Thoughts on Opening a Garden and being Criticised.

by AnneWareham on August 31, 2017

Post image for Thoughts on Opening a Garden and being Criticised.

We closed the garden this week, with great relief. It’s knackering opening it, but necessary since it helps pay for its development and maintenance. Sadly, someone had not enjoyed their visit – see above. This is on Google – if you google ‘Veddw’ that is what you will find, I think.

It’s always sad to see something like this. We’d refund if asked. But it’s useful and we need to consider what she is saying. 

True, the planting is informal. 

Veddw Crescent Border and lawn, July copyright Anne Wareham

You will never find a cut edge to a lawn or the grass here. See above – we edge the lawn with Alchemilla mollis. And that is not just because it is easier to maintain – I prefer the look. I think the result will often look unkempt to those who prefer their gardens formal and with cut edges and weedless bare soil, especially come late summer. So that preference – for the informal – informs the planting and is a total difference in taste between ourselves and Paty. We should perhaps make it clearer that this is how Veddw is before people get here. We do tell them at the gate:

Notice on the gate at Veddw

The conflation of the cost of entry with the time it takes to see the garden is interesting, but not easy for us to address. Visitors vary a good deal in how long they spend here. We once had to ask a group to leave after two hours and that resulted in a formal complaint from the party leader – so that I now ask people to let us know if they will want to stay longer –

Coach parties usually stay about an hour and a half. If you would like to stay longer, please let us know when you book.

Someone on Facebook suggested that if we provided tea and cake people would not only stay longer, but they would feel that they’d had better value not only because of the cake but because they’d stayed longer. That may be true and is depressing for us. There is nowhere for people to have their tea and cake out of the rain, even if we could face making and serving it. 

It’s perhaps worth saying that we never intended to create a tourist attraction and if we had I think it wouldn’t have been a garden. Even if it had been a garden, it would have been in the South East of the country where the garden visitors mostly are if that had been our intention. And it would have had suitable outbuildings for shops and cafe and other fund raising things. But we never intended that and we still don’t. We earn our livings in other ways and fund just the garden by opening it. We like to share it too. Would have been an even madder project if we never shared it. We are not an NGS garden (see here) nor a commercial garden. Perhaps we are unique? 

Leymus Bed at Veddw copyright Anne Wareham

Random picture of Veddw to cheer you up.

But the lack of teas thing has haunted us. I once did a talk at a literary festival and was critical of the Sacred Laskett. No-one cared much about that and had nothing much to say about it. But the fact that we open the garden and don’t serve teas was greeted with falling off seats. Well – not quite, but certainly amazement.

I’m sorry to say that it would not be worth our while to open the garden for £4. In fact, I am rather more inclined to raise our entrance in the hope that that would mean people might research very carefully whether they really want to visit. (And look up local, off site tea places – we recommend  The Anchor at Tintern  – though the Abbey is in view and is badly knocked about).

Wild garden Veddw

Bet you’re not surprised she didn’t like it…

I have encouraged and benefited from criticism of the garden for many years – see here  and here. Please join in – on Google, here, by email or on Social Media. We will always take you seriously and sometimes the benefits are enormous. We appreciate it – especially when find we can make good changes to the garden aesthetically. 

But I wish you’d give up about tea and cake. Enough now.

Xxxxx

No – it seems important to say it again – there is nowhere in the garden to make or eat teas without getting wet if it rains. 

 

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

John Kingdon August 31, 2017 at 5:49 pm

You can’t please everyone, I suppose. But if someone thought they’d taken the whole garden in in 50 minutes, I wonder what they missed. As a repeat visitor, I usually spend more time than that wandering (Charles’ wood alone can take half an hour waiting for the telly to warm up!) and always find something I’ve missed on previous visits.

I can understand the cake thing. I’ve previously brought cake with me but didn’t get to eat any of it! 🙂 Seriously, though, I’ve been to many gardens that have tearooms but they’re usually so full that you can’t get in them. Running a tearoom also requires a pretty high number of visitors. The atmosphere of Veddw would be destroyed by that sort of number.

Keep it as it is, please.

