We have said goodbye to the last garden visitors of the year, with a huge sigh of relief. Not that we don’t enjoy having them round, it’s just that we can relax now and let nature take its course.
There’s a common misconception that visits to private gardens only got going when Elsie Wagg had the idea for the National Gardens Scheme in 1927. In fact such visits were commonplace; what the NGS did was to coordinate private efforts and to raise money for charity. Elsie Wagg wasn’t in fact the first person to propose such a scheme. A letter from a correspondent signing themselves “Donto” to The Garden magazine in July 1890 said:
“I look forward with pleasure to the (I hope not very distant) time when there will be a recognised system with all people who live in and near large towns and have pretty gardens to open them occasionally during the summer months on certain days, for no-one knows except the working classes what a boon it is, how healthful to both body and mind to walk amongst and admire pretty garden scenes, and to breathe the sweet odours of a garden, after the disagreeable and often injurious smells of a workroom.”
Donto spoke of the number of “not large, but very pretty and well-kept gardens” in his neighbourhood which opened to the public on Sunday afternoons and evenings in the summer. One, he said, had had 1,400 visitors in one day and they “had not missed a single bloom or discovered a broken plant”.
This last remark prompted a reply from “J”, who said: “The gardens here have been open to the public two years and… among the many are to be found persons less particular as to how a thing is obtained than they should be. Not only have fruit and flowers disappeared during these two years here but plants as well. This is only what any rational person would expect, and those who adopt it will find out that their infatuated ideas of the universal integrity of man is based upon a false conception of the principles by which the many are actuated, and will learn that they are fostering dishonest habits by putting temptation in the way of people who cannot resist it”.
“J” seems to have had the last word, at least for the next 40 years. And our own experience? I once caught someone surreptitiously weeding, but apart from that the behaviour of our visitors has been impeccable.