Tuesday, 30 June 2009

'Tis the season for openings and being feted!

Yes, it's that time of year when flower shows proliferate, fetes abound, and all over the country, gardens little and large are being opened by their proud, and sometimes timid, owners. And it's the latter type of opening I thought I would concentrate on this time, so maybe you'd like to come with me on a visit to some of the gardens around where I live. If so, grab your straw hat, your purse, and follow me, for I have the map of gardens open. I would love to have filled this posting with fab photos, but sadly, not all the owners were happy about having their gardens shown on a blog, even a modest one like mine, and it seemed unfair to display some, and not others. So you have to make do with just two photos... the above is self-explanatory, created by Maisie, the grand-daughter of one of Phoebe's neighbours and adorned with flowers. As was the little girl herself, who proudly sat next to the sign, wearing a wreath on her head of flowers from the garden, and handing out copies of the little map that she had helped Phoebe draw.

Those of you who follow the blog will know that Phoebe is seen by many as a little eccentric,
and not generally known for her love of children or patience with them, but for some reason she and little Maisie, aged nine, have struck up a friendship. Maybe it's the fact that Maisie visits only about twice a year which helps. Anyway, Maisie can often be seen wandering around the garden alongside Phoebe, with one of the cats following on behind, both of them often silent as they go from copse to vegetable patch, to herb garden and orchard. Occasionally Maisie will stoop to look closely at something, look up at Phoebe, who will then bend down and presumably answer the question posed. Nobody has mentioned this new friendship to Phoebe, they would only be met with stony glances and mutterings of 'What's it got to do with you? not always delivered quietly. And in case you are wondering, BIRD'S EYE was safely shut away in the lean-to, from where he could be heard blaspheming occasionally.
In fact the villagers were amazed that Phoebe agreed to open her garden in aid of a local charity. Unlike those gardens listed in the famous Yellow Book, where 'every garden must provide enough interest to engage the visitor for 45 minutes', there was no such stipulation here. Gardens of all sizes were open, some like Phoebe's taking that 45 minutes to walk around and enjoy, others just glanced from over a small front garden wall, with no invitation to step inside. More of which later.
In Phoebe's garden, what you see is what you get.. the plastic flowers are there still, and Maisie invented a little game, details on the map, where people had to spot the falsies from the real thing. No prizes, but as Maisie said, it was more for those who didn't really much care for gardening but were being dragged out to accompany someone who did! Nor had Phoebe bothered to weed and make it all pristine, to her mind if that was what you wanted well, there were some very famous manicured gardens not far from here to suit your tastes. In her garden, it was a work in progress still (after more years than we care to number!), it was a real garden where weeds grew, and some things got overgrown, others covered in mildew or aphids. Whilst all the people were visiting, she tended to keep out of the way, leaving it to Maisie to take the money, along with the Major who insisted on acting as chaperone!
In Mr Bartholomew's garden some visitors were amazed to see what went on round the back. Being familiar with the front of his house, the roses and honeysuckle surrounding the front door, the scent of old-fashioned pinks and lavender bushes, up till now, the only people who had even caught a glimpse of the back were his friends, or those who nosied through the yews in the churchyard. Not everyone wants to be seen doing that of course, so to be amongst the beautiful vegetable garden, which at this time of year was productive with salad crops and beans, to see the lovely old fashioned wigwams made of branches from his fruit trees in the orchard beyond, reached via a gate set into a well-clipped hedge, was a joy. There were pots of flowers too, on a little terrace where he took his meals in the summer, beneath a wonderfully old, faded umbrella, patched in places it was so old. Hanging baskets of tumbling tomatoes and some filled with petunias. He told me that he was thinking of getting a beehive, to put in the orchard, because of the plight of the honey bee at present.
From here we can meander along to Elsie Drew's garden. Now it may come as something of a revelation to know she has one, some cattier person than I might wonder that she has time to tend it, what with being the purveyor of village news and all! But Elsie's late father was a keen gardener, and their house was built at a time when houses came with big back gardens, with space to keep chickens and even a pig, to grow all the vegetables to feed a family, and so from a young age she was used to going and picking fresh produce. Although her garden may only be the size of a back yard, she has it full of pots of vegetables, anything that can be grown in a pot and then picked and eaten, she has a go with it. Her front garden is just a very small paved area as well, but with pots of geraniums to liven it up, so it doesn't take long to look at her little space, and she is one of those who is not charging, just happy to let people have a look at her garden and see there is another side to her nature. And of course, whilst people are looking, they often have private little chats, about this and that, so you never know what 'news' you might pick up!
Pru and Leonard wanted very much to open up their garden as well, but they haven't had time to work on it yet, but she has promised next year, a strawberry tea!
