I have to confess that late in July, at the height of the summer’s blistering heat-wave, we seriously wondered whether there would be any flowers in the garden to show our visitors in mid-September, at all. The grass was brown, about half the plants we’d planted in the spring were dead, despite repeated watering. But there was an up-side, too – or so we thought: weeds weren’t growing, either. By early August the garden was almost weed-free, or as good as we are ever likely to get it (we don’t do obsessively tidy gardening).
Then it rained. And rained again. Weed seedlings germinated, then grew a few leaves, then threw all caution to the winds and started to grow like so many athletes stuffing their faces with performance-enhancing drugs.1 Weeding was a nightmare: more rain, more weeds, further rain etc. etc. But eventually we came out on top, thanks to some very willing local helpers and a lot of hard work by Maisie and me. In the end, the garden looked better than I can ever recall at this time of year. Incidentally, the lawn remained much greener than many others in the area and I’m sure this was because I use a mower with a mulch deck. This doesn’t blow the cut grass out to the side, or into a bag or hopper, but chops it up finely and lets it drop back to the ground, where it gets re-incorporated into the turf. The thicker, slightly more spongy, turf that is the result of mulch-mowing is far more drought-resistant than ordinary lawn grass. I’ve been doing it for almost 20 years and I highly recommend it.
The weekend of September 15-16 was dry and generally sunny and people came in large numbers. In total they contributed £1,510.71 to the charities supported by the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), and that’s a record! The plant sales were particularly successful, and that’s largely down to a massively increased selection and a good stock. We sold huge numbers of the red-flowered strawberries that provide a wallpaper-like ground-cover around the tea shed. Maisie’s brother, Nigel, who is an independent book-seller, provided a wonderful selection of second-hand gardening books, which sold very briskly. Nigel gave all the proceeds to the NGS. Many thanks, Nigel!
The tea team (from left to right in the photo: Mark, Nigel, Rachael and Jessie) were the same as last year when they had to cope with 7mm of rain, which fell on Sunday afternoon – our busiest time. This year the weather was kinder, but the crowds were larger. I don’t think I’ve ever had to discard so many used tea-bags as I did on Sunday evening. Cake was consumed in disarming quantities.
The admission desk and plant stalls had different teams on Saturday and Sunday. My photo shows the Sunday team on the plant stall. When I got round to taking the pictures the admission team was having a cup of tea, so I got Kate (who used to be a Time Team director) to stand in. I think she looks very convincing. Laurence was another Time Team director; he also mixed and directed some of the ‘live’ shoots, such as the royal palaces show – where I was the archaeological director at Holyrood House (or should that be Hoose?), in Edinburgh. Happy days!
The atmosphere behind the scenes when our garden is open is a cross between a live Time Team shoot and an archaeological excavation: organised, friendly chaos – and lots of smiles.
1 I decided not to mention the athletes’ country of origin, as I often visit Salisbury and plan to return safely afterwards.