As a keen participant in the Open Gardens Scheme I must say that my own garden is a showpiece all the year round. It is good to hear the appreciative oohs and aahs from members of the public as they walk around my bowers and beds, which even at the end of winter are a blaze of colour with such delights as Camellia japonica, red hot pokers and gorgeous "Winter Cheer". And now what even lovelier prospects spring will bring!
When a garden is open to visitors there is obviously a lot of wear and tear but to minimise this I make sure our guests' ramblings are confined to the gravelled walks. Anyone who strays onto a lawn risks stepping into one of the rabbit traps I have placed in little hollows concealed beneath a layer of grass clippings, and then the comments, I am afraid, are less appreciative and sometimes quite "blue".
The Open Gardens Scheme makes money for some worthy charities but I can tell you it was making absolutely nothing for me. In my view this was rather unfair to the person who actually foots the bill for keeping the garden going so that it can be opened. I know that the funds raised for good causes and the pleasure one is giving the public by sharing one's garden are their own reward, but try taking a reward like that to the bank! Of course, it would be quite improper to reimburse oneself by raiding the collection tin left in one's care - visitors being as stingy as they are there's never enough in that to be worthwhile anyway. I decided therefore that the best way of defraying my expenses would be to persuade each visitor to make an additional voluntary payment, more realistic than the few coins they put in the tin.
Perhaps if you open your own garden you might care to try my method.
First, build a pretty little gazebo beside the exit from your garden. It should be as far as possible from the entrance but adjacent to where visitors park their cars. You can get prefabricated gazebos quite cheaply these days from any reputable garden ornaments supplier, or if you have a handy hubby he can run one up with trellis. Grow some wisteria or ivy over it to make sure no one can see inside then line the walls with polystyrene for soundproofing. You will need to make sure the gazebo has two doors (I always recommend those rather nice rustic ones in brushwood) and that the gravel path the visitors follow leads through it.
The next step is to engage the services, as economically as possible to keep overheads down, of some willing but dim individual who likes the company of savage dogs and knows how to handle them. I found mine, Trevor, through the local kennel club and he has been worth his weight in gold.
The rest is simplicity itself. As your visitors are completing their garden tour they will naturally walk towards the exit (at least those who haven't stepped on a trap will; I keep a couple of wheelchairs available at a very reasonable hire for those who have). Lurk beside the gazebo where you can't be seen and, when the visitors walk into it, push the brushwood doors (to which you have attached spring locks) shut behind them - they'll be too busy admiring the wind chimes and baskets of dried lavender you have hanging around inside to notice. This is the part I always enjoy, when my garden-loving guests find themselves locked in the gazebo in the company of Trevor and his four rottweilers, all snarling, slavering and baring their teeth (yes, even Trevor when he gets excited). In big letters on the soundproofed wall is the sign you have written out (marker pen is best) informing those inside that as a condition of exit they must make a "freewill offering" of at least a hundred dollars or jewellery to that value. I have installed an EFTPOS facility for their convenience and Trevor is slowly learning to operate it. I am still amazed at how generously so many visitors, once they have absorbed the reality of their position, are prepared to contribute towards the cost of their enjoyment in having seen around my lovely garden.
But what of those who won't? In spite of the implied threat, you can't really throw them to the rottweilers. It would create a lot of unpleasantness, the last thing I want in a garden which is a haven of tranquillity and spiritual regeneration.
I have therefore prepared another little incentive. I have acquired, very economically as they're not everyone's cup of tea, a pair of First World War cannon that used to stand beside the soldiers' monument in Victory Park, very near my home, until our local council, which unfortunately is very left-wing, renamed it Peace Park and sent the cannon, as "offensive weapons", to a scrap merchant, which is where I saw them when I was looking for some Victorian cast iron for my conservatory. Beautifully restored to working order by another of my little "finds", Kurt from the gun club down the road, these are stationed beside the back gate of my garden, the one visitors use when they are leaving, and trained on the visitors' cars. As we "release" our guests from the gazebo, those who have declined to contribute enjoy the spectacle of a warning shot fired across the bonnet of their cars - and another if needs be (Kurt quite enters into the spirit of it all; he would have been invaluable on the Western Front, though his aim is a bit erratic and he has smashed a number of windscreens and ruined a certain amount of bodywork, sad to say).
I have never known this incentive not to have a wondrous effect on any visitor still hesitating about that hundred dollars, and it certainly makes their time in my garden, helping the less fortunate in our community who have to turn to charity, a day to remember.
12 September 2012
Readers will find earlier gardening notes by "Edna" on 24 April and 23 March last.