Opening for the NGS: shocked, but not surprised.

by AnneWareham on October 18, 2012

Reflecting-pool-at-Veddw.-Copyright-Charles-Hawes Monmouthshire, South Wales Garden

 

“To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise.” – Voltaire

Those people who know that we have opened for the NGS for many years – we have our trowel for long standing opening – may be looking for our NGS date. I am sorry to say that the NGS no longer want us to open for them – I have received an email to that effect:

Dear Anne

I don’t think you have any concept how many hundreds of humble, innocent garden-owners and NGS volunteers were deeply hurt by your diatribe in the Spectator (below) earlier this year. I find it hard to believe: 1. You would still want to open in aid of the NGS; 2. Given no information about opening had been sent, in the circumstances you would not realise that we were not inviting you to take part.

Yours, George

George Plumptre Chief Executive National Gardens Scheme   www.ngs.org.uk

Of course we would have been happy to continue opening for the NGS but clearly we won’t be. See also second piece here in the Daily Mail.

Here is the relevant Spectator article:

Please shut the gates by Anne Wareham

Spectator 14 APRIL 2012

The National Gardens Scheme, now 85 years old, has sapped originality in British gardening

Eighty-five years ago the National Gardens Scheme was created and blighted gardens in the UK forever. And in this anniversary year we will be bored silly by the praises sung of it.

Starting as a scheme to let everyone, even the hoi polloi, into posh gardens for a donation to charity, it now dominates the garden world, tainting all it touches. Somehow the belief has grown that the gardens under the scheme are great, quality gardens. The reality of their predominant mediocrity can never be confronted because, my dear, it’s all for good causes. Good gardens, awful gardens, nonexistent gardens such as Antony Woodward’s rather vacant plot on an inaccessible Welsh hillside — all may come to the party and be bathed in a rosy glow of goodwill and piety.

The charity and afternoon tea aspect of the scheme has lent an aura of middle-aged mindlessness to the creation and maintenance of gardens. There are groundbreaking creative intelligences at work in the garden world, which we sometimes glimpse: for example, at Chelsea. But they operate in a context where their achievement is transformed into a hobby. Because gardens open for charity, they become, in popular fantasy, charitable exercises in their own right, beyond examination or the luxury of being taken seriously.

Front Garden and Leymus arenaria at Veddw copyright Charles Hawes

The purpose of visiting a garden becomes harmless pleasure and tea, a chance for a gossip with friends while deploring the greenfly on the roses on thorny sticks that are as common as the strangely fashionable lemon drizzle cake. It is a chance to admire the less than admirable and deplore the perfectly acceptable. Convention rules. There will be no breath of complaint about rotten design poorly executed, but a so-called ‘weed’ can bring the County Organiser down upon a garden opener like a ton of manure. Tidiness is all.

It is a boring cliché to declare that a weed is a plant in the wrong place. This does not illuminate for us what a weed really is and what might be wrong with it. There is a kind of racial discrimination towards plants, so that without sensible discussion or real judgment, plants designated weedy will be condemned on sight. What it was to be gay 50 years ago is what it is to be ground elder today.

A slight confusion reigns, it is true, where ‘meadows’ crop up. The word ‘meadow’ is transforming itself and may apply as often to an imitation of a cropless arable field, or to a patch of bare soil filled with ‘wildflowers’ instead of bedding plants, as to that permanent pasture which used to nourish our cows and sheep. A version of a meadow (or possibly a meadow renamed a prairie) will shortly be appearing in a garden near you. In such a situation, the distinction between a weed and a wildflower becomes too confusing to think about and the issue is buried in the (now useless — many versions of meadow like low fertility) compost heap.

Meadow at Veddw copyright Charles Hawes

Gardens exist, it seems, simply as inspiration for other gardens. Which is no doubt why we see the same plants and the same hackneyed design everywhere. It is as if the only reason we would read a novel is to take examples from it of what words we could use in our own novel, and perhaps what scenes we could incorporate, undisguised, into our own plot.

