There have been many “Why did we do this” moments of late but a visit from the members of our local garden club inevitably comes around every few years and while it doesn’t involve a great deal of extra work, as we would maintain the garden anyway, it does introduce the element of a deadline, a date when all the gardening jobs need to be finished, everything in place, looking its best and ready for the “inspection” of fellow enthusiasts. No more taking it as it comes, moving bed to border in a casual and relaxed manner, cutting the grass as needed and the weather permitted, a little potting on, a spot of pruning, some dead-heading, splitting and replanting of perennials or pricking out and potting on seed-grown plants as needs demanded. Now, the grass must be cut to look well on the night, the dahlias must be planted out before the visit, the potted cannas must be taken from the glasshouse and placed in their summer positions, potted lilies must be moved to their summer spot by the kitchen door, the vegetable patch must show signs of being productive … on that day!
We spend most of our days in the garden so the workload has not increased significantly but the atmosphere of work has certainly changed. When people are expected for a visit, a meal or a stay we all make sure the house is neat, clean and tidy; it is likewise with the garden. I would not be comfortable having people in the garden if it were not prepared as best I could have it. It is not the best garden in the country but it will be the best I can have it on the occasion of the visit. I wonder if people who open their gardens to the public have this level of tension in anticipation. It is one reason we do not open our garden in this manner – we would feel very strongly obliged to have the garden presentable for all visitors. We did open the garden for one season many years ago to make up numbers for a local garden trail and didn’t enjoy the experience and have never been tempted to do so again.
In the past month I have had a running conversation with another enthusiastic gardener on Irish gardens and gardens open to the public. She is a far more forgiving and gentle natured person than I and less inclined to criticism of people’s efforts. I, on the other hand, find myself infuriated by low standards in gardens which charge me admission – a very important distinction this charge as it changes the nature of the garden visit when one pays to enter. Visiting a friend’s garden is more a social occasion where enjoying their company is more important and central to the moment than the garden. The fluffy edges to the lawn or the odd weed are of no significance and the enjoyment is in the chat about this plant and that etc etc. However, I find poor maintenance in those gardens which are pay-to-view completely unacceptable. I mention maintenance first though it does sound rather pedantic because I view it as such a basic requirement. In such a garden weeds in the beds, on the paths, un-mown lawns and the likes are to me the restaurant equivalent of serving a meal on a dirty plate. It feels as if these people have extraordinarily low standards and do not mind charging you for the privilege of seeing it. I wonder at times if they see it themselves – do they really feel their standards and their gardens are good enough to charge people admission? I find this very hard to believe and am more inclined to the view that they do not realise what standards should be maintained or simply do not care; that if there are fools willing to part with their money they are perfectly happy to take it from them.
Coupled with this situation is an atmosphere that it is unacceptable to criticise gardens. Gardens are seen as very personal and a criticism of the garden will, almost certainly, be taken as a criticism of the person. The same standard does not apply to reviews of restaurants, theatre production or books, for example. In these cases, once the criticism is fair and balanced, it is seen as perfectly normal and acceptable but regarding gardens we must continue with our meaningless platitudes that it is “lovely”, “very nice” and never mention the poor design, the bad taste, the shabby maintenance or any other fault which may be present. I feel there are many gardens around the country which open to the public when, really and truly, they would be better enjoyed privately with family and friends. However, it’s a free world; they are free to ply their wares and people are free to avail of them. A little honesty would be welcome though, in my opinion.
Now, in the meantime and back on the home front, there is the list, the list of things to be done in advance of the big visit: get petrol, a waterproof kit for an electrical connection for a pond pump, put canes to the tomatoes in the glasshouse, freshen a bed which has some of my prized snowdrops – Mary won’t touch it! The grass must be cut, not too long in advance and not at the last minute, so I am planning to do this on Tuesday afternoon as the weather forecast is good then but bad for Wednesday afternoon; use the blower to clean the drive and footpaths on Wednesday morning; final gallop around on Thursday. Now, the big question is whether the nine bracks Mary has in the freezer will be enough for the visitors. We will wait and see.