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AnneWareham August 31, 2017 at 5:55 pm

We will. And thank you for your kind and thoughtful response. Heartening. Xxxx

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Tamlyn Currin August 31, 2017 at 8:00 pm

This really touched me. Veddw has been on my must-visit list for quite a while (time and distance have thus far prevented me) but reading this has made me want to visit even more. There is something far more special about a garden that was never meant to be a tourist attraction, that is a deeply private, personal space which has been generously and bravely shared with strangers, just for the joy of sharing beauty. I applaud you for sticking to your guns on tea, cakes, weeds, and alchemilla-mollised edges. Don’t give in. The people who really ‘get’ you and ‘get’ Veddw will love it all the more for this. Those who don’t will hopefully not come back. (And since when did cake help anyone to see better?)

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AnneWareham August 31, 2017 at 8:15 pm

Thank you so much. It’s easy for us to take all that for granted, but saying it has been liberating! I hope you manage to get here one day. Xxxx

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Emma August 31, 2017 at 8:05 pm

First of all, I’m REALLY sad that you’re now closed as I was determined to come and visit this year – it was even in my diary BUT, as a professional gardener, this is my busiest time of year and my diary is lucky to be opened.

More importantly, I just want to say how sad and cross reading that review made me. How completely unnecessary. Though I haven’t been to visit in person I can see from your photos that your garden is absolutely stunning. Please don’t change it to something more formal. If I produced a garden of this standard I would be absolutely delighted.

I know the importance of good reviews but so many people treat such a medium as a throwaway function that is soon forgotten. I recommend you do just that and continue exactly as you are.

I blame ‘garden’ centres for introducing the notion that looking at plants is concomitant with eating cake. 😉

I hope to see you next year!

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AnneWareham August 31, 2017 at 8:18 pm

I know all about the difficulty of doing the things you hope to in the summer – and failing. Me too. I have just recovered some freedom this year and am relishing it.But you are right – it’s then hard to visit gardens. I hope you can manage next year, but if the timings are hard for you, email me and let’s see what’s possible?

Thank you for the encouragement and kindness. And – yes – the cake thing! Right! Xxxx

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Alison Hoffman August 31, 2017 at 8:05 pm

No good deed goes unpunished.

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AnneWareham August 31, 2017 at 8:19 pm

You’re so right. Xxx

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Marian Simmons-StClair August 31, 2017 at 8:51 pm

I’ve been reading your blog since visiting the garden in June 2016 and, although I haven’t commented, I always get a kick out of hearing from you…until today. I hope you will shrug Paty’s comment off. I loved the garden and took more photos there than any other place. It was a highlight of the trip for everyone in the group…I know because I planned the tour and (as you can well imagine) they tell me what they think as soon as we get back on the coach. I couldn’t wait to visit Veddw and it surpassed every expectation. It was also a treat that you and Charles were in the garden and spent time with us. Much better than cake! I vote for raising the entry fee.

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AnneWareham August 31, 2017 at 9:56 pm

This is so generous and encouraging, Marian – and I’m so glad we didn’t let you and your tour down. I’ve often wished to be a fly on a coach window – that would be salutary and scary. I know sometimes there have been very lively debates on coaches post Veddw. Thank you for your comment and bravery about cake. Entry fee may be on the way up. As a good friend of ours advised – put it up and you’ll get less people for the same takings and less exhaustion. Could be. Xxxx

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Roger Pratt August 31, 2017 at 8:57 pm

Don’t change anything. You are so right about your garden. I love it and have been visiting every year since 2012 and have brought many friends who share my opinion. I usually find a quiet corner to sit in for a while.Tea and cake is not needed although I remember a few years ago there were a crowd of W.I.-type ladies rushing about with kettles. My one regret about your garden is that my wife died before we discovered it. She spent thirty years creating a wonderful container garden like a green oasis here in our terraced house right in the centre of Cardiff and loved all unusual gardens. Keep on keeping on as young people say.