Because gardens have become a charitable exercise, above all criticism and indeed, critique, it becomes impossible to acknowledge or discuss the merits of the best. When all get A-stars, it is impossible to distinguish excellence. In books, theatre, dance or art there is discussion and debate about quality: what it is, where it is and who is offering it. The best the garden world can offer is fashion.

Every year one garden will become the flavour of the year. It will feature in all magazines and newspapers, praised and illustrated by flattering, highly tweaked photographs. The delighted owners will believe that their place in posterity is assured, their visitor numbers guaranteed for ever and their investment in that tea room well made, only to discover that that the caravan moves on, gradually leaving them behind. Fashion is ephemeral and is hardly the same thing as worth.

No garden visitor will be confronted by anything demanding, except the range of cakes. It is in this context of reassuring banality that the garden media wet itself some years ago when Christopher Lloyd got rid of his antiquated rose garden. Or when an overrated garden at Hadspen, supposedly full of subtle colour themes, got bulldozed. I am left wondering if we might have had vibrant and adventurous gardens, matching the other transformations in our art forms in the past 85 years, if it had not been for the deadly, draining yellow shadow which the NGS umbrella has cast over our gardens. We would certainly have eaten less cake.

Anne Wareham

As a not insignificant postscript to this, I was told by an NGS organiser this summer that she will take literally any garden because of the pressure on them to make money.

Front Garden, Veddw copyright Charles Hawes

 

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert Andrews September 18, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Your article and some of the consequent comments had me scratching my head. I wonder if it may be down to who your county organisers are. The NGS you describe does not seem to be the same one that operates in the counties I visit (Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire). I certainly agree with you that the NGS has behaved dictatorially in summarily banning you rather than engaging in discussion.
Visiting gardens is my favourite activity. The only thing in life which really gives me significant pleasure is being immersed in beautiful places (landscapes/countryside, gardens and old buildings). I get a sort of transcendent experience such as others may get from music or religion. People visit gardens for different reasons. As I do not maintain a garden, getting “inspiration” is not relevant to me. I suppose you could say that I simply like to relax in beautiful surroundings.
Likewise, garden creators have varying objectives (e.g. beauty, something to fill time, a work of art, etc.) Correct me if I am wrong, but I get the impression that you see The Veddw as a work of art, with originality being an essential part of this. There is nothing wrong with this, but this type of garden does not appeal to me personally. This is not a criticism of you, nor does it mean that your garden should not be opened to the public. There is room for all types of garden. Your article could, in fact be interpreted as an argument that your “garden-as -work-of art” style is the only valid one, which seems as dictatorial as you are accusing the NGS of being. As for your comment – ” Somehow the belief has grown that the gardens under the scheme are great, quality gardens” – I have never encountered this attitude before.
I have been disappointed sometimes by NGS gardens (this suggests a lack of the uniformity you find ubiquitous), but surely the key is to be discriminating and read between the lines. If an entry states, for example, “This is primarily a garden for wildlife and we are are not too fussy about a few weeds” I know it is unlikely to appeal to me. This does not mean I want to ban such gardens or prevent other people from enjoying them.
I do agree with you, however, that there is too much emphasis on the fashionable and that there is a lot of snobbery in some gardening quarters (especially the BBC). I have never understood the mentality behind being fashionable in any sphere. Sometimes I might like a new fashion, but I will still like it years after it has gone out of fashion (bring back culottes for young women!).
If it was not for gardens open for charity (not only NGS) my life would have been much less enjoyable. And where else exactly are gardeners supposed to get inspiration for their gardens?

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AnneWareham September 18, 2014 at 3:26 pm

There’s a lot of good meat on this bone – but I am replying in some haste. I just immediately want to ask how it is that you, like me, “get a sort of transcendent experience such as others may get from music or religion” from gardens and landscape, but you know you wouldn’t like my ‘style’ of garden?

Quite the opposite I would hope, and that is the experience I would most like to offer visitors. And I think, the more unencumbered that they re with gardening preoccupations, the more likely they are to have access to such an experience.

Can you clarify?

