at least not yet). I love your can-do spirit. I believe that a positive, adventurous attitude is a key ingredient to staying active in mid-life and beyond.

    1. Hi, Antoinette – Thank you so much for visiting this post on Janis’s site. I agree that the gardens on the tour that were closest to my own home, were among the most interesting to me!

  10. Hi Janis and Donna thank you for sharing these beautiful gardens with us. In Australia we have several major garden festivals – The Jacaranda Festival in Grafton, which has gorgeous displays of the Jacaranda trees, The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers which is west of Brisbane and Floriade in Canberra, our capital of Australia and The Tulip Festival in Bowral. These are major events and thousands throng to visit the gardens of homes on the ‘tour’. I don’t have a green thumb unfortunately but I can imagine the satisfaction that homeowners feel when their gardens bring so much happiness to others. Another reason for me to visit Vancouver Island – as if I needed one 🙂

    1. I love jacaranda trees! Right now they are in full bloom where I live. That being said, they can be a little messy as they drop their leaves so I am very grateful to others for planting them on their property 😄.

    2. Hi, Sue – I don’t have a green thumb either, which makes the gardens on the tour even more magnificent and magical to me. The amount of vision, pre-planning, creativity, know-how and diligence that went into these gardens was absolutely incredible!

  11. I’m like you, Donna, I’m not a gardener but I love looking at other people’s efforts. And if they throw wine in as well – I’m sold!

      1. I seem to get days like that when my comments just disappear- but not on every blog which is really weird. I just give up now as usually the next day things are back to normal.

  12. Beautiful pictures, Donna. It is always amazing what people do to homes that you can’t see from beyond the curb. And I don’t blame Richard one bit — that’s one cool-looking car! – Marty

    1. Hi, Marty – That was one of the most amazing thing about the tour — homes and gardens that looked quite plan from the front, were often lush, creative works of art in the back…filled with intricate detail.
      Oh yay, and Richard is still talking about that car! 🙂

  13. I am so NOT a gardener, I immensely dislike yard work. But I do love looking at others yards – I need to be independently wealthy so I can hire a gardener. (Nope, not gonna happen…LOL)
    #MLSTL visitor

    1. I keep waiting to become independently wealthy but not yet… I like doing little things in my yard but I’d much rather have someone who actually knew what they were doing preform miracles. Thanks for the visit and your comment!

    2. You never know! Do you buy lottery tickets….or have a rich relative??
      I’m not a gardener either — which makes the vision and creative implementation of friends and neighbours even more extraordinary. Thanks for stopping by from #MLSTL I’m off to visit your site now.

  14. Just love all these flowers, Donna! These types of gardens are truly amazing, and what a fun event to look forward to every year! A beautiful tour indeed! Thanks for sharing with us Janis!

    1. Hi, Terri – Thanks so much for stopping by. The MARS Garden Tour is always such an awesome day. Vision, creativity, sunshine, food, drink, music and meeting great people. What’s not to love? 🙂

      1. Thanks, Leanne – The MARS Garden Tour takes place on Vancouver Island every Mother’s Day Weekend. The $15 ticket gets you in to 12 gardens from 10-4 on both Saturday and Sunday. It is a perfect place to hang out, go with friends or take your Mom.

    1. Hi, Judy – I greatly admire the vision, creativity and diligence of gardeners (like yourself). I just visited your blog and noticed one of your top retirement worries to be “whether or not you have good gardening weather.” I absolutely love that! I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  15. I’ve never been on a garden tour but after reading this post, I’m thinking I should add it to my list of things to do. It sounds way more interesting and fun than actually doing any gardening in my own yard 😉

        1. Funny! I thought the same thing. One of the ladies who owns that home is a Master Gardner and Gardening Consultant. The other owner is an artist and quilter. Every corner of their front, back and side yards have engaging details while remaining incredibly tranquil. They also had two adorable cats continually peering out of the windows. I had to work hard to resist the temptation to peek inside!

      1. This would have been a wonderful way to spend a day – especially the Petals and Peddles bike tour!!
        Unfortunately, this is also the weekend my son gets married, and Paddlefest at the lake. I am already overbooked 😕
        I am making a note of this though. It looks like there are other ongoing events here.
        Thanks for the heads-up

          1. It was wonderful and we are now exhausted after 2 full days of socializing, eating, drinking, …
            Sadly I don’t have any photos. I decided it would look bad if the mother of one of the grooms started acting like a paparazzi 😉
            I’ll have to wait until I get access to the photos of the official photographer … assuming they’ll share them with me 😉

          2. Congratulations, Joanne – I am so happy to hear that Jordan and Dempsey’s wedding went well. Too bad about the photos, but I do greatly admire your restraint. Hopefully you will now have some time to get some well-deserved rest!

  16. Just beautiful Donna! I need to do some investigating and find out if we have garden tours near where I live. I would love that. I’m looking to expand my recreational activities. Something like this would be perfect.

    Thanks, Janis, for inviting Donna to participate in your GratiTuesday series.

    1. I imagine they have them where you live, Christie. Our local paper has a section in early spring listing the ones by us but the info is probably online too. It’s a great way to spend a day soaking up beauty.

    2. Hi, Christie – I am not sure if it is close to you or not. Utah State University offers a “Hidden Garden Tour” on June 15 and 16 this year. You can read more about it here: And if that is not nearby, as Janis says, there is like a Garden Tour not far from you. Good luck!

  17. What a beautiful garden, such a lot of hard has obviously gone into it too. Such a lovely idea to have garden tours and Lovely photo’s Donna! Great series Janis!

    1. Garden tours are a great way to get ideas for your own garden (or your fantasy garden) and the proceeds usually support some worthwhile charity or community project. The homeowners and volunteers definitely deserve our gratitude.