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AnneWareham August 31, 2017 at 9:52 pm

Roger – we must know you, after all this time! I am sorry too to know your wife didn’t get to share your pleasure. (I love to hear of anyone sitting for a while.) That must be such a hard thing, to have new experiences you would have loved to share. We’ll keep on as long as we are able. Xxxx

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London Cottage GardenJulie quinn August 31, 2017 at 9:05 pm

I am in London and too far away to visit but I would like to add to your comments. When I visit London NGS gardens these days I find they have just become a cafe with a garden attached – every inch has chairs for people to have tea and cake and there is hardly any inch of garden to see without someone sitting in it eating. It’s ghastly. Garden visiting has become just one more way to chat and eat and the garden doesn’t stand a chance of being appreciated. I hardly bother to go NGS garden visiting any more. Your garden looks absolutely wonderful.

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AnneWareham August 31, 2017 at 9:49 pm

(I’ve often done London and back in a day – we do from the Welsh border.) I find your comment about NGS gardens chilling, believable and very sad. I believe you – I can’t see how you could stuff even the best garden with tables and chairs and – hmm…? – people – without losing maybe everything worth having. Being open every summer Sunday means we miss most NGS gardens these days and maybe that’s as well. Xxxxx

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Pat Webster August 31, 2017 at 9:22 pm

I’m surprised that John Kingdom waited only 30 minutes for the tv to warm up. Since I couldn’t find the remote control, I had to sit and watch the blank screen for a good hour, at least. Quite peaceful it was, too.

As for arty design features, bring them on. Sculptural hedges and informal plantings, too.

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AnneWareham August 31, 2017 at 9:45 pm

I’m sorry, Pat – you made us cry…..Xxxx

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Glenys August 31, 2017 at 9:47 pm

We have made numerous whirlwind garden tours from France trying to see the gardens of a region in a few days. Frankly, we are sometimes frustrated when tea and cake are included in the admission and we feel obligated to sit and eat because the owner has gone to the trouble of preparing tea. Time is limited if we plan to see more than one garden in the morning and another in the afternoon. Surely, it’s not the same for locals looking for an outing, but that’s our point of view. More special than tea is the opportunity to meet the creator and caretaker who personifies the garden. By the end of the season, that may become tedious as well, of course.

The reference for your blog came from a gardener in New Zealand. When we have a chance to visit Veddw House, it will be to see your garden, your style.

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AnneWareham August 31, 2017 at 10:13 pm

And you will get to meet at least one of us. Supposing that has got tedious you won’t have to spend much time with us either – the garden is there to retreat to/enjoy without us. thank you for your perspective, which is interesting and makes sense to me. We also let people come when we’re not open but have a coach party here if they can’t manage a Sunday. A fellow opener who does teas and lunches says she can’t do that – because it messes up the numbers. So that’s another take on the issue. Thank you for your comment. Xxxx

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Joe August 31, 2017 at 10:45 pm

Last time I visited I sat down at the top and just listened to the grasses and looked. I was there for ages before I came down to pay. I’d give much more than £7 just for a few quiet minutes up there. I’m generally too discombobulated by those first feelings to engage much when I see you, so you probably take me for an idiot. But every time I visit I am slightly more obsessed about how you do things. Last time there was the impossibly perfect picture made by your new corten bird bath, a cotinus, golden hop and orange alstroemerias. I just gaped at that for ages. And lady’s mantle and blue geraniums as edging? What could be more beautiful? How does any visitor not see that what you have is unique? As for cake, don’t do it. At a well known and much venerated Cotswold garden near me they built a new cafe a few years ago. The result is that wherever one is in that garden, one can hear chatter, cutlery and scraping chairs and smell gravy.

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AnneWareham September 1, 2017 at 8:42 am

You have no idea, Joe,how strange and touching it feels to hear that someone sees the things that I obsess about and which, indeed, stop me in my tracks. It sounds odd to say it, but I think of those things in some way as my private world. I don’t know how many times I stopped to contemplate the play of oranges and yellow which you describe around the bird bath. It is so good to think of these things as shared. Thank you for letting me know. I think, by the way, that the New Garden is coming together and may be a late summer treat next year.

And,yes,I can see the downside that eating and drinking introduces. And even the virtue that others are pointing out of not having too many visitors piling in. The garden (and facilities) couldn’t take it.

