Open Gardens – A slice of village life

On one of the most sweltering days of the year, after weeks of  mowing, pruning, watering and weeding, we opened our garden as part of the annual village open gardens event.  Balloons were attached to the gate, cars removed from the driveway and a few minutes after the opening time of 1.30pm, a small cohort of sixty somethings with backpacks arrived. Half an hour later, they had turned into a legion and, by the end of the afternoon, 600 visitors had tramped in and out. As they huffed and puffed their way up our wooden staircase to the cliff top terrace, it was hard to tell who was wilting the most – the plants or the visitors.  Many were local on a day out but some had travelled far. One couple had come from Christchurch, an hour away,  and an Austrian mother and daughter were on holiday on the Isle of Wight and had seen the event on the Open Gardens website.  There were also several people who had come 2 years ago.

Our garden is acres away from the hallowed NGS Yellow Book Scheme standard. They would certainly not tolerate the rather beautiful Hemp Agrimony which has self seeded by the water butt.  Like all the other gardens in these Open Gardens  schemes, ours is a living garden complete with the odd willowherb, bramble and nettle and the money raised goes to local charities – in this case the church.

Garden visiting has been named as one the most popular British leisure activities which is not surprising with its irresistible mix of cake, tea and nosing around other people’s gardens.  Even with our curtains closed, some eagle -eyed visitors managed to spot and comment on some of our kitchen accessories.  Fortunately, as far as being nosy goes, it was a two way window, and we derived as much pleasure from meeting the visitors as they got from seeing the garden.

Everyone wondered how we coped with the steps up to our cliff garden and, rather too often to be funny, suggested that we build a lift for the gin and tonic.  One man left his wife behind on a shady bench and came back to get her later and another family left the granny sitting by the door so she was constantly being shown tickets by new arrivals.  There were no horticultural thefts of cuttings which apparently can be a problem,  and all marvelled at how different 11 gardens with the same soil can be.

As the last visitors wended their way out, the lawn was showing distinct signs of heavy footfall. We took the balloons down, watered the plants and closed the gates for another two years.





The Holiday Flower

Rosebay willowherb has begun its magenta march over the countryside which must mean that the school holidays are about to start.  No plant is so synonymous with high summer,  but it hasn’t always been so. Named after its long narrow willow like leaves, Chamerion angustifolium, was once a rare native species until it suddenly began to expand around 1860 for reasons which are still not entirely understood.

A century ago, during World War 1,  the plant  exploded in areas where trees were felled for the war effort and later, in World War 11, Rosebay willowherb renewed its invasion by colonising the areas after bombing raids where it came to be known as fireweed. However, its expansion really began when it was spread along the railway line rather like buddleia. Unlike other members of the willowherb family e.g. Great Willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) and the smaller Broad Leaved Willowherb (Epilobium montanum) which readily cross breed, Rosebay Willowherb hybridises with nothing.  There is also a  rather lovely white form, Chamerion angustifolium ‘Album’, which is described as slowly invasive but not troublesome,  and both types are important food plants for the beautiful elephant hawk moth.

In September, as a new term starts, the long pink seed pods will open from the top like a banana to release 20,000 parachuted seeds from every plant. Flying off to pastures new, the fluffy storms are known as  ‘sugar fairies’  in the north which is perhaps a link to the sugary edible pith which can be extracted from the ripe stems.     download (1)