Create and Enjoy Community Garden Tours

Written by Nan Sterman

I tend to divide the world into two kinds of people: those who walk or drive down a street, oblivious to their surroundings, and those who notice everything, especially cool gardens.  The latter group often dreams of strolling through gates and peaking over fences into the lush backyards and courtyards of others. If you notice everything (and of course you do), spring or summer is your lucky season for garden tours, private or public. And, if you lack garden tours in your community, consider creating your own!

Types of Garden Tours

The gardens included on tours are often private but can also be public and include speakers.

Garden tours are usually organized or offered by garden clubs, garden societies, and or public gardens. Some benefit causes like school gardens or educational scholarships or community beautification projects.  Other tours, such as native garden tours, have an educational goal.  Still, other tours are just for the fun of it. I went on a first garden tour more than 25 years ago. Since then, I’ve attended dozens, held my own garden on tour many times, and designed tours for the public.

Starting a Community Garden Tour

If you are innovative and know lots of other enthusiastic gardeners, you can start your own garden tour in your community. That’s just what I did. In 2005, I was first asked to head a tour for my community, the Encinitas Garden Festival & Tour.  Then in 2010 an annual self-guided walking tour of over 23 private gardens (a school garden, a butterfly vivarium, and even a fire station garden) was created where I live! Thousands now attend the event, which also features a marketplace of vendors selling plants, pots, tools, and garden soil (like Black Gold®), and close to a dozen talks on gardening topics.

Our tour is unusual in its size and scope, but if you develop and host a tour annually, it will surely grow.  Typically, a new garden tour features four, five, or maybe ten gardens on a driving and walking tour. For the price of admission, attendees generally get a map of the garden locations and a description of what makes each one special, in addition to garden access. Garden hosts are at the ready to help attendees better understand the plants, development, and overall design scheme of their gardens. Each tour will be as unique as its community. As it grows, so can its offerings.

The Dos and Don’ts of Garden Tours

Whichever tour you choose to attend or host, here are some dos and don’ts:


  • Buy tickets ahead of time, so you know where to go, and so organizers can anticipate how many people to host.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.  (I’m always amazed to see high heels teetering down a garden path.)
  • Wear sunscreen, a hat, and bring a bottle of water — common sense.
  • If you have trouble walking or negotiating rough surfaces, inquire about the garden accessibility ahead of time. This is especially essential for people in wheelchairs and parents with children in strollers. Many private gardens are not designed for public access or ADA compatibility.
  • Get an estimate of how long it might take to visit the gardens, so you can plan your day.
  • With tours where there are just a few gardens but lots of people, expect some lines. Be patient. While you wait, strike up a conversation with the person next to you.  You may learn an interesting gardening tip or, at least, make a new friend.
  • Leave the dog at home. Fido may adore the walk but garden owners won’t be appreciative.
  • Bring a camera! Bring a camera! Bring a camera!  And a notebook.


  • Pick flowers, collect seeds, or take cuttings. Taking anything from a garden without permission is, well, stealing. If you see a plant you like, take a photo or note its name. Take that information to your local nursery.
  • Go into areas marked as being off-limits.  There is a reason they are marked that way.
  • Try to visit a garden that is not on the tour, even if it looks absolutely fascinating.
  • Criticize a garden. Their owners work hard to prepare for your visit.

Then once you enter each garden, take a good attitude and have a good time! After you complete your garden tour, your next step should be to go home and implement some of your new garden ideas using Black Gold®!


Sun Gro’s Quality Program


Gardeners experience success with Black Gold® because its parent brand, Sun Gro Horticulture, is dedicated to producing premium products for its customers. To achieve this, Sun Gro created a Quality Program designed to produce and deliver a consistently high-quality, uniform product. As North America’s largest professional mix supplier, Sun Gro uses the same equipment and processes to produce its retail brands, such as Black Gold®.

Sun Gro Quality Program

The first step of the Sun Gro Quality Program is to qualify and monitor the supply of our raw materials (peat moss, compost, aggregates, and additives) to meet quality standards. Factors such as pH, soluble salts (EC), and moisture are checked, but one of the most important tests is a visual test of the product. Richly colored, uniform potting mixes are what we achieve.

ProductionProcessContinual testing of products and equipment are also essential to our program. Documented standardized testing is done at every production site, and products must pass key tests before being sold to our customers. Established testing parameters and frequency requirements ensure the consistency and quality you have come to expect with Black Gold®. Our production equipment is also checked and rechecked continually, so it performs to its maximum potential.

Excellent employees also enable us to create top-tier products. Our well-trained production team consistently monitors the production process, and their work is further supported by advanced technicians and horticultural specialists that inspect the manufacturing process.

Final Testing Processes

Once manufactured, Black Gold® mixes undergo a final testing process. This includes a final characteristic test of raw materials and a yield test. Samples are retained for quality assurance, each pallet is visually inspected, and product bags are provided date codes. If that were not enough, we also run quality trials of our products against other competitor potting soils found at garden centers. Our trial results consistently confirm Black Gold® is the choice brand of potting mix for indoor and outdoor growing.

