Monday, 30 May 2011

No cake today

There's untapped soap-operatic potential around NGS open days, particularly those multiple gardens that open on the same day in the same street.
I've been to two quite different days in the last week. The first was to the fve gardens on Kew Green, where you buy one ticket and it's all organised in a very neighbourly - and orderly - fashion with riverside garden gates open to allow acces through interconnecting gardens and garden no. 4 doing all the tea and cakes. So you get to see five gardens of similar size and how they deal with that long-thin garden conundrum. Mostly they opted for the long and winding path through several different areas of sun and shade, with  long deep borders, all the garden admin - and a spot of beekeeping - going on in generous shady compost areas at the back.
Plantwise, being a stone's throw from the Botanic Gardens, the borders were clearly the work of passionate gardeners and there were a few surprises that looked like they might have jumped the fence. An amazing Arum dracunculus in two of the gardens. Garden number five may have lacked a little in the planting stakes, but made up for it in garden art, with this amazing summerhouse below and a beautiful sculpture by Barry Hart who was Henry Moore's tutor. Plus the tantalising tale of Henry Moore visiting and possibly starting an affair with the lady at no. 67.  I made a mental note to go earlier in the afternoon in order to sample the best of the cakes.

On Sunday, four houses on Chiswick Mall opened their gardens. I often wander along this prize piece of of Thames river frontage past the gorgeous unaffordable houses, consoling myself with the thought that it wouldn't be much fun to have to worry about flooding all the time. With the chance of a peek at what's behind some of the front doors, I discovered that quite a few of the houses have fine backgarden views of Chiswick brewery, which also would not be top of my house wishlist. However, this year, there was a bit of an open gardens battle raging (quite politely mind), with two extra gardens opening specifically for the Red Cross, not the NGS. That made for quite a lot of garden visiting.
Disappointingly, the NGS gardens didn't do a group ticket. The lady on the door of the first garden somewhat grumpily replied that it had never really worked out that way. I suspect I wasn't the first person who'd asked and that it points to a bit of neighbourly rivalry. Call me a cheapsgate (husband often does), but at £2 a visit, it starts to add up. I know it's all for charidee, but I dashed out the house with only a fiver and some loose change, so I had to choose four.
Gardens number 2 and 3 were the most interesting, with a wonderful conservatory/greenhouse that ran the length of the garden wall at the Red Cross open garden. I was also impressed by a magnificent twisted Eucalyptus and this Fuchsia magellanica in the NGS one. Not a favourite of mine, but this one had so many flowers it looked like it was dripping with fairylights.

Lastly I thought the pockets of alchemilla dropped into the paving in my fourth garden was a nice idea to steal, although the exuberantly planted border on the right looked  imbalanced next to the neat clipped lawn and horizontal paving. It just didn't quite work for me. I had no money left for cake or refreshments, but have to say there was a lack of home-made sponge on offer, so my purse and my waistline were spared without too much of a sacrifice.


  1. It's always a little hazy, reading posts about the NGS openings. Are visitors there more for the plants or for the cake? On balance . . . ?


    P.S. I suspect a nice place to sit with a cup of tea and home-made cake, with pleasant plants to see, lots of green and a tiny breeze in the summer heat . . .

  2. Hi Esther, if a garden is stunning it doesn't need cake to improve the experience. But a mediocre garden with great home made cake can be extremely enjoyable!