Xxx

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kate August 29, 2014 at 11:33 pm

How fascinating! All of this has passed me by, though I have occasionally visited NGS gardens over the years. I never considered the ‘movement’ as anything other than an opportunity to find out what other gardeners were doing, to nick some of their ideas, and yes, to enjoy some lemon drizzle cake along the way. I have seen many types of garden in my time – I do not remember the NGS ones particularly more than those open for other schemes – private or commercial. I have thought of the the NGS scheme as really for ‘amateurs’ and did not know how a garden could be ‘selected’. Your article was indeed well written, but I have to say it seems surprising to me that anyone would expect any such scheme whose priority was always to raise money for charity, to do much for encouraging great gardening. I would expect it to be pretty ineffective at this. Gardening means many things to many people, and I think this IS reflected in the gardens open to the public. IT would be sad if gardens could not be part of the scheme because someone had deemed them ‘not good enough’. I certainly don’t expect to see much amazing design in private gardens,with amateur gardeners. What I want to see is something interesting – and I don’t mind if it is a quirky bird feeder or a clever use of a small space, an amazing plant I haven’t seen before or a charming bed of sunflowers grown by the grandchildren. I particularly enjoy occasions where I can visit a number of gardens in one area – this year, for only the second time, we visited a number of gardens in my home town. We had a lovely day, saw many sorts of garden – some I thought were singularly uninspiring, others well manicured but dull, and others untidy but full of passion. I saw lots of interesting plants, and saw a few interesting ideas. It just seems unfair to complain about the NGS scheme not doing something that, so far as I know, it was never intended to do. And does it hold back garden design? I don’t think that is likely! No more than local radio holds back musical innovation. The NGS is great at raising money for charity, and what is so wrong about that? It seems to me they are simply making money out of people’s natural curiosity to nose about in other people’s territory – the same way when people have their house on the market the neighbours often take the opportunity to have a look round. It’s just harmless and, in the grand gardening scheme of things, pretty trivial. So what if the locals think they have ‘made it’ by getting their garden into the Yellow Book? It’s no more significant than me winning a prize at the local hort show. Nice, but I don’t expect to be appearing on Gardener’s World anytime soon! Does sound as if the NGS were a bit sniffy about your article – yes they probably are just as middle class and small-c conservative as the RHS and the National Trust and the RSPB – and you probably have upset their cosy little set-up, and they didn’t deal with it very well. The quote from Volataire was apt, but it does seem more appropriate for you to do your own thing outside of the scheme if you object to it so much – you certainly don’t sound as if you need them for publicity. Anyhow, I work on Sundays, so I doubt I shall get to see your garden for some time – but I do hope I will be able to at some point – I shall have very high expectations!!

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AnneWareham August 30, 2014 at 8:31 am

All of that is fair enough and I’m sure it’s a common perspective. But it doesn’t suggest any reason why these gardens (and most gardens that open at all also open for the NGS) shouldn’t be subject to serious review.

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Pauline Cobbold June 1, 2013 at 8:13 am

I was checking your opening hours this year and happened upon the Spectator article. What a brilliantly crafted piece of writing. I can’t believe the NGS reaction. What happened to the right of freedom of speech we advocate in this country?

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AnneWareham June 1, 2013 at 8:28 am

Some things are clearly totally beyond the pale…

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Anne April 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I visited an NGS garden, which the owner proudly called a ‘non-garden’. People were wandering around talking about The Emperor’s New Clothes, and most ordinary visitors (not the owner’s friends) were clearly disappointed. When I wrote to the NGS complaining that this was an inaccessible field, not a garden at all and really quite a con, I was sent an unsatisfactory explanation. I notice that it is in the dreaded yellow book again for 2013. If the NGS said that it was about a fun day out, cake, tea and a few plants that would be OK. To try and pretend that it seriously represents all that is good in British gardening is pretentious.

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AnneWareham April 14, 2013 at 5:23 pm

There is too much of that, and all of us supposed to never mention it. And a dangerous business for any garden opener who might even think of mentioning it…?

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C.L. Fornari October 29, 2012 at 12:36 am

Maybe this area doesn’t have fertile ground for what you want to grow.

