After a gap of two summers I have committed myself to opening the garden again, in aid of church funds, for one weekend at the end of June.
I stopped doing it because I got just too obsessed with creating a pristine garden, where every plant is wanted, every group of plants presents a beautiful picture at all times and nothing is left to nature, much less to chance. By definition, a garden is an unnatural creation. I admit, however, that I took the concept too far and worked myself into the ground in the process. For weeks beforehand my usual position was "arse over elbow", as the phrase goes. The Scraper never got a look-in and even the dog had to walk himself.
This year it will be different. Definitely. Maybe. I hope.
Open Garden is a very English idea. There will be a number of gardens open all over the village, with little printed maps being handed out with the tickets, showing locations and giving a short description of each garden and the owner's aims in creating it. All gardens are pretty in their own way, even the neglected ones, where the owner describes it as "a wilderness left for wildlife". I have read sentences like "we don't believe in weeding" , and "we love nature".
And yes, they get away with it. IT'S FOR CHARITY, after all. Most gardeners are, however, proud of their patch, love to show it off, and put in a lot of effort.
There will be one or more plant stalls; a lot of the plants will be those that flourish and proliferate and self seed generously, simply divided and potted up, in a hurry, a few days beforehand, having had hardly enough time to establish roots. But you can also find a treasure, when a keen plantswoman (it's usually women) has potted up some of her choice and much loved specimens for sale. Some plants will have been donated by nurseries; charity fundraisers are persistent beggars.
There will be a tea stall in one of the gardens, in the church hall, if wet. The village ladies bake mountains of scones and sponges, whip gallons of cream, make many pounds of strawberry jam. Massive tea urns from the village hall are pressed into service. Cream Teas, taken at a rickety table, sitting on plastic chairs or mossy garden benches, are a highlight of the day; visitors love them.
Ah yes, visitors.
Visitors are the lifeblood that give the event purpose and reason for being.
And yes, they come, in droves, when the weather is fine. Even on damp days, they come. Some have been coming for years.
Roughly, there are three categories of visitors to the Gardens Open weekend.
Firstly, there are day trippers from the cities, whole families, dragging unwilling children and complaining grandparents along on the outing to the countryside. They are not particularly interested in gardening and know very little about it. They do the rounds, because it's a nice day out, they get to poke about in other peoples private spaces, the children might use any swings or climbing frames they find and there is usually a bench for grandpa to rest on until his minders pick him up on their way out, en route to the next garden on the list. The day trippers from the cities are often a little shy, they don't feel free to speak to the garden owner, they might be a little in awe of country dwellers and their abundant supply of air and greenery, even if the garden is only small.
It's a pleasure to have them come and draw them out. They rarely buy plants but they enjoy the cream tea stall.
The second group is an infuriating rabble. They come at a trot, rush around with unseeing eyes, talking amongst themselves about something entirely unrelated. They have a ticket entitling them to visit all the gardens, they glance at the outside of the house more than at any of the carefully tended beds; they never lift their eyes enough to admire your specially arranged vistas; all they ever ask you is the quickest route to the next garden.
I have tried to engage them in garden lore, without success. If it were not for the ticket price, they might as well stay away.
Lastly, we have a very special group, mainly consisting of groups of ladies; occasionally there is a lady on her own.
They are always very knowledgeable, are keen gardeners themselves; they recognise and appreciate all your tricks, know about the hard work that goes into creating and maintaining a garden. They alight on the smallest patch with greedy eyes, asking you for the name of an obscure plant whose presence in your garden you have long forgotten or overlooked, due to its insignificance in the overall scheme of your plot. You admit that some plants are probably called "amnesias" and hope they find you amusing. For them you get out the plant books, the garden encyclopedias and How To guides; they involve you in long conversations on propagation, cultivation requirements and hardiness; they buy your best plants and send you into the shed to find boxes and bags for their transport. They never mind the lengthening queue of people waiting to speak to you; they take their time.
These ladies are a delight; they can also be a menace: some of them carry sharp little scissors or pocket knives, maybe a dampened plastic bag or two. If they ask you openly for a cutting, you will try and accommodate them, take it as a compliment. It's the ones who snip away without permission you need to watch out for.
And then there's the vicar, who rushes from garden to garden, trying to look interested and rubbing his hands together, while thanking you profusely. He knows it'll all be worth it in the end.