Do keep coming in anonymous discombobulation if that suits you best.I do hope you keep coming. You will be in my mind when certain effects take off. Xxx

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Margaret August 31, 2017 at 10:46 pm

The latest thing in our area with NGS gardens seems to be to have a musician, and visitors sit on the terrace with tea and cake listening to the guitarist or saxophonist or even someone singing. I often wonder if they bother to look around the garden. Personally I find the music irritating, I like peace and quiet as I wander around a garden and I can do without the tea and cakes. As for the gardens, I love informal gardens with weeds. It makes me feel so much better about my own garden. I’m sorry I live too far away to visit your garden, but maybe one day when we are down your way we will.

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AnneWareham September 1, 2017 at 8:48 am

It seems we can’t escape noise and music anywhere! How dreadful to inflict it on a garden. I have, sometimes, walked round this garden listening to carefully selected music privately on my phone and that can be a special combination. But the idea of it inflicted willy nilly is awful.

Have you heard of the movement Silent Spaces? It’s important – https://silentspace.org.uk/.

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ks September 1, 2017 at 3:14 am

An opinion from California: I fail to understand the obsession with tea/cakes/refreshments on garden tours-as if this can ameliorate a bad garden. My preference is for a nice cold beer or glass of wine after all the garden tours are complete while I review my photos or converse with tour companions.Eating cake on a summer afternoon sounds dreadful. I would prefer salad. And I would be thrilled for the opportunity to see your garden-on my bucket list for many years. It’s a long commute for me though .

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AnneWareham September 1, 2017 at 8:51 am

Hope you make it here one day! I so approve of the glass with the pictures or friends after the visit. Or, perhaps, I we are too far away, just with pictures of Veddw online….we do have a tame photographer who captures special moments. Xxx

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Richard Huddleston September 1, 2017 at 8:33 am

If folk had read any of your books before they visited they’d be more aware of your philosophy Anne, and know better what to expect. Their loss.
If all gardens were just-so there’d be no point in visiting more than one let alone driving all the way to Monmouthshire. We visited *because* we wanted something different, knowing there’d be aspects we didn’t like or didn’t agree with, but also knowing we’d learn something and see great beauty. We’ll never accept that rose bay willow herb is anything but a weed though!
If I had a pound for every time I’d read a review describing a classic house or garden as “terrible” because the reviewer found the scones were stale/tea was cold/waitress was rude (whilst never venturing into the actual attraction) I’d be able to….well.…afford afternoon tea at a National Trust house. The cart is put before the horse too often.
So forget the tea & cake and stick with what you do so well, there’s no need for superfluities.

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AnneWareham September 1, 2017 at 8:57 am

I bet you wouldn’t be surprised though to hear that I encourage the rosebay willow herb in some places and exile it from others. But you are right – I don’t hide my peculiarities. You remind me what a nightmare trying to handle catering would be. I suspect we would end up being arrested.

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SUSAN GUTHRIDGE September 1, 2017 at 10:55 am

Dear Anne, You can’t please everybody! So what some lady whined. I learned a lot reading all the posts here. I’ll tell you it took me a long while before I realized I didn’t have to pull every single weed. Now I even have my favorites. Some do good for the soil like clover. Some I let stay because they grow low, actually very pretty and keep other weeds out, some are edible, some grow in tall towers and look magical. And as long as they are not crowding or getting too tall I enjoy them. As for snacks just do what you want; also decide what is best entrance fee.

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Kev the Yank September 1, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Greetings Anne from the middle of the Colonial Landmass across the Pond. Let me first offer the life-song in my soul: illegitimi non carborundum. That said, let me affirm that on our (The Mrs & I) trip there in 2015 to visit Veddw was the HIGHLIGHT of our time in Wales!!! Our house is adorned with photos of various weeds and informal edging that captivated our spirits from our all too brief time in your garden… And at the top of my “Druthers” List, I put : I would Druther wander your magical garden space and chat with you and Charles than sit on a contrived patio drinking tea and eating cake with dozens of other people who are there for, well, tea and cake! Oh, and the opinion of a half-blind, half-lame pensioner about cost of admission? We would have/will be happy to pay twice the going rate!!! Looking forward to our return visit… xx

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AnneWareham September 1, 2017 at 1:59 pm

