Garden State

Many gardens, four tours

Oh, to have a garden. A place of respite from daily struggles. A botanical utopia where the silent, conquerable weeds alone reign as your foulest enemy. A small corner of the earth upon which you can commune with nature and enjoy her at her best. Oh, to have a garden -- too bad for you if you don't have one. Fortunately, the kinds of people who cultivate gardens are giving, generous sorts, and several of them have gotten together to show off their flowery fields and blossoming beds this weekend.

The eight-garden Grow Wild Garden Tour -- happening Sunday, June 26 -- features every kind of plot, from Tom Terrific's Sunset Hills butterfly garden to Chan Mahanta's prairie and perennial garden in Florissant. The self-guided tour is offered from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and tickets cost $10 to $15 at the Green Center (8025 Blackberry Avenue, University City; 314-725-8314 or www.thegreencenter.org), which also has flora to view.

But perhaps Saturday, June 25, is a better day for you to unwind and avoid errands, so try the Chesterfield Garden Tour. This six-garden extravaganza, which is also self-guided, runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and $15 tickets are available at Chesterfield City Hall (690 Chesterfield Parkway West; 636-537-4000).

Of course, while flowers and grasses may make that vein in your head pulse a little less often, other folks require the whispers of water to fully unwind. For them there's the St. Louis Water Gardening Society's Pond-O-Rama, a 50-stop garden and pond tour that is held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased at various locations in both Illinois and Missouri; for more information visit www.slwgs.org or call 314-995-2988.

And finally, for you city dwellers: Yes, it's possible to nurture the urban earth and make the cityscape a little softer, a little more organic. See for yourself on Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. at the Southwest Garden Neighborhood Home Improvement and Garden Tour (314-772-6082), which costs $8 to $10 and begins at Hanneke Hardware & Industrial Supply (5390 Southwest Avenue). This event showcases not only how the city can bloom in a natural sense, but also how nature and the city can work together to make a neighborhood strong and beautiful -- and blossom in a whole new way. -- Alison Sieloff

Tow Jam
River People

Just what is the big deal about Old Man River, anyway? He just keeps rolling along, right? Why did the likes of Mark Twain and Ike and Tina find river life so appealing? Find out for yourself this weekend at the free Great Rivers Towboat Festival in Grafton, Illinois. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday (June 25 and 26), merchants, entertainers and enthusiasts all gather along the Grafton riverfront (Water and Market streets) to celebrate the river and the boats they love best. You'll find tours of working towboats (from noon to 4 p.m. each day, weather permitting), a crawfish and shrimp boil, live zydeco music and radio-controlled boats. For more information call 800-258-6645 or go to www.visitalton.com. -- Jedidiah Ayres

What a Drag

This weekend's NHRA Drag Racing Series at Gateway International Raceway (700 Raceway Boulevard, Madison, Illinois; 866-357-7333) is just the kick to the hindquarters a distraught, petrol-penny-pinched nation needs. After being besieged by low-carb this and non-fat that, excess is making a comeback, if only in fleeting flights of fancy. So for a weekend (June 24 through 26), fuhgetaboutit: Bask in the glorious excess of nitromethane-guzzling funny cars and top fuel dragsters; have a hot dog and a calorie-enriched Coke. Really, what could be more American? General admission for Friday and Saturday's qualifying runs (6 and 9 p.m.) are priced at $10 to $40 and $10 to $50, respectively; Sunday's final eliminations (4:30 p.m.) go for $20 to $60. For more information go to www.gatewayraceway.com. -- Mark Fischer

Fiesta, Fiesta

Considering that Hispanics are the largest minority group in the nation, you might want to familiarize yourself with the rich cultures of the countries south of the Rio Grande. A great way to do this is to attend the Hispanic Festival, Inc. of Greater St. Louis' "Fiesta in Florissant" at the Knights of Columbus lodge (near Washington Street and North Lindbergh Boulevard) this Saturday and Sunday (June 25 and 26). From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., there will be nonstop music and dancing, folk art, crafts, un montn of Latin cuisine and drink, a car cruise on Sunday, and even an exotic petting zoo! (Just in case you always wanted to touch a llama -- fingers crossed!) Admission is gratis. ¡Que guay! For more information call 314-837-6100. -- Guy Gray

 
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