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 magnificent 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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52 Responses to What’s the Damage?

  1. Cathy says:

    Well done Cathy – a great sum raised and it sounds like it was a real success. A very good review of how things went too, and the best thing is that you have already decided to do it again next year!

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Cathy – it was good to be able to share the garden with other people. We have of course learned a lot from this first time although there is probably not a lot we will change

  2. Christina says:

    Well done! That is an incredible amount to have taken.

  3. Anna says:

    Oh I’m so so pleased to read that Sunday went well too Cathy and what a fabulous sum to raise on your first opening! I saw some of Karen’s brilliant photos including a fabulous one of the iris, appear on my Twitter timeline on Sunday/Monday and thought that garden looks most familiar 🙂 I would love to come back next year if you will have me. Will you save a slice of that delicious looking Bakewell Tart for me then? I had my eye on it but just missed out on the last slice. Shame about the scones and the chocolate cake as they are usually quite popular. Will ponder over the plant stall and will be in touch soon.

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Anna, and of course we will have you next year. The BT request has been duly noted… Yes please to any feedback on the plants as you will have been party to comments from people hovering around the stall

  4. johnvic8 says:

    A smashing success. Congratulations.

  5. Eliza Waters says:

    So much to carry off – I’m impressed with your efforts and funds raised. The best part is that you enjoyed yourself.

  6. Heyjude says:

    And now you can take a deep breath and r.e.l.a.x……………….

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Jude – I have certainly taken it pretty easy this week! But deadheading will have to carry on, withe the first of our two groups coming next week – and I aim to cut down the flowering stems of our rambler before then too!

  7. Congratulations to you both, plus your team of helpers, what a successful two days and more visitors to come. Does buoy one up doesn’t it? We were so pleased, the rain held off!

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Kate and yes indeed, definitely an elated feeling at the end of it! We had showers here on Sunday though and it was much cooler, but not showery enough to stop people sitting outside.

  8. Chloris says:

    Well done what a great success and so it should have been with all your meticulous planning. I would love to have come but you are such a long way away.
    My experience with plant stalls is that people either want plants in bloom or plants that they see blooming in your garden.

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Chloris and yes, organisation pays off – the only (very minor) hiccup was when the second shift arrived at 3.30 to do the refreshments and were thrown into the thick of as it was peak time! That does not surprise me about plant preferences – I will certainly aim to have a good stock of plants for next year that should be in flower In June

  9. Wow Cathy, what a fantastic amount raised for such a good cause. And how useful that you’ll have this review to look back on when you (hopefully) open the garden again.

  10. carolee says:

    Curious…the money raised goes where? Back into the garden, charity, garden club???

    • Cathy says:

      Hello – the National Garden Scheme runs in England and Wales and supports a range of charities. See https://www.ngs.org.uk/who-we-are/beneficiaries/ . Last year over £2.6 million was raised, just from people visiting gardens in the scheme. Proceeds from plants and refreshments may go elsewhere – some of ours is going to the NGS and some to a local charity I am involved with

  11. pbmgarden says:

    Congratulations Cathy! What a big undertaking for a good cause.

  12. Didn’t you do well? That’s a good sum! Cathy, your garden is quite magical – and it was so nostalgic to see the sitooterie and the bothy. Of course, copious amounts of photos were taken, including your gorgeous irises! A beautiful couple of hours were passed, accompanied with coffee and yummy cake! We had to bring back a souvenir, of course – I can’t resist plant sales! So now, an agastache ” Liquorice” has been added to the blue section of my scented border and is looking good. It surprises me that you felt the plant sales weren’t as successful as you would have thought. The plants all looked good and were so well labelled. I’m already looking forward to next year and hoping we can come again.

    • Cathy says:

      Oh what lovely comments Ali – thank you so much 🙂 The agastache was grown by a friend who had to cancel her own garden opening (not NGS) because her greenhouse burned down. I have bought one of them for myself! Did you think there were too many plants to really see what there was? Of course you would be most welcome to come again, if you don’t mind the longish drive. Put your order in for cake now perhaps…? 😉

      • No, I don’t think there were too many. There was a very good selection of plants. Maybe it got a bit congested by the gate, making it difficult to browse perhaps?
        And mine’s a Bakewell next year! 😀🍰

        • Cathy says:

          I have taken the table down and now just have plants 2 deep against the wall and this makes a big difference – but I have also culled some

  13. P.s If you do decide to persevere with plant sales next year, I’d be happy to contribute!

    • Cathy says:

      Oh I shall definitely be doing plant sales again, so yes please, especially if they are likely to be plants in flower?! What did you think of the annuals by the way? Very few of them sold, but they were all just surplus to requirements so it was just the time spent potting and labelling – but perhaps not worth the small effort next year?

