As I write, the mists that swirled in from off the North Sea late last night are just starting to lift and allow the first rays of morning sunlight to filter through the upper branches of the trees in the wood. Those mists have brought with them much-needed cooler air, and as today’s forecast is for yet more sweltering heat (29o C), I’ve been spending the past ten minutes opening windows upstairs and down. And a couple of minutes ago, I felt some deliciously cool air on my toes. Bliss! We’ve learnt to ‘drive’ this house in very hot weather. It’s timber-framed and very well insulated, so the trick is to change the air, then batten down hatches, close all windows and doors as soon as the sun really gets up and the outside air starts to heat up. That way the house stays cool until the evening, when everything can be opened-up again. And in case you think I’m exaggerating, yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far. It was also the hottest September day in more than a century. Take my word for it: it was hot!
But what were Francis and Maisie Pryor doing? Were they lolling in hammocks, supping pint glasses of deeply chilled Pimms? Were we, heck! Maisie was weeding like a maniac and I was cutting lawn edges that had been undermined last autumn by a particularly vengeful mole. I should have done it over winter – but it was too wet, next it was a dry spring, then summer and by July the ground was like concrete. Miraculously, last Saturday we had 20mm of rain! I allowed a couple of days for it to sink in, then yesterday I started on the last of those edges. Heat or no heat, I was going to get the job done, and by 6.45 yesterday evening, I laid my crescentic edge-cutting spade aside. Job done!
But those are just the straightforward gardening jobs you must do if you’re to open your garden to the public for the National Garden Scheme (NGS). Our D-Days are next weekend, God help us. Oh, and incidentally, this is also the time of year when one has to agree next year’s opening dates with the NGS. So if you can’t come this year (maybe you follow this blog from Australia or New Zealand), now’s the time to book your passage on a tea clipper, passing Zeppelin or Kon-Tiki-style raft, for next. The two days to mark in your diary: September 16-17, 2017. But as I was starting to say, there are dozens of other jobs that have to be done before you can open a garden to the public.
There’s quite a bit of admin, although the NGS are very helpful here: they provide advice and support with insurance and that sort of thing. They also provide posters and useful signs. My job has been to assemble the plywood display boards and then paste (with wallpaper paste, no less) the posters and signs onto them. We erected the first posters at road junctions around the farm and village last Sunday, once the heavy rain of Saturday had stopped.
Meanwhile Maisie has been organising tea, cold drinks and cakes. She has a small army of cake-cooks (including her brother Nigel) who have been slaving over hot stoves throughout this sultry weather. And we can speak from experience: I thought we were going to die of heat in the kitchen, two evening ago. It was unbearable – but the cakes looked gorgeous!
And there are other practical things to do. Tables have to be fetched from a local Church Hall. Portable loos must be delivered. The field that will become the car park has to be mowed. And I plan to put the tractor seen here (my stalwart McCormick International B414) on display, complete with an explanatory sign. But I won’t tart the old girl up. If you’re coming, you’ll be able to see her in full working order, complete with a large patch of owl-poo she acquired a few years ago when our only brood of barn owl fledglings decided to perch on her exhaust-pipe. Ah, happy days!
So do come along and join the throng. You can read more about us here and the times we’re opening are from 11 AM till 5 PM, price £4 per head (children are free), on both days of the weekend of September 17th and 18th. But now I’ve got to turn off this laptop and get outside. Then I’ve got to drill holes in the brickwork for Rawplugs to hold screws and wires that Maisie says are DESPERATELY needed to tie back a shrub that might ladder passing ladies’ tights. Up until now I haven’t worried, because most of our female friends – especially the archaeological and horticultural ones – normally wear battered trousers. But that excuse won’t apply next weekend. So I have to admit, it’s a job that must be done. But that’s enough: time to start drilling! Turn off the bloody laptop!