Nether Bottom’s Gardening Circle, affectionately known as the ‘S&M Ring’ (Sowers and Mulchers) meets in the Parish Rooms on the last Tuesday of every other month. Their first meeting of the New Year had but one item on the agenda: the village open garden. Similar discussions were being held the length and longth of the land.
The British see themselves as keen gardeners – many would be mildly surprised to discover that people in other countries have gardens too. Amateur open garden events, where the gardens of private homes are opened to the public, are relatively common. At the last count, almost 750 were listed on the UK National Directory of Open Gardens, from Cornwall to the Highlands of Scotland. Top of the exhibiting counties were Yorkshire, Norfolk and Suffolk with 62, 57 and 54 events listed; Derbyshire came fourth with 33. Regionally, East Anglia, the East Midlands and South East seem to predominate – which could be a reflection of sunshine, population - or just those that can be bothered. It should be stressed that these are not the gardens of mansions and stately homes, but the often modest patches in Anystreet, Anyplace.
Back in Nether Bottom, the debate swung to and fro. Enthusiasts enthused; wise elders knew what was at stake and the amount of spadework involved. The excitement reached fever-pitch when someone suggested they buy seeds and grow things; tea was consumed. Hyacinth Sweetpea tearfully asserted that she was overrun with montbretia, having problems with black-eyed Susan and, besides, her garden was so small. Pansy Pepper said that, with zeal, Hyacinth would get to the root of her issues and suggested that, in her experience, size wasn’t everything. Old Fagus Maple said he was having problems with his bleeding heart, but would like to sort out his fuchsia. In the end, they took a vote and set a date.
Under the smokescreen of community and good causes, villages and neighbourhoods devise their strategies. Likely entrants need to be contacted, maps drawn, leaflets produced, advertising planned on zero budgets. Some have plant stalls; some sell refreshments; some are part of a larger event; some plough proceeds back into community funds, others support a particular charity. Rarely are there prizes; competition would not fit with the Open Garden Ethos.
Forsythia Ragwort gritted her teeth; no one, but no one, would have a better garden this year. Of course, Nether Bottom’s biennial open garden event had never been a contest; but, really, everyone knew it was - didn’t they? All else – her crochet, table-dressing, window-dressing, cross-dressing and evening class in practical antique aging - could wait. Her husband, Roger, would become the instrument of her plans…
Erica Broom sat down to choose her colour scheme.
Hazel and Basil Willow thought about it very carefully indeed. Their garden could certainly do with some attention, but the expense might put an end to the summer holiday in Dungthorpe. They lay at night, dreaming of plush lawns and neat borders, but were tormented by nightmares of torrential rain washing it all away, or their mad neighbour, Mrs Belladonna, running amok with an axe and secateurs.
Miss P and Mr Q from numbers 5 and 11 weren’t dreaming of gardens at all.
The gifted amateur appears to sail effortlessly through the preparation. If they feel any pressure, they do not mention it; their silence is unnerving. Lesser mortals spend at least six months repeatedly checking the weather forecast, planning, reading catalogues, heaving, fixing, digging, visiting garden centres and nurseries, growing, planting, trimming, tripping over seed trays in the spare room, cursing; six months of putting off weekend arrangements that might disrupt the Holy Garden Project. Aches and pains emerge in body parts people didn’t know they had, and rarely wanted to mention in public even when they did. With the lighter evenings comes weeks of eating late, of the world seemingly rushing by…while others carry on as though life were normal.
Primrose Moss visited her mother in Mudshire. Whilst there, she ‘borrowed’ some shrubs and planted them in her own garden. No one would notice – including her mum and especially her husband, Forest.
The Reverend Spray and his wife Lettice (a late bloomer) took stock of the vicarage garden and bought a job lot of concrete garden gnomes on eBay.
The S&M Ring counted confirmed entrants and printed leaflets.
Major Disaster maintained that no one had asked him if he and Daphne would open their garden; so they wouldn’t.
Tension mounts as the Big Day approaches. The late frosts have resulted in devastating losses and damage. Entrants publicly console each other.
Down at the Olde Ruptured Duck, Doc Nettle leans against the bar, nursing his third pint of wallop. Hyacinth Sweetpea had been in, complaining of suffering convolvulus. Roger Ragwort had slashes and burns.
At night, when the neighbours were safely tucked up with their Horlicks (except for Miss P and Mr Q from numbers 5 and 11, who were safely tucked up with each other), Primrose Moss crept to her car and unloaded the large azalea and well advanced alpines and border plants she’d spent a small fortune on at the nursery in the next county, where nobody knew her.
Hyacinth Sweetpea, Pansy Pepper, Old Fagus Maple, the Ragworts, Willows, Erica Bloom, Primrose Moss, Rev and Mrs Spray (and many others) all looked at each others’ gardens before the grand opening. They not only saw some beautiful gardens, but also experienced Nether Bottom from different perspectives – including Numbers 5 and 11. Then the public came from far and wide and everyone had a Jolly Good Day being nice – even Forsythia Ragwort.
Regrettably, there are no surviving photographs of Nether Bottom’s memorable Open Garden Day. Instead, I have permission to use shots taken of the successful Open Garden event held in the small Yorkshire village of Burton in Lonsdale in June 2015 and organised by their garden group, Pals with Trowels.
Checkout the UK National Directory of Open Gardens for events on their database.