What’s the Damage?

No physical damage to the garden (or any visitors!) during our open days, I am pleased to say, other than the demise of the balloons the NGS provide to draw attention to your garden when you open. OK, tying them onto a thorny blackberry stem may not be the best of ideas but the stem was arching out so beautifully from the hedge, making it the perfect spot to alert visitors to the location – and Wednesday’s balloons had survived intact, two gradually losing their air and the third popping conveniently at 4 o’clock, the time we shut up shop for the day! Wednesday, however, was still and airless, unlike Sunday which was showery with the occasional light breeze. Anyway, I meant “what’s the damage?” as in the idiom referring to how much money was involved.

We had 49 visitors on Wednesday and 77 on Sunday making a total of 126 – which may not sound a lot compared to the numbers attending some other gardens but in view of our rural fringe location it was around what I expected from comparison with two gardens in vaguely similar kinds of location. With plant sales and refreshments we have taken nearly £900 so far but with two groups to come in July I am confident we will reach beyond £1000 which is a good round figure to have as a benchmark. Most people were from the West Midlands conurbation and the local Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire villages, living as we do where these 4 counties meet. Our furthest visitors, however, came from Gloucester and were ‘en route’ to Loughborough, having taken the opportunity to check the NGS website for a garden opening close to their route.

Anna of Green Tapestry travelled a little further than the Gloucester couple, coming down from Runcorn to man the plant stall on Wednesday and for which I am very grateful. We couldn’t have opened in the way we did without our helpers, six kind friends on Wednesday and eight on Sunday, two doing both days. I think I have heard them all say they enjoyed it and that they would like to do it again next year! Thank you to all of them for their help and support – and also to Ali (Long Garden Path) and Andy, and Karen (Karen Gimson) and her Mum, blogging friends supporting us by visiting on Sunday. Bizarrely, one of the visitors had also read my blog and it was pure chance that this came out in conversation as she hadn’t connected the blog with the open garden!

We provided a comments book which will become recommended reading whenever I am feeling dissatisfied with the garden (and believe me, between Wednesday and Sunday and Sunday I looked at some of the borders and though “Hmm, a bit of a shambles…”). I shan’t bore you with many of them but they are mostly along the lines of  ‘lovely meandering garden’, ‘a wonderful surprise around every corner’, ‘quirky and inspirational’  – and everyone liked the cakes too, so we are clearly doing something right! Not that the garden was created for visitors of course – but it always seems selfish to keep the pleasure it gives us to ourselves.

So what worked well on the days? Definitely converting the back sitting room to a café for the occasion (and shifting the kitchen around), so that people entered through the French windows and had access also to a toilet but not the rest of the house:

Likewise the collage of photographs showing how the garden developed, so definitely worth all the effort of putting it together:

I shall rethink the ‘menu’ before we open again as Wednesday brought many surprises by way of visitors’ cake preferences – scones and chocolate cake in particular were barely touched. Admittedly it was purportedly the hottest day of the year so cream and buttery icings may have seemed less appealing than on a cold and gloomy day, but they were not popular on Sunday either so scones are definitely off the menu for next year as there is cream gone to waste and enough extra jam made to fill an army’s jam sandwiches. Most popular was the Bakewell tart, and two replacements were baked in the intervening days; however, just to prove that things are not always successful, these few days also saw two rejected Victoria sandwiches and a similarly abandoned lemon drizzle without its drizzle… We have a gas Aga and keep it switched on over the summer so the kitchen has been hotter than those 30°+ days on several occasions and I had turned it down a touch, too much of a touch it turned out as the cakes just didn’t rise…

The plant stall was a mixed success – possibly too many plants? I know it would be better if plants were bigger and flowering, but that was never going to be the case for all of them – so I shall be rethinking before another opening and would welcome any feedback. Sales came to about £150 and even with two groups to come there will be a lot of plants left – although the plant-stall friend from the Sunday is going to make a contribution for a batch of plants to donate to his local school which seems like a win-win situation all round.

It was lovely to meet up with so many friendly gardeners, sharing experiences and gardening lore – as in my informal opening last year the most frequent question concerned the relatively slug free hostas (my miniatures are shown below) to which I could give no definitive answer!