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AnneWareham October 29, 2012 at 12:38 am

Thinkingardens is blooming/booming!

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C.L. Fornari October 28, 2012 at 10:15 pm

What was your purpose in writing that article? If it was to start a discussion about raising the level of gardening/garden design, I’d say that you went about it in an odd manner. It’s like someone who wanted to open a dialog about raising the level of art writing a scathing review of the local village art association’s annual exhibit…complete with complaints about their refreshments. You come across as kind of bully, not to mention being off the mark.

In every pursuit there are people involved at all levels: beginners, advanced, stagnant, content, strivers, and those in the avant-garde or others stuck “back in the day.” This is true in science, the arts, medicine, cooking and dog breeding. So what? Some don’t strive for excellence and in fact are quite content to stay the same forever. Again, so what?

If you go to a party and later write a scathing, public review of the event, criticizing the host and hostess’s taste in everything from their furnishings to the guests and food, you can’t seriously be shocked if you’re not invited to another party…charity fundraiser or not.

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AnneWareham October 28, 2012 at 11:03 pm

People don’t generally pay to go to a party. I have been arguing my case in public for over 15 years – this is the first you’ve heard of it? That might explain my irritation with the refusal in the garden world to have this discussion?

Which refusal clearly continues.

But you can see some of the rest of my efforts here: http://thinkingardens.co.uk/ and I am glad to have gained your attention and thoughts about the issue.

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Bob Barfield October 26, 2012 at 10:00 pm

We live in a world were I fear people are “afraid” to say what they think, believe. They fear that they might offend one group or another. We are not allowed to be English in case we offend a or b or c. I think you see my point, I am not so eloquent as others on here but then if people thought that would they be “snobs”?
I have come to “serious” gardening late, I am 58, there is a lot of “snobbery” in and around gardening The RHS being amoungst the leaders of the pack.
I love visiting gardens to “learn” the good and the bad (however I would never express the “bad” to the owner of a visited garden, for what purpose would that afford, there are times when “silence-is-golden”.
I will open my garden when it is safe to do so – if I do charge it will go to my Mum,s Just Giving Page. My Linda will insist on tea and cakes and I will hope that people will come to see a garden.
I think what I am trying to say Anne is that I agree with you.

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AnneWareham October 26, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Thank you. And I think people are right to be cautious in this country if they don’t want to get slapped down. Sad though. How will we learn without open and honest discussion?

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Paul Steer October 19, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Er um, I suppose the NGS is just about lovely afternoons and tea and cake and plant sales and people having a nose around in aid of charity, but nosing around in itself is about judgement, we judge gardens against our own don’t we ? Or we use the experience to take away ideas that will fit our ideas, and reject those that don’t…but we dare not say so for risk of causing offence. Perhaps the trouble is we are so quick to take offence. I admit that I did find your article a bit harsh in its wording, but perhaps it has to be to get us to think…oooh it is painful to think. I was always in the pretty garden mode before I started reading about and visiting more gardens. I love your writing, and if we read ‘Bad Tempered Gardener’ we find someone who is not that bad tempered, but sensitive and who cares about the garden that has been crafted at Veddw. I hope that the NGS will reconsider, but if not as others have said here, you will continue to influence many.

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AnneWareham October 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm

You know, it is so good to hear from someone who has changed their view of what gardens can offer. And I love ‘pretty garden mode’!

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Rebecca Smith October 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm

As a past garden opener for the NGS, I only too fully understand that if the sun was out and I offered cake, the garden would be full. There were many repeat visitors who unashamedly came simply for the cake. Others, wearing sandles, offered criticism that the ground was too wet or that the hills was too steep. Or that I did not open at weekends because ‘then I’d really raise some money’. I upset the neighbours who also opened for the NGS by suggesting we open on the same day and consolidating the parking in our field instead of clogging up the single track lane we both lived on.
We stopped opening in 2008 when I returned to school to study garden design. When I completed my course I contacted the new county organiser (who I had not met) in 2010 to say that I wanted to open for private groups visits only, and wished it to be added to the website. I was told that the garden would have to undergo another inspection and that I would not be able to open until 2011 at the earliest as inspections were only taken in the autumn. My husband and I took the not-so-difficult decision to open instead for the local church roof fund.
Whilst I was under no allusion that people were visiting for anything other than a good afternoon out, I was disappointed that we were rebuffed in our attempt to reopen a very personal and constantly evolving garden.

