I sometimes wonder if I am the architect of my own stress when I find myself agreeing to do something because it panders to my ego. I find myself saying things like “oh, I couldn’t possibly” and spluttering on about “I never thought…” or “do you think so?” in a shameless display of false modesty when in fact all I want to do is run around punching the air and whooping, simply because someone has given my ego a massive stroke. This is the exact situation I found myself in June 2009, when I was doing my bit for the local church roof fund by agreeing to open the garden as part of the village open garden trail. The last visitor of the day was a breathless, enthusiastic gardener who in a flurry of words asked if I’d like to join with herself and one other keen gardener in opening the garden as part of the National Garden Scheme Longhope Village Group Opening.
For those of you who have not heard of the National Garden Scheme (www.ngs.org.uk) let me say that it is a truly wonderful scheme whereby private individuals, in England and Wales open their garden to the public to raise funds for charity. The National Gardens Scheme was founded in 1927 where individuals were asked to open up their gardens for ‘a shilling a head’. In the first year 609 gardens raised over £8,000. In 1931 Country Life magazine produced a handbook, that would become known as ‘The Yellow Book’ featuring over 1,000 private gardens. By 2016 The Yellow Book is still in existence, although it has apparently been renamed as “Gardens to Visit 2016” , with details of nearly 4,000 private gardens open for charity. Since it’s foundation the National Gardens Scheme has donated over £45 million to its beneficiary charities, of which nearly £23 million has been donated within the last ten years. Currently £2.6m is donated each year to charities such as Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Carer’s Trust and The Queens Nursing Institute.
Recent copies of the Yellow Book
You might now have some understanding about why I was so chuffed to be asked to be part of the scheme and appear in The Yellow Book and I can assure you that all was well in the Gibson household throughout the rest of 2009. Excitement reaching a fever pitch in February 2010 when the Yellow Book appeared through the letter box and I quickly riffled through the pages to find Longhope Gardens….da daaa!! and there we were in black and white…garden open for two separate weekends at the end of May and the second week of June.
It wasn’t until the following day that reality set in…who was I kidding? Who would want to see my garden and more to the point who would want to pay money to see my garden? Well, there was no going back now, it was there, in print, for all to see. It was also on the website and in hundreds of Gloucestershire county specific mini Yellow Guides that were about to be distributed to garden centres across the region. I promptly threw myself into action, sowing trays and trays of seeds and making lists. There’s nothing like making a list to really raise the stress levels, particularly when you insist on putting down to do items such as ‘sweep patio’ or ‘wash windows on summer house’. Items that have no relevance to February 2010 but just clutter up the list with items you have no chance of crossing off.
By the beginning of May, after one of the coldest winters we have experienced for many a year, my list had reached two sides of A4 paper and I had spent quite a lot of time (and money!) on replacing the plants that had decided they didn’t like sitting in snow for 6 weeks like ceanothus ‘Puget Blue’ (aka Californian Lilac…the clue is in the name), a huge phormium and most distressingly a beautiful viburnum plicatum mariesii which decided to die just before our first opening.
Our first opening date was Saturday 29 May 2010, a date seared into my brain and it affected everything I did. Things that I normally took a pleasure in, such as making up my summer tubs and planters, became another task on my ever lengthening list. This only added to my already high stress levels, mainly because I had to plant all the pots and tubs up at least two weeks earlier than normal and I had another two 36 items to cross off before we opened. I was making endless trips to the many garden centres around where I live and work and I was coming home from work and going straight out into the garden to do just a bit more tidying, staking, weeding, trimming, planting….it went on and on and on and for the most part it was damn good fun, I was enjoying myself. I had purpose, I had focus, I was a woman on a mission and I was driving everyone around me doo lally bonkers.
During the normal run of things in the garden, my husband and I split the tasks thus…him: lawns, digging, planting, chopping down stuff, hedges, tidying up, veg patch…ie manly pursuits involving loud machinery and dangerous tools whereas me: I do more of the sowing of seeds, planting, border design, pruning, tubs, planning, flowers …ie the arty farty designing stuff. During the build up to the first Open Weekend (it had now taken on such importance that it needed Capital Letters), in my anxiety to achieve something that someone would be willing to pay to see, I started to encroach upon those manly pursuits favoured by my husband and even worse, started telling him how to do them.
The weekend before we opened stands out as a particularly watershed when I was caught practically shouting at the plants to flower as they were so late to bloom due to the cold winter and equally shouting at my long suffering husband when something he was doing perfectly adequately (I can’t even remember what it was now) wasn’t quite as perfect as I thought it should be. It was at this point that it became apparent that I had turned into the gardening equivalent of bridezilla and it took my mild mannered husband shouting at me the immortal words “who’s idea was this?” which was quickly followed by ” it’s not f**king Chelsea you know, it’s just our garden” and rounded off with a “don’t you ever f**king agree to this again” before stomping off up the garden muttering “I’m going to the pub” for me to realise that it really wasn’t RHS Chelsea. It was just our garden and ultimately I garden for us. If other people happen to like it then I am thrilled to bits, but if they don’t, they don’t… I really don’t worry about it. You can’t please all the people all the time and I’m really only trying to please the people who are going to use the garden – me and my husband.
What happened in the end? I roped in my sister and partner to help with taking the money and parking, we had 260 wonderful visitors over the two weekends we were open – who were delightful, the weather was good and we took £800, which combined with the other gardens that opened in the Longhope Group raised a total of £1,500. Was that the first and last time we opened for the NGS? No, and this year we will be opening for our 7th time. How much money do we raise for charity? In 2015 Longhope Village Group raised a wonderful £2,775 for the NGS which includes a whole stream of income from homemade teas and cakes (but that’s another story). Am I still the gardening equivalent of bridezilla? No, I just remember the words about it not being Chelsea and I relax. Does my husband still grumble about the preparation work every year? Oh absolutely. Does my husband actually enjoy the open garden weekends? Well, I’ll let you into a little secret. Yes he does!
Longhope Village Gardens will be opening on behalf of the National Garden Scheme on 28 and 29 May and 4 and 5 June 2016. Check the website for further details http://www.ngs.org.