The most admired plant were the two clumps of Iris ensata ‘No 45’, some of which featured in last week’s IAVOM, and which would have flown off the plant table if there were any available to buy (there will be, next time!). ‘Those wonderful irises’, Sunday’s plant stall friend described them in an email – although just a few days later they are on the way out so their timing was perfect!

Despite being an in-between time for clematis with most viticella not yet flowering, they were also mentioned in dispatches, with new-this-year Clematis viticella ‘Rosalyn’ already at the top of its 6 foot pole and in glorious full bloom:

Rather bizarrely, close by is C alpina ‘Frances Rivis’ in out-of-season second flowering mode!

I know this a long post but you have all been so very kind in sending us your best wishes and I am sure you would like to know how it went. We are still processing the experience but even on Wednesday were talking about repeating the experience next year, probably also for two days. As we will then not be a ‘new’ garden I feel we would attract fewer visitors next time, although comments suggest that many would willingly make a repeat visit (as one person did this year, with a friend and then her mother). Parking, our main concern because of the uncertainty of numbers, proved to just about adequate, although at the last-minute we arranged for overspill parking at the village hall if required, which is where I directed friends that I knew were coming. We know where we are with our signage, know the refreshment arrangements work, know how many helpers are required… so next time it will more or less organise itself!

Seriously, it does take a lot of preparation but so much can be done in advance and I have thoroughly enjoyed the organisational aspect of it. It didn’t leave us exhausted, just a little disorientated in those intervening days, and after Sunday the feeling was one of elated achievement. The group openings will be a little different and another new experience – no doubt you will hear more in due course!

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Ina Vase on Monday: After the Ball is Over

This week’s In a Vase on Monday offering consists of ‘ball’ Dahlia ‘Glow’ and Amaranthus caudatus courtesy of the cutting beds, new vase courtesy of lovely blogging friend Anna of Green Tapestry and a now redundant poster courtesy of the NGS.

I am having a rest today but will have plenty of time to catch up with your IAVOM posts, so do see what you can pick from your garden or forage locally to pop in a vase or jam jar to bring you pleasure during the coming week. Please also add links to and from this post so we can share in the pleasure your vase brings you – just as this one, with my first ‘proper’ dahlia pickings, will bring to me.

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The Days In-between

Having opened the garden for the NGS on Wednesday and opening again on Sunday we feel as if we are in a kind of limbo – not just because urgent tasks are almost non-existent, but also because we feel geographically displaced as the kitchen has been rearranged to accommodate a serving area for refreshments whilst the back sitting room with its French window to the garden  has been emptied of sofa bed and other bits of furniture to act as a cafe. It’s not worth moving things back just for a few days so we are living round the changes, strange though they seem.

It was a good day on Wednesday with about 50 visitors and a lot of positive comments, but I shall write about the whole experience in due course once Sunday is out of the way – in the meantime, thank you all for your kind thoughts and wishes. Although it is cooler today with a something akin to a short light shower, but the bakingly hot weather earlier in the week continues to push everything forward into bloom. I find it hard to believe that there was nothing in the cutting beds apart from sweet peas until the first week in May – just look at them now! Not only are sweet peas, dahlias and cosmos blooming but there are also buds on zinnias, the first sunflower, larkspur and calendula and more… Just look at all these dahlias (and it’s only the third week in June)…

Top, left to right: Bishop’s Children seedling (3rd or 4th year), Jowey Winnie (new), Duet (free last year, but didn’t flower then)
Middle, left to right: Bishop’s Children seedling (3rd or 4th year, more red than it looks), unknown (5th year perhaps, very reliable), Glow (free last year, but didn’t flower then)
Bottom, left to right: Happy Single Juliet (new), Twynings After Eight (2nd year), Happy Halloween (3rd year, more pumpkin-coloured than this)

And those are just the ones grown from tubers – there are also seed grown dahlias, dahlias from cuttings and dahlias grown from seed collected last year. Hard to believe that only a few years ago I was not a fan! I am even more of a fan when they flower in June with the promise of 3 or 4 months of blooms to come – hurrah for dahlias! Hurrah for cutting beds too and yes, hurrah for gardens!!

