Monday 5 September 2011

The big day

I have survived. The day that has been so, so, so long coming is now over, and I had a jolly good time!

The closer Sunday got the odder it felt, as we have been building up to opening since about July last year when we had our NGS inspection to get in the book for next year. Opening for NGS has ended up being such a focus for the year, as with being accepted for the first time, buying the new land and developing it from scratch gardening and NGS has never been far from my mind.
After several weeks of intensive weeding I had thought there wasn’t much to do before Sunday, but come Thursday I was getting a bit itchy about it and planned on taking Friday afternoon off.

That evening I had a professional photographer come and take pictures for the Dulwich book. This was very exciting as he was the first person who I didn’t know come to the garden. He was also very complementary, particularly as he thought a lot of gardens tended to look the same, very traditional and were a bit dull. He thought mine was great, and said that with his pictures wanted to make it look a bit like Angkor Wat (this was exactly the right thing to say to me! He is my NBF.)
The weather was of course a big focus, and after telling myself I wouldn’t look at the 5 day forecast I did as soon as it was up. This wasn’t good as rain, my worst nightmare, was forecast. On Thursday all of the 11 websites I looked at showed rain.mmmm.

Friday afternoon was filled of random little things and before long my mother was cleaning my windows and I was painting over the patches on the walls of the terrace and rearranging the carnivorous plants in the greenhouse. I also had a visit from a group and photographer who were doing a RHS book on small gardens...this was also very exciting, although I didn’t particularly think our garden is small.... However their visit was the opposite of the invigorating visit the night before, as while I was waiting I was noticing all the annoying little things that weren’t flowering, or which had been broken. They also got to me late at the end of a long day and didn’t seem especially interested, which did make me feel a little more apprehensive about Sunday.

The in-laws arrived on Friday to help out, and on Saturday we were all busy with bits and pieces....Steven was cake baking like crazy and getting very dispirited over his sponges...dangerous holes were filled in, lawns were mowed. My neighbour also came to help with a final weed and had the good idea to blanket plant an empty area with geraniums he had just split up in his own garden, and before long we had planted about 200, not quite was I was expecting to do the day before.

Sunday was difficult.....Steven woke up at about 5am; I was awake at 6:30 and at 7:30 watched the weather forecast feeling sad, and we made the decision to cover the terrace with a tarp to create a dry cake area. By 8:30 as my parents had their morning coffee I was climbing on their draining board to tie strings to their windows to attach tarps.
All morning the weather ended up being great, and by 12:30 other people who were helping had arrived and we all sat down to eat lunch and do the finishing touches. Then the rain started....then it got very heavy....then the tarp started sagging...then people put on jumpers and started to hide indoors. Oh!

As the 2pm opening came closer and the rain got heavier, we put on our yellow NGS stickers and braced ourselves for visitors. At 2 I went round to the front where the in-laws were installed to do the door not knowing what to find (I had heard tales of people queuing). Alas no one. 2:10. No one. Then at 2:15 an ancient lady appeared! Hurrah! People were going to come! It was all very exciting as the whisper went round that we had a visitor and we didn’t really know what to do as everyone was watching what happened, hoping she didn’t slip and break something. Then someone else came!

I followed lady number 2 to have a chat, and took her up to the top at which point more people came, then more. Once I started talking I didn’t (and couldn’t) move from the top of the garden as so many people wanted to chat about the garden, lots I knew and lots I didn’t, it was great!
Gardening is a funny hobby as in a way it is quite solitary, and I have created my own world which I know intimately and others don’t. Then on this afternoon all of a sudden this world was very full with lots of people all interested in the same things, hurrah!

The afternoon whizzed by and so many people came and said was really difficult to spend time talking to friends as I would have loved to have had more time with people I hadn’t seen for while, particularly people who had come from a long Clapham, Winchester, or even East London.

All in all we had 130 visitors (this was very exciting as in the lunchtime sweepstake I guessed that there would be 135 people). In terms of where they came from about 43 people found out through NGS, 25 from local advertising, and 39 were people we knew. With sales from cake we raised £500!

Will we do it again? Was it worth it? The day was great, and a bit like our wedding as it was a fabulous whirlwind full of wonderful people. There was an awful lot of prep and hard work with more gardening than I have ever done neighbour who helped the day before and opened a few years ago said it was too much work for him, and by the time he worked out how much it had cost to get the garden right it would have been easier to just write NGS a cheque!

Opening has helped keep me very focused on creating something and getting things right, doing all the little things that you have on your list to do but which never get done. Looking back at photos from exactly the same time the garden is also infinitely better, and I am very proud of what I have created. Are gardeners ever happy? I don’t know! But I am pleased with how things look. It has also shown me what great friends I have and I have met lots of really nice neighbours and local plant folk whom I look forward to bumping into again. Thank you!
We will of course open again next year, but before then I need a big cup of tea and a large piece of cake!


  1. Good for you, Clive.I'm glad it went well. You have a stunning garden and it is very rewarding to open to other enthusiasts. We will also be doing it next year again too! One question. How big is your Paulownia now?

  2. Everything looked very beautiful and the turnout looks wonderful. Lots of hard work but well worth it.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  3. Your garden looks stunning. If we had only bought that little house in Camberwell . But no, we moved to Portland. Seeing these garden open posts makes me miss the UK much.

  4. I've really enjoyed following your adventures leading up to this day. As I read the bits about the rain my heart was sinking for you...I'm so glad it turned out to be a success! Congratulations!

  5. Glad to hear your open day went well despite the rains in the morning, congratulations to you both! Your garden is looking stunning! We couldn't make it this year, but who knows, maybe next year if you decide to open again (which I think you guys should) :)

  6. Congratulations. Pictures look wonderful. I really look forward to seeing it all in a few weeks and all the stories and of course CAKE. I wish my garden looked half as good. Glad to hear you are going to do it again next year, even though it is so much work. The blogs have been wonderful to read. Once again super big congratulations to you and everyone who helped.

  7. loved the gardener's world spot! on the subject of nasturtiums - we have a very difficult end of garden spot that I call 'the heap' - the remains of a giant chestnut stump.... I planted one nasturtium seed as an experiment and it has almost covered the whole 10' x 12' pile....