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!