SunGro NEWEach Sun Gro plant is audited annually by third-party auditors for compliance to quality procedures. Plants are graded and continually improved upon.

Customer Insurance

Sun Gro’s Quality Program is customer insurance. Home gardeners save time, reduce their efforts, and enjoyed increased success when they use Black Gold® products. And our much-appreciated garden center owners will enjoy the reputation of offering a quality product that offers significant value, and happy repeat customers that request Black Gold® by name.

Peat Moss: Nature’s Gift to Gardeners

BGPeatMoss2.2cu Front-WEBHealthy soil is the key to vigorous garden plants and lawns. It is good insurance to protect your garden investment. So, how can you best prepare your soil? Use Black Gold® Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss and Peat Moss Plus. Both are made with pure, sustainably harvested Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, with the Peat Moss Plus having an additional organic wetting agent to aid in re-wetting the medium. [To learn more about sustainable peat and garden health, click here.] Peat moss is a wonderful gift to gardeners.

Black Gold Peat Moss is specially processed so consumers enjoy a uniform, quality product with remarkable horticultural benefits. It is 100% natural and contains no toxins, additives or preservatives. The unique cell structure of peat moss allows it to perform many garden benefits.

Peat Moss Qualities:

  1. Water-Saving –Peat moss retains as much as 20 times its weight in water and releases water slowly as the plants need it,  so soil treated with Black Gold Peat Moss requires less watering.
  2. Aerating – Soils amended with peat moss have more air pockets for better root growth. Amending clay soils with peat moss will enrich their organic matter and make them more porous.
  3. Enriching –Adding Black Gold Peat Moss to poor or sandy soils helps them retain more water and nutrients.
  4. Fertilizer-Friendly – Peat moss has a high CEC, which means it holds and releases available nutrients better. This means that fertilizers/soil nutrients are made more available to plants and leach less in peat-rich soil. Peat moss has double the cation exchange capacity of fir bark and coconut coir.
  5. Time-Saving- Peat moss protects soil from compacting, drying and hardening which makes it easier to weed while adding needed organic matter that allows your plants to flourish.
  6. Long-Lasting– Peat moss resists decomposition. So the addition of it to your garden will provide benefits for years to come.
  7. Organic – Both Black Gold Peat Moss and Black Gold Peat Moss Plus are OMRI Listed for organic gardening.
  8. Acidifying – Peat has a naturally lower pH, which is great for acid-loving plants,  like azaleas, camellias, and blueberries. By adding an alkaline amendment, such as Dolomitic lime, can increase a peaty soil’s pH to a neutral level.


Peat Moss Uses:

  1. Seed new lawns – Spread 2″ (5 cm) of peat moss across the lawn (see below for the Amendment Application Formula). Rototill or dig it into the top 6″ (15 cm) of soil. After seeding, fertilizing and watering lightly, carefully spread a ½” (1 cm) top dressing. Moisten daily for 2-3 weeks.
  2. Rejuvenate and top dress established lawns – Gently rake in ¼” to ½” (1 cm) of peat moss across the entire lawn in spring for better performance through summer.
  3. Amend flower and vegetable gardens – Spread 2″ (5 cm) of peat moss across the flower bed or vegetable garden. If you have some garden compost, blend the peat and compost to make a 50/50 blend. Add the appropriate granular garden fertilizer and rototill or dig it into the top 6″ (15 cm) of soil. For an existing garden, make sure not to damage the roots when incorporating amendments.
  4. Amend soil when planting trees and shrubs – Dig a hole 3 times the width of the root ball and as deep as the pot. Loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole. Add the appropriate fertilizer, and mix 1 part peat moss with 2 parts soil. Place the plant in the hole, making sure it is 1-2 inches higher than the original soil level. Finally, fill in with the amended and fertilized soil, making sure there are no air pockets. Water immediately, and monitor and water for 3 to 4 weeks.
  5. Plant acid-loving plants– Peat moss naturally maintains an acid pH (3.5-4.5), so amend the soil around acid-loving plants, such as azalea, rhododendrons, camellias, and blueberries, with peat moss.


Increased CEC

Why is the use of peat moss so popular? Gardeners have found that peat moss allows them to dependably maximize crop performance. Peat moss has one of the highest measured cation exchange capacities (CEC) of mix component or amendment, while coir and aged fir bark have roughly half the cation exchange capacity of peat. This higher CEC maximizes the nutrient retention wherever peat is used for growing. When you use peat moss as a garden amendment, you can immediately reduce the need to fertilize and water as often.



BG-Peat-Moss-8qtHistorically, homeowners have purchased premium Black Gold (Sun Gro Horticulture) products because of their consistently high horticultural performance. Homeowners can also feel confident that our products are made from resources that are plentiful, renewable, and sustainably sourced. Our company cares about the natural environment. That is why our peat moss products are both OMRI Listed and Veriflora Certified. If you still have questions about the sustainability of peat moss, we suggest you read The Leader in Sustainability Peat Resources article. Want to know how much Black Gold Peat Moss to add to a given area? Use this simple amendment application formula.


