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Get to know A Bit About Britain - an idiosyncratic view of places to visit in Britain, British history - and stuff. Warts and all. Where shall we go today?

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Village open gardens

Burton in Lonsdale, Open Gardens, allium, azalea

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. 

Burton in Lonsdale, Open Gardens, roses

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.

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens

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.

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens, pond, iris, pump

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.

Burton in Lonsdale, Pals with Trowels, open gardens, plant stall

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…

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens, flowers, blooms

Erica Broom sat down to choose her colour scheme.

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens, ornaments

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.

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens

Miss P and Mr Q from numbers 5 and 11 weren’t dreaming of gardens at all.

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens, tamarix

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.

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens, fountain.

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.


Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens, heucheras

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens, lupins, acer

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens

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.

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens, plant stall

Checkout the UK National Directory of Open Gardens for events on their database.

Burton in Lonsdale, open gardens

44 comments:

  1. I smiled and laughed all the way through this Mike - one of my very favourite posts of all time! You have captured the essence of village life perfectly and with brilliant humour. I love it :-)

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  2. What delightful photos and landscape. Nice of you to share.

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  3. Pretty shots. I used to be seen at the local garden center a lot more...but I kinda gave up. My three big dogs are really hard on flowers. I don't know how my irises hold up year after year.

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  4. Too funny. But the British do have wonderful gardens. We garden and think we think we're doing pretty well and then we're off to England for our annual visit and I get depressed after seeing all the incredible gardens.

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  5. Absolutely breathtaking post!!! Thank you!

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  6. Oh what fun! Love this post with your descriptions of the 'character gardeners' and the gorgeous gardens and flowers too. Beautiful! The last photo of the winding path is wonderful. Delightful post!!

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  7. Exquisitely cared for gardens!

    I think I'd take to that hammock.

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  8. I loved this post. Gardens in Britain are in a class by themselves. Must be your climate. You have flowers blooming together that don't do that over here. Temps too hot. Had such a chuckle, too. Thank you.

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  9. What a lovely post! My friend in Norfolk has a garden where everything seems to grow so well that it can become a jungle - must be the weather.

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  10. Very enjoyable read :) Thank you for this glimpse of the public (at least on occasion) aspect of English gardening! I do try my best, but honestly, I'd need another lifetime and a new set of joints to achieve anything remotely like those wonderful gardens pictured.

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  11. I love English gardens. The British seem capable of working floral wonders with the most unpromising of locations.

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  12. Such a clever and well-written post, Mike. It gave me a good laugh and can't wait to share with my husband. :) Yes, people in other countries do garden, but yours in the U.K. are the most beautiful I've ever seen. We all wish we could have gardens as pretty.

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful pictures, and we love your sense of humor. :-D

    Hugs,

    Denise at Forest Manor

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  13. So true as all above have noted - there is just something magic about an English Country
    garden. I think that Famous English song says it all.
    Cheers
    Colin
    PS: Thanks for the e-mail. I'll reply after Wimbledon and the Ashes 1st Test.
    Sport still reigns supreme in my abode - ha ha.

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  14. Open Gardens, I love the sound of it. When I am in Eastbourne, I love to walk on the pavement (I call it sidewalk!) and look at the gardens that I pass. Sigh...I am feeling "homesick" for them now!
    I am always struck by the flowers there. Even if someone has just one pot of flowers, they impress me.
    I have an English rose as my header photo just now, from the garden of my in-laws in Eastbourne!

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  15. Love it! We had our local 'Mystery Garden Tour' here last night.

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  16. I loved this!! It made such a good read for my morning coffee.
    Now I'll go and check the link you gave to find out if there is anything near Ripon when we'll be there in August. Such Open Garden events are unknown to Germany. I walk past some very beautiful gardens on my way to the station every morning, but I doubt I'll ever see them from the inside.

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  17. You live in a village don't you? That's just so accurate! We went to an open gardens event a few weeks ago but it rained all weekend so the participants were a bit disappointed. I just came home feeling guilty about my patch of overgrown chaos.

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  18. What fun - I love an open garden, but we don't have many around here. Oh to be in England, especially at Nether Bottom!

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  19. I enjoyed reading that as much as you obviously enjoyed composing it. I'm surprised that my old drinking partner Environmentally Friendly Pete did not put in an appearance.

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  20. The gardens and photos are brilliant but the humorous text was a scream. Well done!

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  21. This was just way too much fun for 6 A.M, Mike. (I'd just come from reading Matthew Henry, a fellow countryman of yours). Your post was a great chuckle to start my day! Puts me in mind of P.G.Wodehouse. :-). I can see you composing blog posts while lying in that hammock. Such an interesting (and nerve wracking and exhausting) idea of open gardens. I'm so glad you shared this with us! So are you two up for this another year? I love the last shot of the pretty walkway, especially.

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  22. What a gorgeous place -- and someone else did all the work! Ah, summer! My favorite bit is this: "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." Ha ha!

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  23. What a tres entertaining read Mike.. Living in Nether Bottom must be a little like living in Innaloo, seriously I did live in that suburb for a while :) Your description of preparations for the open garden event was just like the program I was watching earlier this evening about the gardens at Buckingham Palace preparing for garden tea season!

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  24. This song is now playing continuously through my head Mike! I will share it so that you can join in.
    How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
    In an English country garden?
    We’ll tell you now of some that we know
    Those we miss you’ll surely pardon
    Daffodils, heart’s ease and phlox
    Meadowsweet and lady smocks
    Gentian, lupin and tall hollyhocks
    Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget-me-nots
    In an English country garden
    A lovely and amusing post

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Rosemary; I enjoyed that - it's been a long time!

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  25. Wonderful story and great pictures. I love visiting Open Gardens, such variety.

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  26. Wow what bloody great pictures I love visiting gardens

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  27. Fabulous garden photos :-) I also love the accompanying story.

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  28. Thank you for sharing these beautiful gardens Mike. Your photos are gorgeous!

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  29. What a great idea! I enjoyed your humour too.

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  30. I've seen some BBC documentaries about country homes and gardens and I have to say that your photos are superb, worth while to be seen and published. I'm so glad for you and I thank you for the opportunity to enjoy these lovely, stunning photos. I want to know more, and more about Britain.
    I Thank You for That!
    BShell

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  31. Oddly that's what I miss most from my earlier life in England--the fantastic displays of flowers, especially in the cathedrals.

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  32. Spot on re: us Brits, village life and our gardens. Love the characters and your humour and I concur with Sarah, one of my favourite posts.

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  33. Ok I just had to read this post out loud to everyone in my office as it was took good to keep to myself and everyone wanted to know why I kept giggling :)
    Thanks Mike!

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  34. That hammock is perfect for my kind of gardening.

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  35. Fun piece and beautiful photos! In the US, we have garden tours, but I don't think anyone makes a list of them around the country.

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  36. Thoroughly enjoyable ~~ photos are amazingly lovely! Thank you for the visit (I'll get to work on the musical score) .. I now am one of your fans/followers!

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  37. What glorious photos of heavenly beauty. Just glorious!

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  38. gorgeous!! i love the purples ... so pretty. have a nice week. ( :

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  39. Oh my goodness all your captures are grand, but the last one is just a priceless design! The ladies do look happy too!

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  40. Fab pictures! I enjoyed the flowers!

    Sandra

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  41. Oh what bloody lovely photos, such pretty flowers

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Hi - thanks for dropping into A Bit About Britain. New material is now being posted to www.bitaboutbritain.com and most of the material here will gradually be updated and moved over to that new site. Please drop in there, click on the blog page, and take a look round. TTFN - Mike.