Tuesday afternoon saw the last of our gardening openings for this year, with a group visit from a local gardening club. The group had actually booked to visit last year but Covid put paid to that, so I was pleased to be approached by their organiser at our first opening this year, the last Wednesday in June, to see if I would accept a late booking for a group. Ideally, it would have followed on soon after the main openings but was in fact about three weeks later; fortunately, the garden kept its side of the bargain, despite the heat, and the lull in rose blooming was largely compensated for by the progress of clematis and dahlias.
Members of the group were happy enough, as were all visitors to the garden, and we are beginning to build up a group of repeat visitors, including our loyal pair of ladies who have visited each year we have opened, five in total. Parking could easily be an issue with a larger number of visitors, and totals on our main opening days over these few years average 30-50, the vehicles of which we have been able to accommodate in the local ‘school yard’, as kindly arranged with our neighbours who live in a converted Victorian school. We have previously had permission to use the village hall car park for our helpers and any overspill, but the threat of travellers/gypsies moving onto the car park meant the gates now have to kept locked, which meant ad hoc overspill was not possible. This was an initial cause for concern but in practice the schoolyard never got beyond capacity.
In total we had 39 visitors for our Wednesday opening and 53 on the Sunday, with 29 in the first group (with two friends arriving as they departed) and 16 in the second, plus a couple of visitors who had followed signs and turned up on spec without knowing what to expect (a country estate, I believe, but they still went away happy after their visit!). In two of our previous years of opening we have opened on two Sundays as well as the Wednesday, but this puts pressure on our much-valued helpers and may only have brought in a handful of extra visitors, so we shall probably stick with one mid-week and one weekend day in future.
For the main visits, people arrive within the allotted hours we are open (1-4 on Weds, 1-5 Sunday) and tend to spend some time looking around the garden (half an hour or longer), then have a drink and cake before going around the garden again to revisit or see what they missed the first time. All first-timers are astonished at how much garden there is behind the fairly narrow frontage, and how much we have been able to cram in. We also have boards displaying photos and explaining how the garden was created, as people are always interested to understand time scales – and why garden ownership of our own and neighbouring plots is so bizarre!
When the weather is good, people like to linger and enjoy the ambience and fragrance of the roses, but with plants and ‘bits and bobs’ (dibbers and seed tray tampers made by the Golfer and various garden-related items that we no longer have a use for) for sale we hope to raise more cash on their departure too. Group visits tend to follow the same pattern as above, and I have never yet been asked to ‘lead’ them around the garden, not that this would be practical here. However, It is important for me to be on hand on any open day, mingling with visitors, answering queries and questions which are many and varied.
In our fifth year, we are pretty confident in what we are doing and have built up our experience base as well as our resources, so ‘just’ move everything into place as our visiting season starts in June. Pretty china mugs and plates were bought from car boot sales, as was a large quantity of fabric which made tablecloths and seat cushions for tables (both inside and out) and benches. Supports for roadsign posters live in the loft during the year, as do internal signs to provide information around the garden. Extra tables were created by adding temporary tabletops to a pair of tall stools, and chairs for our pop-up café came from the room I used for meditation and therapies. Our kitchen and ‘back sitting room’ are rearranged for the duration of the openings, so with a month between first and last visits this year we were more than glad to put everything to rights and return all those boxes to the loft!
And how have we done? Well, our 142 visitors contributed to total receipts of £1243 – £598 from entrance tickets, £345 refreshments, £220 plant sales and £80 from bits and bobs. We give 60% of the extras we provide to the National Garden Scheme (NGS) and the charities they support, giving a total of £1000, with £130 going to the local charity I volunteer with and £113 retained as expenses. There can be a lot of work involved, but it’s a hugely enjoyable experience and a delight to share the pleasure we get from the garden with other like-minded people.