The experiences of a garden owner: You should have been here last week …
Annie Frost, who opens Gorsty House, in Montgomeryshire, shares her experiences of opening her garden for the National Garden Scheme.
I came relatively late to gardening. I didn’t start to garden seriously until I was in my early 40s, when a move to a new house also brought a new friendship, with a lovely woman who was a keen gardener. Not only did she have a beautiful garden herself, she spent all her spare time visiting as many other gardens as she could, most of which opened their gates for the National Garden Scheme. Now, I’ve got to be honest, at that time I’d never heard of it. The first time she dragged me off to visit a local garden that was opening for the National Garden Scheme, I was actually slightly uncomfortable about it. I couldn’t believe that these people didn’t mind us traipsing around, looking at their plants and drinking their coffee. I needn’t have worried; they were welcoming and generous, both with their time and their advice. The garden was stunning, and I was well and truly hooked. My friend and I visited countless gardens together after that, and my own passion for gardening grew from there. I slowly gathered inspiration, knowledge, and more than a few plants, and started to develop a garden of my own. It didn’t occur to me at any point however, that I might one day open for the National Garden Scheme myself.
I think there comes a time in many an enthusiastic gardener’s life when they realise that the garden they have created is beautiful. Or interesting, or different. And at that point, the thought that they could possibly open said garden for the National Garden Scheme may well flicker across their mind. It certainly did with me. Friends and family would wax lyrical about the planting, the view, the wildlife, and they were confirming what I was beginning to believe myself; that it was actually glorious, and that I wasn’t the only one who might enjoy looking at it. So I took the first nervous step of contacting that wonderful supporter of all National Garden Scheme garden openers, the County Organiser. She came and had a look, gave me some useful advice about some tweaks I could make, and then thankfully agreed with me. It was lovely, other people would love to see it, and I was accepted. So, after 10 years of opening two different gardens, what’s it really like?
Certainly the first time, it’s nerve wracking. There are sleepless nights worrying about what still has to be done, whether there will be anything in flower, if you have enough cakes, or even if anyone will actually turn up. The moment when your first visitor comes through the gate is so exhilarating, you will probably want to kiss them. For me, that feeling has never completely gone. I know the garden is lovely, but there’s always the feeling that there’s more that I could have done. Opening really focuses the mind, and it’s amazing just how many jobs you’ve put off for years finally get finished. With that first visitor though, the nerves go. I know I can’t do any more, and I just relax and enjoy it. People are usually so kind, they’re on the whole gardeners themselves, and they know that everything is early this year, or late, or it’s been so dry, or wet. They listen with sympathy to how wonderful it looked last week, or how it will be transformed next week when that incredibly rare flower will probably be out. They ask questions, which I may or may not be able to answer, or ask for plant identifications, which I do my best to provide, and take photographs of the borders, which is very satisfying. And they sit in the sunshine, or sometimes in the house watching the rain, drinking tea and eating cake, and all is right with the world for a while.
Now, at this juncture, I feel that I can’t ignore the subject of refreshments any more. Don’t let anyone suggest that this is not a matter of importance. Mary Berry isn’t President of the National Garden Scheme for nothing. You will be visited as much for your cakes as your garden! Really. Many visitors will come for refreshments before they even set foot in the garden proper, and may well come back for more at the end. I’m often asked by people about to open for the first time how many cakes I think they’ll need. “Loads” is the best I can do. It’s dependent so much on the weather, or what other events are on at the same time, but I always err on the side of caution. I usually aim for about 15 cakes, but have had occasions when I’ve spent Saturday evening baking for the next day. Any extra can usually be frozen if you’ve overdone it. I won’t ever forget the weekend that we had an unexpected heatwave, and the visitors were out in droves. Despite extra baking, we ran out of cake, and I had to send my husband to the local shop for something I could give them, but all that was available was biscuits. I was mortified, but everyone took my embarrassment in good part, and it’s never happened again. A word to the wise: visitors really appreciate homemade cakes.
If all this sounds daunting, don’t forget the real reason for opening; the Charities. The National Garden Scheme has donated £58 million since 1927, and this year alone they donated over £3 million to various charities, large and small. They are major supporters of Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Parkinson’s and many more. Over 80p in every £1 raised in the garden goes direct to beneficiaries. So if you think your garden is visit worthy, why not contact the National Garden Scheme and find out? It doesn’t matter if you don’t have acres at your disposal, this is one of those occasions when size isn’t important. If it’s beautiful, or interesting, or quirky, or there’s just something about it that people simply love to see, there’s a good chance it’s what the National Garden Scheme are looking for. It doesn’t matter if your prize wisteria has gone over, or the roses aren’t quite in their full glory, there’s usually something of interest in a good garden. And of course, there’s always next week…
Gorsty House, Hyssington, Montgomery, Montgomeryshire, SY15 6AT opens June 22 and 23 and open by arrangement until June 30.