Catching Up: You Might Want to Sit Down With a Cup of Tea…

Having been left unexpectedly vehicle-less this morning and my usual Friday morning activities curtailed, I shall take the opportunity to catch up and report on our garden openings and our visits the following week. After all the preparations, the hustle and bustle and the working towards those dates, it now seems longer ago than it really is, and after one day taking things fairly easy (although as a friend said, my idea of taking things easy would be very different from most people’s!) we were away for a couple of days and then, apart from gradually packing away plates and mugs, signs and posts, and generally getting the house back in order, we are back to normal routines. So, how did it go?

There were a total of 134 visitors, 115 over the three advertised opening days and 19 on a group visit. The jury is still out on the benefits of opening for 3 instead of just 2 dates, and we only had 25 visitors on the Wednesday, but it did ease any potential pressure on parking and I know the showery start to Wednesday put at least some visitors off. Total numbers were down on previous years (155 in 2017, 168 in 2018) but there were more group visits previously. I can’t expect numbers to keep increasing but one pair of ladies have come each year and this time three visitors came twice, each with a different person, so repeat visits suggest there is something worth coming back for. Receipts were accordingly down too, but at just under £1200 as the last dribs and drabs trickle in this still means nearly £1000 for the National Garden Scheme and a donation to my local charity too.

Interestingly, average spend per head was up, with almost everyone opting for tea and cake and a healthy interest in the plant stall. It will always be impossible to predict which cakes will prove the most popular from year to year as 2019’s favourites were very different from previous years, so I will continue to over-cater. Plant purchases will be fickle too and it will always be easier to sell plants that are in flower, but there will be plantspeople who can see beyond that, so generally the plants I offer will be those readily propagated by division, cutting or seed. After ensuring a good supply of  red astrantia (‘Ruby Wedding’), the demand this year was, perversely, for the more ordinary pink A maxima which will no doubt oblige ready for next year due to her promiscuity. I will also ensure a good supply of annual ‘bunny tails’ grass Lagurus ovatus which everybody asked about.


It’s a very British phenomenon, I suspect, visiting private gardens like this for charity, indulging in tea and cake and buying plants, and our contribution was only a small part of the £3 million raised for the charitable causes supported by the National Garden Scheme, but every penny counts. It does take planning and preparation, but I enjoy that process too and the Golfer may grumble about sweeping paths and putting up signs but he enjoys the opening days as well, as do all our helpers (including our very own Anna of Green Tapestry, who has travelled down to help each year) whom we couldn’t do without and who leave us free to talk to visitors and answer questions. It’s good to share not only the garden, but ideas and knowledge too and we shall happily go through it all again next year, starting in February when, for the first time, we will open for snowdrops, witch hazels and other winter-flowering plants: there  was considerable interest shown in this by our visitors, but in practice it is a Big Unknown as the event will be very much weather dependent.

We had hardly any time to put our feet up before we were off in the campervan for the Hampton Court Flower Festival, stopping off at RHS Wisley the day before. Wisley was featuring the RHS’s first major show of contemporary and modern sculpture (including Henry Moore), ‘opening up the landscape, changing and enhancing the long views of Wisley’s glorious garden’, so this was an added bonus. The car park was heaving, but it didn’t feel crowded in the gardens and we enjoyed several hot hours here, ensuring we saw parts I had missed previously, especially the shady end of the walled garden and the alpine houses. One or two plants went on my wish list and there may the germ of an idea too…

The following day was not quite as hot but still enervating, and with having a three-hour journey to drive back home we chose not to spend a whole day at Hampton Court but enjoyed the four hours or so we spent there. Arriving before the official opening time of 10am we managed to see all the show gardens before most of them got too busy; in many cases we were also able to talk to the designer if they were in attendance, which many of them were, and this added another dimension as they were all so enthusiastic and committed to their underlying concept. We particularly enjoyed the extended RHS Back to Nature Garden, the concept of The Urban Pollinator lifestyle garden (below) and ideas to encourage children to become more involved in the natural world in the Year of Green Action garden (second and third below), but there were many others with elements to take home ideas from:

Other bloggers have said that the Hampton Court show is less crowded and more relaxed than other RHS shows. We certainly enjoyed it more than Chatsworth but in our eyes that will always be tainted by the poor accessibility which may or may not have been improved. We used the park and ride facility for Hampton, involving a short bus ride and a brisk 15 minute riverside walk to the shoowground. Here, the show gardens were all on a relatively small scale and most allowed visitors to walk through them, giving an immersive quality not always present at other shows, but also the feeling that ideas could be readily transferred to our own gardens. Interestingly, the gardens were smaller in real life than the impression given by the BBC’s coverage of the event.