Kev the Yank from the Other Side of the Pond – you are beyond generous. Your certification of quality will now accompany our every publication. Looking forward to our next encounter!! Without dozens of tea and cakers… xxxxx

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Paul Steer September 1, 2017 at 8:11 pm

Isn’t this great …. So many people recognise that Veddw is a unique garden and does not need tea and cake to appreciate it. I have opened for the NGS and yes tea and cake is expected – but I think it needs to be seen as a charitable exercise rather than serious garden appreciation. Gardens like Veddw deserve to be appreciated for what they are. x

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AnneWareham September 1, 2017 at 10:26 pm

You ought to be grateful that people don’t expect a cup of tea and piece of carrot cake with your paintings, Paul. Xxx

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CHARLES Hawes September 3, 2017 at 5:50 pm

I wonder what people would think if Paul offered a free piece of cake when he sells a painting.

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John Kingdon September 3, 2017 at 6:24 pm

Paul gave me a free piece of string with mine. Much more useful – still have it!

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AnneWareham September 3, 2017 at 6:29 pm

Should have icing on it…..

Bill Kerr September 3, 2017 at 9:59 pm

Here is my take on our opening for the National Garden Scheme for the last 3 years – it may be off some use to you. We have on average 500 visitors over 2 days in August and up to 100 the rest of the Summer via open by appointment. We always state £3.50 entry and coffee £1 cake £1.50 …we’ve had no complaints. As to the garden ours is about 1/3 acre front and back so not big but plenty to see – the front is teas/coffee etc and plant sales with a gazebo large enough for 8 tables if it rains. The viewing garden is separate from tea/coffee area but people are welcome to take their refreshments where they want. Our garden is our taste and quite eclectic but fits the criteria for the NGS so we have no qualms about opening and what we charge. 99.99% of people seem to get the garden and spend anything from 1hour to 3 hours looking around. Very few don’t like it – it’s not their taste and leave in less than 15mins…their loss!! Lot’s of people come in, look around for an hour or more, have coffee and cake and then come back to the garden for another hour or so. We get a huge amount of positive comments – people being inspired and wanting to go to their gardens and do something creative. We have found the tea/cake thing is kind off expected and to be honest it does add to the customer experience and it does give you an opportunity to talk to people as well. If you don’t want to do it ..don’t but make it clear that it’s not an option for visitors. For the record our tea/coffee and cake is bought from Booker Cash and Carry and again nothing but compliments – you don’t have to do the homemade route. Lastly – you will have to accept your garden will not be to everyone’s taste but that’s their problem not yours. You have taken the time and effort to open it and should be commended for it. For me the sheer number of positive discussions I have had with people in the garden and the number of lovely comments far outweigh the very few negative comments we get. As they say – don’t sweat the small stuff!! We have lots of repeat visitors so we (and you) must be doing something right! Don’t listen to small minded people who don’t get it and wishing you well in future openings! Bill

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AnneWareham September 3, 2017 at 10:16 pm

Thank you, Bill. Xx

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Ruth September 4, 2017 at 8:18 am

Would you be able to compromise and offer some cold-drinks and snacks? My thirst would be satisfied with a choice of bottled or boxed lemonade and orange juice (reasonably priced); and impressed with free icy cold spring water in plastic cups (or for greenies some recyclable cups that patrons can wash in a tub themselves after use). My hunger would cave in to any of little packets of shortbread or chocolate biscuits, a choice of two or three boring flavours of crisps or nuts, and some biscuit and cheese packs.

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AnneWareham September 4, 2017 at 8:39 am

In case people are thirsty we provide drinking cups for water. I know I’m missing something here, but I tend to think people can manage without food for a couple of hours?

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niky September 4, 2017 at 11:27 am

Don’t be sad, you are giving a lot of people a lot of pleasure! Enjoy the autumn and the winter. The cyclamen are coming out, the last roses are in full bloom, everything is looking really unkempt and over-grown, well, that’s just nature.

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AnneWareham September 4, 2017 at 12:19 pm

That’s true re late summer decay – which I love. And autumn is usually wonderful. (and whisper it – we can stop worrying about the garden for a few months. Well, if we can catch those rabbits we can!) I do hope we are giving pleasure – but it does being to seem like it. Thank you. Xxxx

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