  14. Alison C says:

    Your garden looks wonderful in the photographs and I’m glad all the planning and hard work was worth while.

  15. Kris P says:

    All in all, it seems you had a very successful event, Cathy. The food preference information surprised me – I’d have gone straight for the chocolate cake if I wasn’t thousands of miles away. I’ve only just returned home from a tour of gardens on our east coast and, if plants had been offered for sale, I’m sure I’d have picked up dozens if I didn’t have the problem of how to fly them home in my luggage. Relatively few of the gardens we visited offered snacks (but wine and cheese were hits when offered!) and regrettably not a single one offered plants for sale.

    • Cathy says:

      Definitely a success, Kris, although a relatively small one in the NGS scheme of things. It was odd about the cakes – even the lemon drizzle which is an open garden stalwart was slow to shift! Plants are always an attraction at open gardens here, which is why I was surprised more didn’t sell and am trying to establish the possible reasons behind this

  16. rusty duck says:

    I’m surprised about the scones. It must be different in Devon. But here you have the added responsibility of remembering whether it is the cream or the jam that goes on first..

    • Cathy says:

      Ah well our visitors could decide for themeselves as they had individual little paper pots (surplus to requirements now!!!) of jam and cream 😉 Actually, I ws looking online for an estimate of how much cream I would need and found a research project on the subject, which gave the ideal proportions of jam/cream/scone – and scientifically it is better to have the jam first because the density is greater than that of cream. Certainly agree with that – it has to be jam first!

  17. Brian Skeys says:

    You and the golfer should be very proud of the amount you have raised Cathy. I am surprised about the scones, we sell them as a cream tea for £3 ( cake is £2.50 with tea). They usually sell very well. Irene says 50p is to cheap for tea or coffee. It is impossible to predict what will sell in the plant department, it can vary from one year to the next. It is true that what is in flower in the garden every wants but you had posted pictures of the flowers on the sale table which does help.
    Good luck with your group visits, we also have two next week.

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Brian, yes quite chuffed 😉 I was thinking of charging more for the cream teas but when I worked out the appprox cost of each scone I couldn’t justify charging any more than the other cakes, even with the cream and jam and butter on them

  18. I am so happy to read that you did so well and your garden held up from all of that foot traffic. Wow you really shook ’em down. I think that is a great amount of money for a first opening. There are always things to learn. Next year will fly around and you will handle it beautifully. Your team is great. I was wondering how you found out where people came from. I guess the comment book gave an indication?? With so many attending you couldn’t talk with everyone. I am sure many were inspired. Well done!!

  19. P.S. I love the board you made to show the progression of your garden construction. I enlarged it so I could read along. Such fun and lots of work.

  20. Steve says:

    Well done Cathy. We only do cream teas and when we open for two days normally sell 300 at £2.50. We have found doing only scones keeps it simple with less work beforehand. Next year we will be open for two days !

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Steve. I am quite happy doing the baking, so having the scones was an ‘extra’ which I thought would go down well – perhaps people liked the more intersting choice of cake instead. For us it was a faff to have the scones as well so I shan’t offer them again – pricewise I costed them up and couldn’t justify charging more.

  21. Pauline says:

    Wow, that was a successful opening, well done to you and your helpers! It is an awful lot of work , but so worth it in the end when so much money is raised.

  22. Cathy well done! Everything has been analyzed and reviewed and has liked the experience to open again next year. I’m glad. Greetings from Margarita.

  23. Wow! What a successful garden opening on so many different levels. The best of which is that you enjoyed it. Your organisation is obviously superb! Your passion shines through.

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Sandra – yes, the organisation has helped hugely and meant there was nothing to get stressed or tense about. Uncertainty over parking was the only thing I had any concerns about but we did have a last minute back up plan in case we were inundated!

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