Want to see everything? Take a trip with the gardener

Vacationing with a gardener has its advantages and disadvantages.

Good thing: I can find a snack in the woods and warn you about poison ivy.

Bad thing: I stop every five minutes to identify something, take a photo of a plant/bug/something weird to look up later.

It doesn’t matter if we’re hiking on a mountaintop or wandering along an ancient cobblestone path in a medieval city, my garden radar is always on.

This perpetual interest in everything garden-related has its drawbacks. And this is one of the few times I will admit that my husband has incredible patience — he has never once said he’s had enough. Not once.

Not when I couldn’t stop taking photos in a rose garden. Not when I kept touching all the flowers and plants at a farmers market and got dirty looks. Not even when I found out what stinging nettle was (the hard way, of course, when I picked some weeds to feed Swiss cows on the side of the road) and my hand swelled with hives and I complained the whole way back to our chalet.

Yes, vacationing with gardeners is a different way to travel. Some people simply MUST see every art museum, top to bottom. Others can’t imagine skipping a single church, marveling at the ornate stained-glass windows or the flying buttresses.

But when you travel with a gardener, there’s always something to see, something to wonder about and something to discover, especially in the summer.

Sure, I enjoy a Picasso exhibit as much as anyone. And yes, there are some really impressive churches out there. But I’d much rather be doing unofficial research on gardens around the world.

On our most recent trip, my husband and I traveled to a few spots in Switzerland and Italy, pausing to hike in the Cinque Terre. You would think we would spend the whole trip sitting on the beach, eating gelato and lying about the rocks like sunning lizards, as the Europeans do. But noooo.

Here’s a glimpse of a trek out with us, hiking.

Me: That is a HUGE beetle! I mean, have you ever seen a beetle this gigantic? Look at this thing! (Pauses to take photo.)

Hubby: Mmmmhm. (Keeps hiking.)

Me: See that pinkish flower on the side of the hill? That’s valerian! The same stuff used in herbal sleeping pills! (Stops to take more photos.)

Hubby: (Grunts, keeps climbing.)

Me: Hey! Currants! Want a snack? (Stops and forages for berries. Hubby continues trudging up the mountain.)

This is why a one-hour hike takes four hours with me.

In Switzerland, we marveled at the too-perfect scenery, hiking to the top of a mountain trail so splendid it was only missing Julie Andrews, twirling in a field of wildflowers. The view was complete with cows bedecked in ringing bells, munching away their alpine summer.

“Look at this! It’s edelweiss!” I exclaimed, pointing at a short, fuzzy grayish glob of vegetation. “That’s the plant the song is about!”

We briefly discussed how unimpressive and undeserving of a song the poor stubby little ugly flower seemed. If you’re in the Edelweiss Lovers Society, please refrain from sending hate mail. No one who lives where edelweiss grows even knows that Rodgers and Hammerstein ditty.

My husband didn’t even really complain when I spent so much time in the apothecary herb garden at a Swiss open-air folk museum that we missed out on a chocolate-making demonstration.

Or when a perturbed-looking Swiss woman peered out her window as I gawked over the fence at her impeccable garden. How was she keeping all the slugs out? What kind of cabbages are those? How did she keep it so pristine?

Sadly, I don’t speak German, so I couldn’t ask frowny-faced lady hanging out of her perfect little Swiss gingerbread cottage, complete with perfect window boxes trailing (of course) the most perfect geraniums. Hubby encouraged me to slowly back away from her precious garden so as to not anger the locals. We survived.

Now, we’re home. Home to the weeds that attempted to take over in a matter of weeks. Home to the small army of aphids that camped out in the cherry tree. Home to notice all the things in our little part of the world.

Home to more hikes that last three times as long as they should. And home to the garden, of course, my favorite thing apart from patient husbands who endure quirky gardener wives.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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