We moved on to the Floral Marquee after the show gardens but this was by now solid with visitors, preventing any relaxed browsing which was a shame, and closer inspection was made of only a selected few. Outside in the sun, the presence of several stages providing live music added another dimension and, for those with hours to spare (and a high tolerance to the sun) relaxing by the river or in a deckchair with a picnic or just chilling could have been an appealing proposition. Chloris has asked for more photos but in truth the sun’s glare made taking photographs difficult and mostly I just enjoyed the ambience.

I did set out with a potential (short) shopping list and made a few small purchases but none from the list and nothing exciting or unusual. However, another post will be necessary to mull over thoughts and ideas arising from all three elements of this post – the garden openings, Wisley and Hampton Court. In the meantime, we have a wind sculpture to install:


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34 Responses to Catching Up: You Might Want to Sit Down With a Cup of Tea…

  1. Donna Donabella says:

    This wonderful to hear….I love that Anna helps and wish I could visit. Maybe one day. I love the concept of opening the gardens for charity, tea and cake….and off course plant purchases. Another job well done.

  2. Cathy opening the garden has gone very well. The fact that people returned to repeat the visit is a very good sign: your garden is very special. I hope you have had a great time in your motorhome trip seeing so many beautiful gardens and sculptures, I love the photos. And you will show us the sculpture of the wind when you install it in the garden, I love it. Now rest, you deserve it after all the hustle and bustle. Greetings from Margarita.

  3. bcparkison says:

    The wind sculpure should be fun. Lovely visit …wish I could have been along. in person.

  4. tidalscribe says:

    I have enjoyed wandering round the gardens of Hampton Court sporadically over the years, especially the free to enter parts. We used to stop off and burn up the children’s energy on the way to visit my aunt an uncle for lunch. But I have never been to the flower show.

    • Cathy says:

      I had originally thought we might spend time in the main gardens as well, but in practice that was too much to expect on top of the flower show!

  5. Congratulations on your open garden.a huge amount of love and care goes into making our gardens ready for strangers and you have supported a very worthy cause! 🌸🌹🌷🌞🌿

  6. I love the idea of open gardens on such a large scale. I wonder if this is only happening in England?

  7. Heyjude says:

    Well done on your own opening, I am sure everyone enjoyed the visit. I know I’d love to wander around your garden and thank you for sharing it with us via this blog. Wisley looks to have changed a lot since my last visit. I do hope I get there this August as planned!

    • Cathy says:

      Thank you Jude – you would be welcome to call in if you were ever in the vicinity. The sculptures are at Wisley till the end of the year, I think

  8. A wonderful post – congratulations on your Open Gardens – your enjoyment shines through.

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Sandra – and the Golfer (not a gardener) enjoys it too, as do all our helpers, so it’s definitely a win-win event!

  9. Brian Skeys says:

    Your garden opening has gone well Cathy, it all adds up to mAke the £3 million total. We raised less this year with weekday opening but it eased the parking situation. Like you we over cater (preferable to under catering) we gave some to fellow openers and ate to many ourselves!

    • Cathy says:

      Parking will always be a concern so easing the pressure is definitely a good thing. Our ‘spare’ cakes have gone back in the freezer so I can just take out a couple of slices every afternoon – should last a few weeks!

  10. The event sounds like a success, and your photos of your garden and the others are so beautiful. Congratulations. 🙂

  11. Anna says:

    Oh well done to both of you on the total amount raised! What an achievement. I certainly had a most enjoyable day out in your garden as always. It sounds as if you had a good trip to RHS Wisley and Hampton Court. How were the camping facilities that you used? Himself and I are mulling over a possible trip in the future.

    • Cathy says:

      Thanks Anna – your help and support is invaluable and always appreciated. We stayed at the C&CC site at Chertsey which was fairly close to the park and ride for HC – all mod cons, unlike the other local C&CC ste which requires your own sanitation

  12. tonytomeo says:

    It does seem to be rather British. We do garden tours too, but without the tea and cakes. There is typically tea and coffee with some sort of pastry at most gardens, but it is not so formalized or expected. No one pays for it. Many arrive with their coffee that they purchased from Starbuck’s on the way over. (tacky) Tea and cakes is an interesting tradition.

  13. My, you have had a busy time – but that’s not unusual for you! So glad your garden openings are still going well and drawing lots of people in, along with raising lots of money for charity! Well done, to you and The Golfer! Great to hear you’re considering a spring opening! Must keep my eyes peeled for that! Please keep us all posted. Looking forward to hearing more about Hampton Court and Wisley – loved the intro!

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