Sunday 8 November 2015

Overheard at an open garden

Garden- What garden? 
  Another fine article by Peter Williams

I sometimes  wonder what visitors actually remember about my garden after their visit – is it an overall impression, or a memory of a particular area or plant that was looking good on the open day, or perhaps something that looked poor and needed attention? I actually found out what one visitor remembered recently when I was giving a talk to a local gardening club. As I sat on the front row waiting for the meeting to open I was chatting to an audience member who asked where I was from. When I replied Seaton Ross, she reported that the gardening club had an excellent visit there in spring. “Yes, that was my garden” I replied “and I remember seeing you in the group.” She went on enthusiastically saying that it had been a lovely afternoon with excellent weather and the club members had really enjoyed the trip and lots had gone home with plants. Then she remembered the cakes- “I had a piece of gooseberry cake at your garden: I had never even heard of gooseberry cake before the visit but it was amazing.”  
Yes I replied,“Gooseberry cake is one of my wife’s special recipes.”  
Feeling confident because my companion had had such a good time I politely asked what she remembered about the garden. After a long thoughtful pause she replied: 
You know, I cannot remember anything at all about the garden but the cakes were wonderful.” 
Cakes remembered

How could anyone forget these?
At least this visitor had looked at my garden even if she remembered nothing about it a few months later. On an earlier occasion a potential visitor wrote off the garden without even looking at it! The person in question is now one of my closest friends but our relationship did not start well. We had both been asked to give advice about improving the appearance of a small area of waste ground owned by the parish. We met with a member of the local council at the site and both made suggestions. I was unaware at this time that my fellow advisor was nationally famous for doing just this sort of thing in churchyards. I did however, quickly get the feeling that he thought my input was unhelpful and quite unnecessary (in the 'This village is only big enough for one horticulturist' sort of way). After the meeting he drove me the short distance home and I asked if he would like to have a look around my garden. We approached the gate and he looked over at the front garden which is lovely in spring and autumn but a little dull in mid-summer when this meeting took place.  After a very short examination my companion declined the offer and got back into his car and left. Having never visited the garden he did not realise that our main garden lay behind the house and was not visible from the gate. A year later, on the day of the inaugural village open gardens, he appeared unannounced, sometime before opening time and asked to look around. He was surprised to find that we actually had quite a nice a rear garden with interesting plants. We quickly became really good friends and have remained so ever since. 
I am down on my knees, mea culpa. I was late for my tea….
PS you are still invited for dinner tonight!
In fact the front garden is charming 
Sex and gardening
On our first NGS open day I overheard two females discussing the garden - “Do you think the main gardener is a man or woman“ said the first.
They both looked around and the second said- “Well, the lawn is really good and the edges are excellent, the hedge is beautifully cut and that suggests it’s a man’s  garden but ... there are no straight lines and the herbaceous border is nicely curved and that suggests a female touch.” 
“Yes” said the first, “but have you seen the herbaceous border, it’s rubbish, just a muddle of plants with no care taken about colour combinations, leaf shapes or relative size -  this must be a man’s garden.”  
Peter’s own work including the intricate roof on the sun house which he built himself. Although now the border is much improved I do like the use of bulbs before the border grows in the Summer 
Is this male or female? 
Julie is Peter’s former student and has transformed his herbaceous borders
And they were correct on both counts – it is a man’s garden and the herbaceous border was indeed in need of some attention. A couple of years later I asked a close female friend who is an expert at colour themed beds for help with the herbaceous border. She came for lunch one day in summer and then viewed the garden. After spending quite a long time examining the herbaceous planting she said – “This is a classic border”. I was very pleasantly surprised by this and thought perhaps it is not as bad as I thought after all, but then she went on- “ Yes, a classic  ‘Morecambe and Wise’ border, all the right plants but not necessarily in the right order.” After extensive repositioning with the help and guidance of my friend, I believe the border now looks much more interesting, colour coordinated and feminine.   
More Morecambe than wise

Peter’s pleasure. How would you rate this? 
That's better
Plant sales
Groups usually visit in April and May but occasionally they wish to come in June.  At this time my potted spring bulbs have largely finished and I sometimes replace the containers of tulips with pots of rhododendrons in flower. I overheard one visitor talking enthusiastically about a few pots of compact very floriferous rhododendrons that I had put on the patio- “I will certainly buy one of those if they have any for sale”  he said, to which his companion responded- “That would be a daft thing to do – it’s a well known fact that shrubs only flower really well just before they die – mark my words, those will be dead by autumn.”  
This only confirmed my long-held view that whatever follows the phrase - ‘It’s a well known fact’ is usually wrong.
Doomed to die?
I always try to have plants for sale that reflect the garden and that is not difficult because all are propagated from garden stock and none are bought in for the event. I frequently hear visitors, especially couples, carefully discussing whether it is worth spending £2.50 for a plant that they probably could not get from a garden centre for less that £5.00, if at all. If I think that they are dithering but one of the pair really wants the plant, I suggest that it is only the price of a cup of coffee that will provide enjoyment for just 10 minutes – whilst the plant is potentially immortal, capable of multiplying and could provide pleasure for a lifetime – what a bargain!
Bargains on Open day
We are not all gardeners
Postman’s patch 