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AnneWareham October 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm

You don’t think the NGS might be a little complacent, do you?

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Rebecca Smith October 20, 2012 at 10:13 am

Complacent: adj.
pleased, especially with oneself, or one’s merits, advantages, situations, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect: self-satisfied.

I think that, yes, there is an element of complacency within the NGS, but this has been allowed to flourish because people aim for inclusion in the Yellow Book as a means to an end. To them, this recognisition of having a ‘good’ garden, is what they are aiming for, not for having a garden that necesarily offers the visitor challenges or might alter the perception of what makes a good gardens. This is a view that permeates throughout gardening sadly, from grassroots level of the local horticulture societies with their petty hierarchies (whoa betide the new settler to a small village who wants to shake things up at the Hort Soc!) to a national level, as you have sadly realised.

My own experience with the NGS was a silly slight on the part of a new county organiser who had never seen my garden, and despite my knowing full well that gardens are often included on the website after publication of the Yellow Book, she wanted to put me in my place. I will continue to visit NGS gardens, because I am nosy and inspiration can some from many different sources, but I will not consider opening the garden here at Wyck Farmhouse for anything other than a local charity.

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AnneWareham October 20, 2012 at 10:22 am

Thank you for this supportive comment. I’m beginning to see the whole NGS like a great big village, with all the downsides of gossip, power games, snobbery, cruelty, competitiveness that villages can offer….And back turning. You would have thought after 15 years that someone would have told me we were being thrown out…

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felicity waters October 19, 2012 at 10:58 am

oh anne – find a new group to hang out with – there are plenty of others doing fab stuff – keep moving i say

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AnneWareham October 19, 2012 at 11:02 am

That’s why you’re in my life, Mover and Shaker!

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James Golden October 19, 2012 at 3:23 am

The behavior of the NGS in sending that email would appear, to an outsider, to confirm the organization’s pettiness. Is its purpose only tea, cake, and charity? Apparently.

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AnneWareham October 22, 2012 at 8:48 am

Bluntly yes – it is petty. And reflects a very limited, unambitious approach to gardens. A shame. It’s also an aspect of the class thing in the UK, I think, James.

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Deb October 18, 2012 at 7:42 pm

This post has made me sad. I read it when I got home, in between returning from the school run and departing for The Boy’s club. I then spent an hour, in the car park, chewing it over. It brought bubbling to the surface many uncomfortable feelings. Growing up in the times of youngsters being ‘seen and not heard’, and being berated and belittled for ever daring to express an opinion, I have worked hard (and still do) through adulthood to find my voice. To not be afraid to say what’s on my mind, to understand that not everyone will agree with me and nor will I always concur with their opinions.

None of that really matters though, because for me it is the dialogue which is important, not whether our outlook is facing in the same direction. There seems to be some confusion in the meaning of “opinion”; my thesaurus tells me that alternatives might be Judgement, Attitude, Belief. All of these things are your right and your entitlement and are, by their very definition, as individual as your finger prints; they belong to and are personal to you. I admire greatly your ability to put them ‘out there’ – your bravery frequently misinterpreted as acerbic attack is (in my opinion) peoples defence against being poked into thinking about something which they don’t want to think about. People turn to these spaces for comfort and familiarity (and tea, and lemon drizzle cake…) The last thing they want it so have that shaken up and it upsets them.

You know that there have been times when I have not only defended my own right to an opinion, but also your right to have a voice. I might or might not agree with what you have to say, but I will always stand up for your right to say it. The saddest part about this present scenario is that the opportunity for dialogue has been stymied by a faceless, closed email. Those who were upset by your piece have equal opportunities for a voice, but seem to have either overlooked or consciously rejected that prospect. Sad times indeed.

