With the second group visit on Wednesday, our NGS opening for 2017 is over and we can look back to what went well and forward to what could be done better next year.
On the financial side, over 2 open days and two group visits (rounded) takings were as follows:
- entrance £544
- tea and cakes £281
- plants £213
- others £39 (dibbers/tampers, book/jigsaws, donations)
30% of sales went to a local charity and we took 20% expenses from the overall sales which, after talking to others who opened their gardens, we felt was a reasonable average. This means £810 will go to the National Garden Scheme and £160 to my local charity, just from opening the garden; OK, it did involve a (large) degree of preparation on our part, but the whole experience was hugely enjoyable and personally rewarding, as well as financially rewarding for the charities involved. And yes, we will do it again next year! Will we change anything though? Not a lot…
In terms of the opening days and times little will change. It’s ‘swings and roundabouts’ as far as dates go, and although few roses were in evidence there were plenty of other things flowering that wouldn’t have been if we had opened earlier. We opened from 11.00 till 4.00 on the Wednesday and 1.00 till 6.00 on the Sunday but had no visitors after 5.00 on the second day, so Sunday opening times will be brought forward next year. Studying the Yellow Book shows that some gardens only open for about 3 hours at a time compared to our 5, but we would rather spread visitors out over a longer period to ease pressure on parking.
Parking was just about adequate, with visitors parking in the yard of our neighbours’ converted school house. Our own vehicles and those of our helpers were parked at the local village hall (5-10 minute walk) which was to be an overspill car park if needed (it wasn’t), but this was a last minute arrangements and we don’t know whether it is something we can arrange in advance next year as it might conflict with paid bookings at the hall. Parking is such an important aspect of garden opening, and is the only issue I had any concerns about whatsoever in the lead up to the events. In theory, we might expect fewer visitors next year without the attraction of it being a ‘new’ garden, but with several people saying they would come again it is still an unknown quantity – in fact, this year three people came twice, all with different companions on their second visit! This year, including group visits we had a total of 155 visitors, so not huge numbers but certainly numbers we and our helpers could comfortably cope with.
Group visits are a different thing altogether; we stated we would be available by appointment for group visits of 5-25 in July and had 3 groups book up, quite far in advance. One group cancelled a month or so after booking as we couldn’t accommodate a coach and the organiser was concerned about her ladies getting lost on the country lanes if they came in their own vehicles! We had expected perhaps about 20 in both the remaining groups, but the first (a garden group) had 14, and the second (a WI) had 12 plus an extra couple having a second visit. The garden group just wanted tea and biscuits, whilst the second were going for a meal in the local pub afterwards and didn’t need refreshing, so this made preparations a little easier. The garden group stayed for about 2 hours (their usual meeting length, I think) but didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the garden, didn’t buy any plants and spent most of the time talking over their tea and biscuits, leaving us wondering if group visits were worth the effort. However, the WI were delightful and very interested in the garden, wanting a personal and informed tour and leaving us happy to list similar arrangements for group visits next year after all.
Helpers were essential on both main openings, so with Wednesday being the quieter day we had five people, two on refreshments, two on the door/parking and one on plant sales, with a sixth for part of the time to cover breaks. On Sunday we split some of the roles into half shifts and had eight friends helping, plus the husband of a helper who stayed on and became the ninth; one of our friends also helped with refreshments on the first group visit. We were so grateful to all these people (one couple did all day on both days) but all professed to enjoy the experience and are willing to repeat it, so that’s great to know.
As almost as much was raised from sales as from entrance tickets, they are certainly an integral part of the openings as far as we are concerned. The Golfer made the dibbers and tampers with minimal effort and putting out boxes of books and jigsaws which would otherwise have gone to a charity shop was similarly easy, and will be repeated; we also sold some plant supports that were no longer used. I enjoy baking, and the cakes were mostly made over a two week period beforehand so weren’t a chore although some will be dropped from next year’s menu and quantities will vary of others. The cardinal sin of running out of cake was not committed, and the Golfer and I still have a wide selection of cake to choose from the freezer every day!
The biggest learning curve relates to the plants, and I am grateful to those who helped on the plant stall and to a number of visitors for their feedback and in particular to Anna of Green Tapestry who provided detailed observations; this informed feedback will guide the content, structure and layout of the plant stall for next year. There will be fewer varieties and fewer plants in total, but bigger plants with an emphasis on what is likely to be flowering in June/July. The new location will be at the front of the house, away from the entrance to ease congestion, and the combination of table and ground level display will be ditched in favour of tiered stands, along the lines of this improvised structure the Golfer produced as an experiment:
In the meantime, I have passed more than a dozen bedding dahlias and begonias onto neighbours who are currently turning their very small patch of a grass into a garden, and have sorted out other perennials into ones that can be squeezed into the garden somewhere and others that will be nurtured in pots until next year’s opening. There are a number of annuals to accommodate too and I shan’t be bothering with these on the stall again, although admittedly they were all just surplus to our own requirements. My detailed labelling proved useful, but in practice needs minor adjustments and I like Anna’s idea of also having a list of what plants are available.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed opening the garden and sharing the pleasure we get from it with others and I hope at least some of you will find this debrief interesting. I have been picking the brains of many blogging friends in the lead up to the opening, drawing on their prior experience, and perhaps my own experience will similarly inform and encourage others in the future. In the meantime, just like last year when planning began as soon as we knew we were accepted, plans have already begun for 2018 but this time we will be even more informed – and have several pages of positive comments in our Comments book to nurture us until then!