June is prime time for brilliant gardeners and barmily generous householders to throw open the gates to their gorgeous borders; home-made water features and adorable cats. It’s garden visiting season!
Never mind the perfect show gardens of Chelsea, this is when you can find out how your neighbours tackle ground elder, and what return they get on their solar panels. Also, just how much early evening drinking is going on in British gardens. Every garden we visited on Sunday revolved around the nucleus of two chairs, table + BBQ console. Have we all been immersed in a summer sozzle-fest since April? Don’t feel compelled to answer, you know you won’t be judged by me.
Garden visits are also good for people, comme moi, who don’t really do desktop research. I just ask the question. A quick natter with a host gardener on Sunday revealed the Anchusa ‘Loddon Royalist’ I lust for, is probably not a goer for me. If this gardening pro can’t keep them alive, I have no chance, but a visit to that same garden two years ago, prompted me to buy my now dearly loved Celmisia (New Zealand Daisy – cut back after flowering, it will come again in August). Look at hers – you want one too don’t you?
Round all of this off with towering mountains of home-made cakes washed down with tea in proper china cups and I put it to you that this is GB at its finest.
It’s all very well for Caroline to wax poetic about what a sooper-dooper thing it is to open your garden to the public, but please note that unlike Elaine and me, she’s never actually done it.
If she ever had she would realise that it has very little to do with knocking back Pimms on the terrace, and all to do with the sort of British steel that got us through the blitz.
If your garden looks like mine – a little rustic – it takes a long running campaign to lick it into shape, then there’s the military ‘tick list’ regarding road signage, parking, publicity, plant sales, maps of the garden (my Blue Peter effort is featured at the top of the blog), risk assessments, rotas, teas and of course, the Big One – CAKE, (most gardeners have yet to embrace a low-carb approach to their diet as they burn off all the calories shovelling soil and pushing wheelbarrows).
Then add the excruciating wait and sleepless nights wondering if your star performers are going to do their thing on the day. Last spring a devastating late frost burnt every single bud off my Stewartia, (aka my pride and joy) and the Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’ decided it wasn’t going to open a single bud until the day after the Open Day. Neighbour Louise opens her gardens at the same time – and annoyingly her Great Plant this Month was stunning last year, right on cue.
But….. salvation in 2018, our village is taking a year off – phew! Then the phone rang. It was Elaine – she’d DOUBLED BOOKED her gardens this year and managed to invite a group visit to her Normandy garden the same weekend that her Eastbourne gardens were opening for the NGS (what a boon for her school that she’s retiring this year, the timetables may now make some sense). Would I help her out? Argh I’m baking a cake even as I write this. Thank goodness her garden is very much smaller than mine – although to be fair to her – it does prove the point that size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it……
Small but perfectly formed I assure you, and anyway it will be my wonderful friends who will hold the fort whilst Laura just swans in and spouts a few plant names. ‘Meg’, my gorgeous climbing rose should impress; I’ve told the snails they must eat one whole leaf at a time, not nibble a little bit out of each; my Philadelphus is pumping out gorgeous scent – and the teas are going to be FANTASTIC!
The stakes become higher when you’re opening your garden in France, let me tell you, and your command of the French language reels between comic and shocking. How was I to know that the words for ‘birch-tree’ and ‘whelk’ were so similar? That mistake raised a few Norman eyebrows, for sure.
Never have I been more grateful for a classical background, and good old Linnaeus with his Latin binomial system for plants. It’s the Esperanto of garden-speak.
In France (and everywhere else, for that matter), Philadelphus is still Philadelphus (that’s Ancient Greek for brotherly love, if you’re interested), Allium is still Allium, Iris is still Iris and a Geranium is still a Geranium (when it’s not a Pelargonium, of course!) So I waft about the garden, like a cross between Cicero and the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo, spouting Latin and cod-French in equal measure, until it’s clear that the visitors would much rather wander among the flowers in peaceful silence. And let us not forget that it was Marie Antoinette who, as the French patron saint of garden-visiting, famously said ‘Let them eat cake’!
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