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AnneWareham October 18, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Deb, as I have just said to Helen, it seems to me that in spite of George it has already opened up discussion and greater understanding (I have to say that it is hard for me to understand the pleasure of visiting a garden in the spirit Helen describes, but I understand it better for her describing it to me) and that if I am lucky, the discussion and thoughts may continue and grow and in a wider forum.

It is always painful to – learn? – to change a world view or a strongly held idea? It is destructive – the previous idea is killed to make way for a different one. With it a bit of our sense of ourself and certainty about the world goes too. All change is destructive, just as you have to destroy an apple by eating it to benefit from what it has to offer.

It seems that part of the problem is just what you are describing – our retreat from the difficult and painful to the comfortable and cosy. It may be my curse that gardens are not comfortable and cosy tome and that a poor garden is disappointing and upsetting.

O, and that I hate dishonesty about gardens.

Thank you for speaking up for me and for defending my right to a contradictory, difficult and minority viewpoint.

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Helen Gazeley October 18, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I’m in Jan’s camp. We go to NGS gardens for a nice afternoon out in pleasant surroundings, with tea and cake (which had better be good!). There’ll be the odd plant of interest, some planting combinations, possibly an idea for a specific location but we don’t go for major garden criticism. Occasionally we’ll go for a particular feature like a stumpery, if it’s within easy travel.

The question is whether this has influenced the garden world as a whole.

Far more shocking, for me, than this discussion is the correspondence from Mr Plumptre. Not including Veddw makes the NGS look as if it lacks the strength and self-confidence to take criticism, and smacks of small-mindedness and self-satisfaction. How much more dignified to have made a reply, welcomed debate and defended their position. A missed opportunity.

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AnneWareham October 18, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Well, I approach gardens very differently, but I also do agree with you that it is a shame (or worse) to reject criticism. It seems to me that useful discussion and increased understanding is already happening through this dialogue.

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Helen Gazeley October 19, 2012 at 9:29 am

What this has made me realise is that, while we visit a fair number of NGS gardens, we do approach them from the point of view of a pleasant afternoon, rather than anything deeper. Funny I’d never really spotted that. I just love the fact that people open their gardens and we can have a nose round. The question of their influence on the gardening world in general is certainly worth considering.

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Helen Gazeley October 19, 2012 at 9:38 am

And what I meant to add (really shouldn’t hit “submit” so fast) is that we don’t, I think, approach other gardens in quite the same way. As John says, you often know the sort of thing you’ll find, so this has made me realise that we’ve adjusted to that before we arrive.

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AnneWareham October 19, 2012 at 9:49 am

I find that a depressing thought but it’s no doubt right. And explains the disappointment that we don’t do teas, which must also be part of a pleasant afternoon….

Sacha Hubbard October 19, 2012 at 11:51 am

The problem seems to be that you can no more openly criticise someone’s garden than their taste in curtains and furniture without causing offence. The fact that in your article you didn’t single out any one garden is overlooked. The wording is strong but given your passionately held beliefs – no surprise there! I suspect the problem may be that people who work hard to prepare their gardens for scrutiny don’t like the suggestion that too many are bland and ‘samey’. And of course, seeing it from the point of view of the NGS, it is important to them not to lose offended gardeners who would raise money for the charities. I do understand that.

However, quite recently we went round a couple of public gardens (not NGS ones) and I did remark to Raymond that it was becoming quite boring to see much the same lay out and planting in so many places. I don’t expect to like everything in any garden and I completely understand that people must be allowed to garden (and furnish!) in their own style but I suppose it could equally be argued that if you open your house or garden and charge people to see them, they feel they have paid for the right to criticise. It’s just that you do it openly and don’t just walk away muttering under your breath! We have certainly discovered that the refreshments part of it is very important because a lot of people do make it a ‘day out’, especially if they live in a town and like to spend lots of time in a garden. But it’s terribly time-consuming and in our case is 7/7 and is part of a business. In a private garden, it’s a rather different matter but yes, our experience is loos and teas are almost more important than the garden which definitely doesn’t jibe with your philosophy!

