Garden so good it deserves an audience? Sign up for Project GREEN’s newly expanded Open Gardens Weekend

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Like the gardens it highlights, Project GREEN’s Open Gardens Weekend has gone through cycles of getting established, lying fallow and then growing.

The first Open Gardens Weekend in 2019 was a success with more than 600 people visiting 30-plus gardens in Iowa City, according to event coordinator Beth Cody. In 2020, the event was canceled due to COVID-19. This year, it is expanding beyond Iowa City to include gardens in Coralville.

“Anyone who lives within the city limits of Coralville or Iowa City, and who’s proud of their gardening efforts, can open their garden for our event… We’re looking for a wide variety of different kinds of gardens: tiny plant-filled patios, prairie-inspired front yards, quirky artists’ gardens, as well as professionally maintained landscapes,” Cody said.

There’s still time for anyone interested in showing off their green thumb to register their garden. Registration information is available on the site of Project GREEN, the Iowa City-based volunteer-run nonprofit that hosts the event. The deadline is June 28.

Project GREEN (an acronym for Grow to Reach Environmental Excellence Now) was founded in 1968 to help beautify Iowa City and “promote high standards of design in architecture, landscape architecture and community planning,” as its site explains. It has grown since its beginnings to cover all of Johnson County. The nonprofit held its first garden tours during its first year of existence, and held them regularly ever since.

But prior to 2019, the garden tours featured fewer gardens, which made the gardens crowded and hard for people interested in gardening to chat with the hosts, Cody explained. They may also have been a little less attractive to the public, because the events charged an admission fee. But about 10 years ago, Cody read about the Buffalo Garden Walk, a free event that attracts thousands of people annually to the gardens in Buffalo, the largest city in western New York. She began to imagine how such an event would look in Iowa City.

“Iowa City is clearly not an urban metropolis of more than a million people like Buffalo is,” Cody said. “But I wondered if Project GREEN could adopt some of the features of Buffalo’s incredibly successful event: namely, the local business sponsorship and the unlimited number of gardens offered free to the public. The Project GREEN board was receptive to the idea back in 2018 when I proposed it, so we tried it out for the first time in July 2019.”

The pandemic prevented Project GREEN from building on the success of its first Open Gardens Weekend, but at the same time, COVID restrictions seemed to have increased interest in gardening.

“People turned to their gardens in record numbers last spring and summer during the COVID lockdowns,” Cody said. “Garden centers all over the country – and right here in Iowa, too – reported record sales of plants and gardening supplies last year. Perhaps people will be more interested in visiting gardens this year after their own increased enthusiasm for gardening last year. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

The addition of Coralville gardens this year are a first step towards to the goal of having gardens in all of Johnson County featured in future Open Garden Weekends.

The Open Garden Weekend will be held Saturday, July 10 between 5 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 11 between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Admission is free, and visitors will pick up a map at sponsor locations the week before the event.

“The end result of our event, on so many levels, is a more beautiful community, with more gardens and more people gardening,” Cody said. “And numerous studies have shown that people are healthier and happier living in communities filled with gardens. A healthier, happier, more beautiful garden-filled community? What’s not to like about the results of an event like our Open Gardens Weekend?”

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