    2. Hi, Sam – Thank you for stopping by. The Garden Tour is an easy and enjoyable way to spend an afternoon….or even a weekend. You are right, TONS of hard work goes into making this event happen. Proceeds from the MARS Tour goes to support The Mount Arrowsmith Rhododendron Society, which is a chapter of the American Rhododendron Society (an international organization). The Society gives members the chance to socialize with other gardeners and meet new people with similar interests.

  18. We have garden tours in our area, and I have not made the time to attend. After reading this, I must make it a priority. There are some talented people out there who have made some beautiful art in their backyards. I don’t like to garden so why not appreciate this talent in others? Nice to see Donna on your blog today, Janis!

    1. Hi, Molly – I don’t garden, but I love Garden Tours. They give me lots of good ideas to suggest to Richard for when he does our gardening! Maybe this will work for you and Patrick! 🙂

  19. Hey Donna (and Janis), Sorry I’m late to the commenting party…was super busy yesterday completing one of my big summer to-do items, a bit earlier that anticipated.

    I’ve done quite a few local house tours, but never a local garden tour. It’s something I’ll need to look for because I love gardens and seeing what others are doing locally would be inspirational to try and replicate. We often visit gardens when traveling… but it’s better if it’s in your same zone to get real-life ideas about.

    Our new space backyard is a blank canvas; this year was a lot of perennial planting and trying to get grass to grow (instead of weeds). My new neighbor has a green thumb (obviously) so I hope it spills over. I’ve been told my thumb is more black, so I do a lot of garden art to make up for killing off plants with regularity. Sigh. Maybe I just don’t have the patience to do the hard work? Or remember to water? LOL.

    Great start to your summer series Janis!

    1. Hi Pat! Good to know that you are making great progress on your to-do list! I love both home and garden tours and attend them whenever I can. I think that having a big blank canvas as a backyard would be very intimidating… where do you start? Hopefully your garden wiz neighbor will help you with your project (they are usually anxious to have the yard next to them look good too 🙂 ).

      1. For the blank canvas… basic beds lay out and grass was the goal this year. I put in some regional appropriate perennials, but nothing exotic or fancy. Now we wait to see if it survives the summer … that’s often a challenge with new growth in our region!

  20. Hi, Pat – Congratulations on finishing one of your big summer-to-do’s….ahead of schedule! I love Garden Tours, and Studio Tours….but have not been aware of House Tours. (This could be a consequence from leaving overseas for so long). I will definitely check this out. I look forward to reading your Guest Post here next week.

    1. Maybe I’m just a voyeur, but I love these tours! You get to see a little bit into how someone else lives. Thank you for your comment! I got a chance to look at your blog and now I am a follower.

    2. Hi, Victoria – Thank you for reading and commenting here. If you do get a chance to go on a garden tour I highly recommend it. It is an awesome community event that usually offer much more than the gardens alone.

      Hi, Janis – I’m glad that you began to follow Victoria’s blog. I know that you will love it!

  21. I absolutely love garden tours so thanks for this one. I appreciate a well thought out aesthetically pleasing garden but as well I like peaking into other people’s spaces. The photos are lovely.


    1. Hi, Peta – Thank you so much for your kind comment. I was worried about the photos because they don’t do the gardens the justice that they deserve. I also wasn’t able to show all of the gardens on the tour (because I didn’t want to use up all of Janis’s blog storage space with my Garden Tour photos)! 🙂

    2. I love looking at other people’s spaces too! If I see a For Sale sign in front of a house in my area, I make a point of going to the open house if I can. Houses, gardens, and studio spaces all tell a little story about the owner… plus I get good ideas for my spaces.

  22. Wonderful garden tour, Donna! I can relate to your camera, since I love bright colors and water as well. The weather looks just perfect. I’m no gardener either but I do appreciate the work and efforts of those who are. “Master Gardeners”, I like that term. 🙂 One of the nice things about living in an attractive area is all the events that are organized. I’d like to be part of that one day.

    I tried leaving a comment on your site as well, but received a message that it was “unsecure”, I hit submit anyway, and it kept spinning, not posting the comment. I’ll try again later. Janis has the exact same issue with my site, so it might be WordPress related and is hopefully temporarily. So many things that used to work seem to have issues now.

    1. It is nice to be in one place for a while so you can get clued into the local goings on. Oddly, often when events happen in ones home town, we end up not attending after all.

      Btw, I had the same spinning thingy when I tried to leave a comment on Donna’s site. It worked in Reader though.

  23. The previous owners of our house were fantastic gardeners, so we have inherited a lovely garden with ponds and all. It is so interesting to live our first year here and see the garden in all its seasons.

    Having seen your pictures, Donna, I am going to have to make a point of attending the MARS garden tour next Spring.


    1. I remember when we moved into our current home, there was a raised bed of (slightly overgrown) roses in our front yard. I know that they must have been the pride and joy of the woman who used to live there but roses really aren’t my thing so I took them out. Even though she was deceased, I still felt guilty doing that. How nice that you moved into a home with already-installed landscape that you enjoy! Enjoy the MARS tour next year, it sounds like Donna plans to attend again too.

  24. Enjoyed the tour Donna! Looks like a nice place to visit someday 🙂 Janis, I shared this post x 3 ♥

  25. This is a lovely insight into a beautiful garden. I love the idea of garden tours and as I’m not a gardener I take in the visual, the scents and the colours. I also appreciate the hard work that goes into them. I love the before and after photo which shows the effort has paid off. Thanks Donna and Janis – just delightful!!

    1. I wouldn’t consider myself a gardener either, although I do stick stuff in the ground every once in a while. In sunny Southern California, we have a lot of succulents, which I love, but I do envy the green lushness of the gardens in Donna’s pictures.

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