AnneWareham October 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Depressing or what?

Georgie Newbery October 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Dear Anne,

I will admit that I think you have been quite forceful in your article – but when, ever, were you not? And I think that the NGS really has missed an opportunity to engage in a really interesting debate on what the opening of the County Organiser Approved gardens is really for. Fortunately for you Veddw is not only a delightful garden visually, but also interesting in its planting, lay out, dealing with the not-terribly-easy-plot-to-make-a-garden-on situation and I don’t think for a second you will find your visitor numbers dropping off.

I’m very much looking forward to visiting again at some point next summer.

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AnneWareham October 18, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Will be great to see you – and family – here again and I so agree about lost opportunity.

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John October 18, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I hope the Spectator are paying you more in recognition of the increase in their profile and all those extra hunreds of readers. Although the debate, if you can call it that, about the article largely went on elsewhere online and in other publications. I wonder how many actually read the full article rather than summaries or extracts of the “juicy bits” published elsewhere.

I have said to you, and still think that the underlying messages you were trying to convey were right – that simply planting things in the ground and spreading a few ornaments around does not necessarily make a garden; that the garden has perhaps become secondary to the charitable purpose, social aspects of the visit and the tea and cakes – but that there might have been a better way to put the message across. We can only speculate that had you been writing for Amateur Gardening, for example, you might have used different language.

Those who open their gardens have first undergone one or more visits by the County Organiser who assesses whether the garden is good enough (and safe) to visit and whether it will offer enough to hold the visitor’s interest for an amount of time. Not all gardens pass the test so there is at least some minimum standard. Even so, there are admittedly good gardens and bad, interesting and bland, carefully planned and haphazard.

But if the article is read carefully, it does not so much criticise gardens as what the NGS seems to have become – the, perhaps unwitting, encourager of uniformity. One can only bear so many rose gardens, stands of chrysanthemums or wildflower meadows. And whilst there may not be open criticism, I’ve heard people who are half way through a group of gardens decide to forget the rest as they’ve seen three the same already. A garden may be a beautiful example and well deserving of a visit but if it happens to be like too many other gardens interest wanes. Allowing all the similarity is, in fact, an insult to the efforts, and financial investment, which garden openers make to present their gardens at their best.

Perhaps things would improve if the County Organiser also judged whether a candidate garden offered something different in that area and so started to introduce more variety in the styles of gardens or in the plants used.

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AnneWareham October 18, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Thank you for your careful reading – and you are right. I think we have a long way to go before it’s easy to visit original and exciting gardens. We are far too easily pleased. As are County Organisers.In my experience they are driven by a desire to get new gardens (they bring in a lot just by being new, I think) and to make more money.

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Jan Billington October 18, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Sounds like it!

Also apologies, what I should have added is that as one who has opened their garden and raised a good deal of money for the NGS for numerous years they should have contacted you at the time of the article and countered or at least responded (that way getting a debate going) rather than just deleting you from their database and assuming that you wouldn’t be waiting for the letter in the post. Bad form from them.

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AnneWareham October 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm

Wouldn’t that have been great!??

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Jan Billington October 18, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I complete agree with what you say and have been to some really awful (yet tidy) yellow gardens. I’ve dutifully accompanied my mother-in-law to a few & they’ve been judged on the quality of the cake, the number of places to ‘rest’ and the choice of the plants to buy and take away.

However, I would counter that I wasn’t expecting anything of great design sophistication just the opportunity to see ‘nice’ gardens or collections of a particular plant in which I was interested. I have always viewed the yellow book more as a ‘Good Pub Guide’ to gardening than as the ‘Michelin Guide’.

I know a lot of gardeners put a lot of effort into preparations for their open days and are proud of their efforts but if those members were so ‘deeply hurt’ by your comments then perhaps it does suggest that you are correct and that it is about the garden snobbery and fashion rather than a raising funds for a good cause.

Tricky one Anne.

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AnneWareham October 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Is the problem here that we don’t know what these people were/are weeping about??

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