Surprising at it may seem not everyone is keen on gardening. I was expecting a parcel one day and left a note on the front door to tell the postman that I would be in the back garden and asked if he could come and find me. He duly appeared through the car port and looked at the large garden that appears and said with a sarcastic Glaswegian smile- “Do you think that you’ve enough garden here, couldn’t  you do with another field or two to go at.” I replied that it kept me out of mischief to which he retorted- “It’s far more fun getting into mischief than crawling about on your hands and knees in a garden, you should give it a go sometime.”  
The garden will be like this on Open day 
Out of the mouths of children 
Gardener visitors are invariably polite and complimentary. When in conversation with the garden owner they will think of positive, supportive things to say.  Sometimes however, their real thoughts may be more critical and usually remain unsaid. This does not always apply to young children who have not mastered the art of diplomacy and hence supply more honest comments.
When our children were small I had a very embarrassing encounter with the owner of the once magnificent St Nicholas garden where the rambling rose ‘Bobby James’ was raised. When we visited, the garden had been in decline for some years. As we walked around the somewhat sad remains of the garden with a collapsed glasshouse and overgrown shrubbery, we encountered Lady Serena James. Lady James was charming and asked if we were enjoying the garden. Being diplomatic I said- “Yes I have wanted to see this garden for ages” which was absolutely true. I was just going to add – it must have been wonderful at its best, when my young daughter cheerfully interrupted the conversation saying “But Daddy you just said it was a weed infested jungle!” Lady James just smiled and said - “ Just tell your father that he needs to look past the weeds to see the real garden.”  
And finally – What do I think
Although I make great efforts to ensure that my garden looks as attractive as possible on open days because people are asked to pay an entrance fee to support a charity, my garden is not a show garden, it is just my garden. I do not add plants, pots or beds simply because they will look good on open day and I do not put off major gardening activities because of the reverse. And I no longer feel the need to make excuses for things undone or plants past their best. My garden is my personal space where I potter about and feel comfortable. It is where friendships are formed, re-established and strengthened, where plants and ideas are exchanged freely and where ‘real world problems’ are excluded at least temporarily. Raising money for charity on the occasional open day is a bonus, but it is not why I garden. Overheard comments may be amusing, insightful or critical but ultimately they are not really of any importance. 
                                    Well worth extending
Superb plant combinations, arrangements of plant height and a strong simple line. Peter is so pleased with Julie’s work that they are making the border bigger
Anna Pavord perfectly captured many of my feelings about gardening in her last article as the gardening correspondent of The Independent newspaper. It is well worth reading . 
Watch The classic Morecambe and Wise sketch where they play the right notes but in the wrong order.

Peter’s 2016 Open day will be held on… Sunday May 1st
The price of his fine rhododendrons are a fraction of the price you pay at the garden centre and their superb quality ensures they will thrive  - as long as you have a suitable acid soil.


  1. All this just confirms my view that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". No two people like or dislike a garden in exactly the same way. (It's a well-known fact!)

  2. This article on Peter Williams garden is fun to read and the pictures of his garden are stunning.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Blogging is about sharing. I enjoy sharing your Dutch garden Janneke

  3. Very entertaining post Roger. I remember a visitor to the garden telling his wife: 'Someone is trying hard here' which is, if anything, a two-edge compliment. I also once witnessed a big argument between two visitors whether flea-bane in my border was a weed or not (I did not get involved). The nicest compliment I ever had was from a woman on a tour of several gardens whom I overheard telling her female companion - 'Finally! an actual garden'.

    1. I think it was meant to be a compliment when a visitor said "just like mine'"or perhaps it wasn't!

  4. Colour preferences and combinations are very subjective. I often wonder whether everyone's eyes see colour in the same way. Peter's garden is beautiful so maybe we will get to see it at one of his open days. It's a pity that the herbaceous border probably won't be at its best in May.
    It's well known fact that a pristine lawn is very male.

    1. psst I could get you a Summer visit Sue!

    2. My own lawn is scarcely pristine but Brenda does accuse me of being besotted by it

  5. This summer I attended the Buffalo Garden Walk - a three day garden open house with around 500 gardens on the tour. Many are small city gardens, and quite a few only the front yard. In some ways I was disappointed - 80% looked exactly the same. Simple designs, and the same common plants in each garden.

    The best garden is one that is unique - could be design, and could be plants. Even if I don't like it - I enjoy it more.

  6. I agree, the best gardens are those that are original and are defined by the personality of the gardener.
    Best of luck with your new blog Robert

  7. A very amusing post Roger, I think we all have our views for instance I have always thought grass, I don't have a "lawn", covers an area which would be much better used for growing proper plants. When a visitor to my garden happens to mention a beautiful colour combination, I nod sagely and take the credit knowing full well that this has occurred by total accident, often by one of the plants seeding in. Would loved to have been a fly on the wall at the gunfight at the parish plot :-)

    1. My own sometimes successful colour combinations are happy accidents too. I am convinced that most wonderful combinations in 'coffee table books' are also accidents that can often not be reproduced each year.
      However Julie does seem to have the magic touch.

  8. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog, I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Lawn Grass in Punjab


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