Some of the owners lay on refreshments of course, included in the price of admission. The most anyone charges is a couple of pounds, and they tend to be those offering tea and scones. In one garden, belonging to Laurie, she has taken advantage of extra people being around, and laid out some of her smaller pottery pieces in a little tented gazebo, and Rowena has done something similar with small knitted items... tea cosies, egg cosies, fingerless gloves, little knitted dolls. Hers are laid out in her summerhouse, a rather wonderful log cabin affair with TWO rooms! And a small verandah! Inside it is cool, a fan working to keep the air moving on this warm day, so it is a welcome retreat for a few minutes. She is serving iced tea and fairy cakes in her not inconsiderable conservatory, made in the kitchen by her sister and husband.
But there are those gardens where you just look without entering... small front gardens, thankfully not taken over as car parking spaces. One is set out as a giant chess board, the pieces laid out, and an elderly couple sitting on benches across from each other, playing. At night, the pieces, which are on casters, move into a special wooden crate-type of affair, locked away for safety down the side of the house, on the inside of the side gate, out of sight. Another garden is new, you can tell by the pristine way the gravel is laid with not an indentation from a foot, and the plants look so perfect. All grasses, different colours, and you can see, that as time goes on and they grow, often into each other, on a day with a little breeze, they will sway and move elegantly. It all looks elegant in fact... until you glance into the far corner, away from the front door, where in the shade of a Stipa Gigantica sits a carved wooden mushroom, about two feet high and at its widest point, and underneath, two small fairy sculptures, made from iron, sitting and having a chat. Not visible easily from the street, certainly not to the casual passer-by but in full view of the sitting room window, where no doubt this bit of whimsy brings a smile to the viewers face, as it does to ours, now.
One small front garden has been given over to nature, with a small pond, wild flowers seeding themselves everywhere, plants beneficial to bees and other insects, a little log pile in one corner, a rest home for bees to overwinter, and one for ladybirds too. This garden probably doesn't take too much looking after, nature does it for you, and it had people sitting on the wall, waiting to see if the frogs would make an appearance... everyone knows there are frogs in this pond, at night, at the right time of year, you can hear the males calling to their loved ones. I guess you'd have to be a female frog to appreciate it!
But it's not only gardens that are open, for the local allotment society have opened up their patch. Here you can talk to the owners of the plots, and as with the gardens, there is so much variety. Some are growing a mix of fruit and veg, others just one or the other, the most colourful being those who grow flowers in there too. There are those belonging to a couple of young mothers, feeding their families and seeing this purely as a larder, then at the other end of the scale are Sue and Norman, growing for prestige, to see who can get the longest carrot, the heaviest marrow, with all manner of weird and wonderful growing methods involving drain pipes and so on. You can get advice on growing, even purchase some of the produce, and later in the evening, the barbecue will be lit and people will sit and socialise over a burger or banger, a glass of cooled cider or beer, or home made hedgerow wine, elderflower champagne maybe if you are very lucky.
Not only are we helping a local charity by visiting these gardens, but it gets you meeting and chatting to people you might otherwise not have a chance to see. People you have perhaps passed in the street, nodded to out of politeness, and now, you know their names and can maybe spend a little time having a mardle. You come home perhaps lighter in purse, but with jars of' home made preserves, or a cake or two as well, having spent a lovely summer's afternoon.
I hope you enjoyed this brief visit to some local gardens... maybe we'll do it again next year? Or maybe, just maybe, I might open my own? This photo below isn't it, sadly, but the front of one of my favourite places for a holiday, in cider-growing country. I just like the photo!


  1. Reading your delightful blog was almost as good as visiting the gardens. We are enthusiasts for the 'Yellow Book'gardens as well and have done all of the ones in our area and beyond over the years. I love it!
    For three years I had my own garden open to inspection - not in the 'Yellow Book' - it doesn't come up to that standard - but one of eight or so in the town that were open on the same day in aid of 'Save the Children'. It was a great discipline for getting the garden organised early in the year and keeping it that way. Sadly, the venture has come to an end and with it my sterling efforts.

  2. Agree with Rosie, wonderful blog! I like that photo too and this post has really cheered me this morning, thank you!!

  3. Wonderful blog indeed, a great report on all the different kinds of gardens in your area, thank you.

  4. What a shame about the photos, though I do understand that not everyone wants their gardens made quite so public. Great walk through PFG x

  5. I enjoyed this meander through the gardens with you PFG. English gardens are out on their own. I love reading about Norfolk, as it is an area I am not familiar with. Pity you can't show photos.

  6. Ah such a lovely day day AAAAATISHOO! Such beautiful gardens SNIFF!
    Lovely writing so real!

  7. I enjoyed that garden tour. You have some real characters in your village!