Amendment Application Formula

([area to cover] ft2 x [depth in inches desired] x 0.0031 = ___ yd3).

Example: If you wanted to cover a 20 square foot area with 2 inches of compost, the result would be: 20 ft2 x 2 inches of compost x 0.0031 = 2.48 yd3.

Black Gold® Seedling Mix, A Professional Mix for Home Growers

BG-Seedling-1.5cuBlack Gold® Seedling Mix is the perfect medium for germinating seeds and propagating cuttings, and the formula is the same blend used by professional greenhouse growers. Our mix is designed to promote better root development in young plants and holds water well due to the addition of an organic wetting agent. Moreover, it is OMRI Listed®, which means it is approved for organic gardening.

We start with fine, screened Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss  and fine perlite and vermiculite to give seedlings and cuttings the aeration and moisture retention they need to develop good root systems. An organic wetting agent ensures rapid water penetration, and the fine texture allows growers to germinate even the smallest seeds while also encouraging excellent rooting. Transplanting seedlings and cuttings with strong root systems grown in Black Gold® Seedling Mix is a breeze!

When it comes to germinating seeds, it’s simple working with this ready-to-use product. All you need is water, light, warm temperatures, and Black Gold® Seedling Mix.

Different seeds require different temperatures for best germination—some requiring cool temperatures and others warm. In general, seeds should be kept at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees F and placed in bright light provided by grow lights or a window with a southern exposure. Some seeds need to be covered with mix to germinate and some require light to germinate and should be sprinkled on the surface of the mix, so be sure to check seed packets for details.

After planting, make sure the growing media stays moist, but not wet, and seeds and/or cuttings have plenty of water in the early stages of germination and rooting. Our seedling mix is designed with both peat moss and vermiculite, essential ingredients when you want to retain just the right amounts of moisture in your soil.

6-packsBlack Gold® Seedling Mix is made with the same ingredients we use to make our seedling/propagation mixes for professional greenhouse growers. Germinating your own seeds or rooting your own cuttings is a rewarding experience and one of the great delights of gardening. So, when you are faced with the question, “Why buy a premium seedling mix?” the answer is clear. Black Gold® Seedling Mix is high-performing and results in robust seedlings and cuttings. Why trust your seeds to anything else?

More seed-starting articles:

Bottom Heat for Happy Seed Starting

Seed Starting Tutorial: Part 1 of 6

Starting Seeds Indoors

Starting Perennials from Seed

Grow Free Bedding Plants with Cuttings

Bayside Garden Supply Customer Appreciation Day

Saturday, November 5th, 2011 was Bayside Garden Supply
Customer Appreciation Day in Arcata, California!

Saturday, November 5th, All Day
Bayside Garden Supply
4061 N Highway 101
Arcata, CA 95521
(707) 826-7435

Black Gold Soil Plants Hope Along With Veggies

Black Gold®, manufacturer of potting soils, amendments and fertilizers, is accustomed to helping gardeners of all kinds plant herbs and veggies, but they also help others plant hope. Recently, a large donation was made to Portland Rescue Mission, a Portland-based non-profit organization that provides assistance to local homeless men, women and children. The donation, consisting of over 3 pallets of soil and fertilizer with a value of over $2,300, will be used at the Portland Rescue Mission women’s shelter, Shepherd’s Door, to allow for the development of a new community garden.

Unloading Donated Black Gold Soil
Volunteers help with unloading the more than three pallets of soil donated by Black Gold.

The women residents will maintain a raised garden where they will have the opportunity to learn gardening skills, supply food for the kitchen, and heal. “We believe in anything that is therapeutic for the women, and this will give them therapy and fulfillment,” says Jan Marshall, Director of Shepherd’s Door. “And it’s beautiful! It’s the perfect timing. They were all so happy to receive this donation.” Shepherd’s Door is a shelter where women who have experienced violence and abuse can receive housing, nutrition, counseling and training. Unlike other women’s shelters, Shepherd’s Door residents can care for and live with their children while they engage in recovery for 12-18 months.

Donated Planters with Black Gold Soil

While Black Gold® product lines are being launched nationally in 2012, they make it a priority to help locally whenever possible. Portland Rescue Mission is a frequent recipient of Black Gold® generosity as they received large donations for fundraisers and silent auctions numerous times over the last three years.

Company Profile

Since 1983, the Black Gold® product line has been available at many fine garden centers for the gardening delight of their customers. Known as the brand of choice for the gardening enthusiast, the Black Gold® product line is available throughout the United States and Western Canada. Offering a full line of products to meet almost every gardening need, including products listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute, Black Gold® offers one of the most complete selections of mixes, amendments and fertilizers to fit your gardening project.