BEST GARDEN TOUR (1999)
Right as the wilting dog days of summer kick in, this annual excursion takes place over two weekends in some 35 private gardens around the Cities and beyond. Sure, you could space out your sightseeing with a series of more limited tours in hopes of catching different plants in bloom, but this circuit includes landscapes that take their glory not only from the flowers in them but from their eclectic designs--from cottage to Japanese-influenced to formal. It's an ideal way for those just starting out to see which plants and structures work best where; for those with a seasoned green thumb, the tour, which changes stops every year, should motivate one's next move into more sophisticated groupings. Opening weekend (July 10-11) covers gardens in the St. Paul area, while the following weekend spills over the river into Minneapolis and the western 'burbs. Besides being an inspiring jaunt, the tour raises funds for the Center for Victims of Torture, which serves many of the 14,000-plus Minnesota residents who've survived politically motivated torture abroad. Tickets--which come with a printed guide that includes addresses, descriptions, and, often, plant lists--cost $25 in advance for individuals, $40 for families. Day-of tickets are five bucks more.