All the weather apps, not to mention Radio 4 and the morning programme on BBC-1 had predicted that the first day, Saturday 16th, would be showery and breezy. In the event, it was much better, with virtually no rain. Over supper, as is wont to happen in this digital age, some of us, myself included, I am ashamed to say, produced phones and iPads to check the BBC and Met Office weather apps for the following day, Sunday. And bliss! It would be bright and sunny, without so much as a hint of rain. So we drank another toast to the NGS – and stumbled off to bed, while Maisie slaved away at the sink, washing-up the wonderful meal she had cooked us all (I still feel guilty about that). The next day dawned bright and sunny. Birds were singing. Sheep were gently grazing the verdant paddocks. A pair of green woodpeckers were yaffling in the wood. I strolled out onto the Poop Deck where soon we would be serving teas, and breathed deeply the sweet smell of Madame Isaac Péreire (the rose, not the lady). Breakfast was delicious: our own eggs and dry-cured, smoked Lincolnshire bacon. I looked across to the Long Border which was gorgeous in its emerging autumnal hues. I knew people would have a lovely day with us and worried slightly that we might sell out of cake.
After a couple of hours getting things ready, it was time to welcome the first visitors. Some had come from quite far afield: Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. All had seen the weather apps and were confident of a dry, sunny day in the Fens. After a few welcoming words, I sent them on their way, rejoicing. And then The Wash decided to make itself felt. Over to the north-east a dark cloud began to grow. And grow. And grow. Then it burst, with a rumble of thunder. I dashed to the barn and retrieved a large umbrella we’d bought for the occasion, but hadn’t bothered to unpack, because the weather apps were so positive. Despite the downpour, people kept on arriving and everyone was very stoical and British about the clouds that were now growing for a second time. By the end of the day we’d had about a dozen showers and no less than 7mm of rain – which is a Hell of a lot by our, usually very dry, standards!
On the Friday before we opened for Day 1, I had decided we wouldn’t mow the meadow closely, partly because I didn’t want to lose so much grazing and also because I reckoned that chopped-up mowings would cause all sorts of problems, when wet. In the event we compromised by mowing the access and exit routes. That worked quite well and was a useful lesson for the future.
As anyone who has ever visited an NGS Open Garden knows, the garden is only part of the experience. The other, very English, component are teas, with home-made cakes. I thought the cakes were particularly toothsome. In fact I felt obliged to test each and every one of them: quality control is so important. This year our teas raised £232.50 for charity, which is no mean achievement, given the dire conditions. We also retrieved £158.80 from the donations bucket. Incidentally, those new £5 notes stick together when wet and are very hard to separate.
This year we moved the Plant Stall into the barn, which was just as well, given the heavy rain. Sales of plants raised £162.00 (£1 higher than in 2016!). Admissions (at £4 per person, children free) raised £586. So if you add everything together, we made a total of £1,139.30, and all for charity. That’s slightly down on last year (we had about 50 fewer visitors, but they spent slightly more per capita). I suspect local visitors, who were planning to come out and see us at teatime, stayed at home (and I can’t blame them) because the rain in the afternoon was terrible. So, despite the rain, it was a great weekend and I know for a fact that everyone, volunteer staff and visitors alike, had a splendid time. Everyone said they’d return next year, when we open on the same weekend. So mark your diary in advance: September 15th and 16th, 2018: NGS Open Garden, with lots of tea and cake!