Once a year those who open their gardens to the public under the Yellow Book scheme are given a lunch when they have the opportunity to meet up and swap horror stories. At today’s lunch, at Rydal Hall, I was surprised and delighted to be given a trowel to celebrate the fact that I’ve completed 10 years with them. This makes me an old hand and I’m sometimes asked to give a word of encouragement to a first-timer. Funnily enough, newcomers are always worried about being criticised or told off by a member of the public. That never happens. The British are too polite or too hypocritical to say anything to your face, and actually that can make you complacent – I’ve long since stopped worrying about doing the weeding before an Open Day.
What do I remember about my ten years of garden Open Days? The most vivid memories are of the days when things went wrong. When Margaret’s helper with the teas didn’t turn up and I had to spend the entire day at the sink, washing up; when it poured down all day and no-one came (this has happened several times); when a very large lady lost her footing climbing up the steep path from the entrance gate and I watched in horror as she rolled down the banking and lay motionless in a heap at the bottom (she didn’t move until the ambulance arrived, and having played dead for fifteen minutes, turned out to be unharmed).
Our Open Days have always been family occasions, with my kids selling tickets on the gates (and Sara sometimes putting on impromptu shows with her friends for the visitors) and Margaret doing the teas. There’s no doubt who has the cushiest job, as all I have to do is chat to the visitors and remember a few Latin names if I’m asked the name of a plant. Now that I’ve been given a trowel, Margaret wonders if it might perhaps be a hint, and was there anyone there at the lunch who could explain to me what it was for, and how to use it?