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Your Open Garden

 Open Gardens Have you ever thought about opening your garden? It's not as daunting as you might expect, and people who have done so in the past enjoy it so much that they continue to open each year.

Your garden does not have to be huge - some excellent small gardens attract large crowds. If you have time pressures, you could just open on one day, and you don't have to provide refreshments and cakes!

If you're interested in opening for the first time, contact us at Open Gardens and we'll offer whatever help and advice that we can give.

The feature below was written by Gillian Bexon of The Dower House, Quorn.

A garden is a lovesome thing ...' Well, yes, it is, but it is also a good deal of hard work. I thought I detected an air of reluctance as we began to consider what we would grow for the summer this year. We have 'opened' the garden now for several years and have always found it a very worthwhile weekend, though we must admit that we probably spend more time getting the flower beds to look their best than we would if they were not on view to the public.

 Open Gardens Taking part in Open Gardens concentrates the mind wonderfully. One year we decided we had no time to improve a tatty area so I roped it off and hung up a note declaring it under construction ... I now have a charming herb garden and patio area where we can drink tea in late afternoon sun. When I mentioned one year that we hoped eventually to have a water feature, one man told me he was looking forward to coming back the next year to see it! We rushed off to B&Q at the first opportunity to buy lengths of plastic conduit etc. for our new fountain. We can't afford to disappoint our fans!

The most difficult year of opening was probably our first, when we had little accurate idea of what would be involved. Over four hundred people came. My father-in-law, who sat at the gate to inspect the passports, counted them. The weather was extremely warm, and we were rushed off our feet serving cream teas, as it seemed that most of the four hundred people decided they would take advantage of the offer.

Because we were short-handed, I had little time to talk to visitors in the garden and my husband Ivan grew hoarse answering people's questions about the history of the house, which seemed to interest visitors as much as the garden itself. (I've given up on the cream teas, but the following year Ivan did some research, then printed out a sheet which he handed over as soon as people said, " How old is the house. ..?")

 Open Gardens This year the weather was causing some of our gloom. It had been a terribly wet, cold spring and very few plants were as advanced as they might have been. Would there be anything very startling for the general public to come and admire?

Luckily, the 'Opening' dates were later than usual. The summer weather was not totally disastrous, and soon Nature - with some assistance from us - was weaving its old magic. August suits our garden as we have bedding plants, fuchsias and geraniums, most of which Ivan propagates himself, so there was plenty of red, pink and gold to break up the dozens of different shades of green provided by our trees and shrubs. There's usually one focal point of interest amongst visitors, and this year it was the petunias in rectangular boxes that Ivan had wired to the top of the trellis archway. I lost count of the number of people who politely peered to see how he had 'done' it.

I am always amazed at how little damage is done to the garden after several hundred visitors have passed through. Apart from a slightly 'squashed' effect to the lawn, and perhaps a couple of buds broken off, no one would guess that so many people had wandered about with pushchairs, wheelchairs and even children on bicycles. Visitors were generous with their praise and some awe-struck at the effort we have to put in. "Do you have a gardener?" one asked. (We did point out that we are both retired) One lady even breathed, "May I walk on the lawn?" which vindicated Ivan's 'feed and weed' policy - more successful now that the children have stopped using the lawn as a football pitch.

 Open Gardens Do you need a large and practically perfect garden before you consider opening it to the public? No. People like to see what we've done with our garden each season and how we've developed it over the years. They commiserate with us over our 'hopeless' areas, (too shady, too dry) and don't mind looking at our compost heap or the flowering nettles under the trees; other people are looking for ideas, as well as being able to comment on the fruits of our labour. (Watch out for a spate of wired rectangular boxes on trellis archways for next summer!)

Do you need to be an expert gardener? Again, no. We originally knew nothing about gardening beyond common sense: you learn as you go along.

Shall we continue to open the garden? Of course. Our pride in it, and other people's pleasure in it, is reward enough. We even get the chance to sit in it occasionally.

Is the weather a problem? Not really, if this year's experience is anything to go by, though we shall probably stick to the rewarding plants like fuchsias and geraniums. As for the weather during the weekend itself, visitors provide their own consolation. If it's hot, there is plenty of shade under the trees. If it's cool, it's perfect weather for walking round the village. And if it rains ... well, gardens need water, and anyway, there is always next year.

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