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Wordless Wednesday: Just Deserts

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In a Vase on Monday: From Zero to Hero

A week or so ago it occurred to me that the Iris ensata next to the stream were flowering last year when we opened the garden informally: would it do the same this year? Within days several stems were apparent and then in no time at all – Wham! Pow! Kerplunk! – from zero to hero in no time at all!

There are two clumps, both with at least a dozen stems in various stages of bloom – which they certainly weren’t yesterday. Strange how I like these iris but not the bearded variety…I am conscious that I prefer the more horizontal shape of these blooms and there is certainly something about the falls and beards of the others that don’t appeal. I have added a clump of pink Iris ensata this year but they are slow establishing and certainly won’t be flowering this year.

The three stems needed no further embellishment and their long slim stems were popped into the tallest and slimmest vase I have, this slightly twisted glazed black number, the usual car boot purchase but a modern item as it still had its paper barcode label on the bottom.

I wonder if you too have some new delights in your garden that you could bear to cut and pop into a vase today? Or perhaps something you have foraged locally? Regular IAVOM-ers already know how much pleasure there is to be had from popping a few blooms or other material into a vase or jar or other receptacle, so if you haven’t joined us yet please do consider it today and leave links to and from this post so we can all share your pleasure.



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‘In a Vase on Friday…’

I couldn’t resist photographing and posting this – the completed collection of plant information labels for the forthcoming open days. Not that I have ever had as many different blooms as this in my Monday vase – I ran out of pea sticks so that means there are 50 different plant labels in this jug with about 20 more are needed. How I have managed to put together so many different plants to sell, I don’t know – and these are just the perennials! With dry weather forecast for at least the next week, today I have also been working out how best to display them and colour coding the labels to reflect different prices.

For those in the UK who aim to visit any  gardens opening for the National Garden Scheme this summer, did you know that as part of the NGS’s 90th birthday celebrations they are running a photography competition, with the chance to win a visit to Mary Berry’s garden?



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Choice June Blooms

I took a little time out of my to-do lists (three cakes made, pricing signs printed and laminated, garden photo board completed, tomatoes potted on, wayward stems tied in, etc, etc) to choose some pleasing June blooms to feature for Garden Bloggers’ Blooms Day. For the first time I am not going to link with May Dreams Gardens, which hosts the meme, but will continue to focus on what is flowering at around the same time each month as it is a useful record. There is so  much in bloom that I couldn’t possibly show you everything this month, but rest assured it is delightfully floriferous here at the moment!

Above is the pleasing colour combination of Geranium magnificum (originating from the garden my parents left in 1988 and well loved ever since) and Lychnis coronaria, grown from seed sent to me by Sandra of Wild Daffodil. They were sown early last year and although they were healthy plants by the end of the season this is the first time they have flowered – love that colour.

Below is an almost pristine clump of Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Crowborough’, the dry weather so far keeping it that way and showing off the stark contrast of the bright green leaves with the pure white flowers:

I added several more Allium christophii to the garden in the autumn and I don’t know if other people have found this but the flower heads vary in size considerably – this one is the hugest of huge, although using my hand to put the size in perspective merely shows off how dry my skin is and doesn’t give a true indication – I would need about SIX hands to cup the full bloom probably!

This bloom is right in front of another star performer, Aconitum ‘Spark’s Variety’, bought as a small bare root plant from Peter Nyssen two years ago and flowering for the first time and making a grand statement in this bold border. To its left is a cephalaria grown from seed 3 or 4 years ago , now in bud and equally tall: both easily dwarf me, which I know is not difficult…

My last Peter Nyssen order included a number of Asiatic lilies which I have been growing in pots, keeping them in the fruit cage till today as they now all in full bud. It has been far easier to watch out for lily beetles when they are in pots and not surrounded by other foliage and if they flower successfully I shall add more next year. This is a deep burgundy, almost black ‘Mapira’:

‘Princess Kate’ has taken a few years to establish, but I don’t think I realised that this viticella clematis had such large flowers – these are amazing!

Sown at the end of August last year and now flowering is Papaver ‘Princess Victoria Louise’. These herbaceous poppies have been so easy to grow and I will look out for other varieties:

The garden is full of roses but ‘New Dawn’ has only just started flowering and as always I find myself surprised at the pretty pale shade of pink she is. Her blooms just add to the overall fragrance that hangs over the whole garden and which I hope will delight my visitors as much as they do me…

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