Aug 14 2013

Summer Gardens


Weeks, months have flown by as gardens, gardeners and gardening dominate my life! No time to write, no time to read, just “weed, weed, weed”!
This year the National Garden Scheme declared June 15th & 16th would be their first National Garden Festival Weekend. It put us all in a flurry; some 800 gardens would open on the same weekend nationwide. After the worst sodden winter and freezing spring on record how on earth could we bring off a Festival of any sort by June! Gardens up and down the country had been devastated by relentless rain, snow, flooding; how would we all pull our gardens round to something worthy of a visit!
The incessant wet and cold made the ground impossible to dig, rotted roots and held plants in limbo in the ground for months. My heart sank and I was not alone, every gardener I spoke to talked of years of work gone by the board. Very slowly, tiny signs of spring appeared at last, our spirits rose, well, just a tad. Then suddenly everything burst out all at once. Daffodils so late, lingered with the primroses while snowdrops, still fading, sat defiantly around them. Rhododendrons mixed with forget-me-nots and the first blue geraniums. The embothrium sang scarlet against the heavens for weeks right into the middle of June, azaleas loitered but cold roses kept their buds tightly shut till well into July; how strange it was!
Despite depressing weather forecasts we finally downed tools and opened our gates in mid- June breaking our own record in this our fifth year of opening. We welcomed more than160 visitors to our garden over the two afternoons. Wind did bend branches and clouds scuttered across the sometime blue sky but, contrary to Met office warnings, the storm never happened and cream teas disappeared at an amazing rate: big fat scones freshly baked and donated by the wonderful Anchorstone café were topped with strawberry jam and thick clotted cream kindly supplied by Stuart at the Dartmouth Dairy.


When the July sun burst upon us burning down at last, the reluctant roses were more dramatic than I can ever remember. Seagull cascaded over the pond, Margaret Merrill bent under great clusters of flowers, the new regosas’s flourished and Rosa Mundi stole the show. Even the feeble little Icebergs, planted in such terrible soggy soil, rallied stoically. Delphiniums opened somewhat coyly at last, poppies of all varieties sprang up uninvited everywhere even hostas were extraordinarily slug free.


And now at last the vegetables are finally catching up too. Planting was so late into cold water logged ground. Beans have reached the top of their canes at last and sweet peas decided to put on a brilliant show after all.

Red Cabbage is statuesque, a glut in store which will at least thrill the chickens! Only the tomatoes continue to look a little less robust while aubergines are flourishing, the largest I have ever grown!


A funny year indeed.
And now after months, nay seasons, of record breaking rain fall, the recent drought has already turned the lawn brown. We watch anxiously at the browning valley as we move our sheep from field to field to share the sparse rations. The sprinkler is working overtime as borders wilt in the heat. And yet we cannot but celebrate summer and sunshine at last.


At the end of July six gardens in our beautiful village opened their gates for the second time to visitors in aid, once more, of the NGS. Meetings were held, plans were made, signs were put up, a beautiful map produced, an extra car park and community bus made available, scones donated once more by the Anchorstone Café, cream from Dartmouth Dairy, jam from Kendricks Bistro. Gardeners gardened nay manicured for the occasion. Volunteers manned the car park, helped with the teas, took the money at the garden gates, sold plants. Artists and Craftspeople displayed their work.
And it paid off! Saturday was busy with a steady flow of visitors but nothing prepared us for Sunday. People began arriving by car and by ferry at least an hour or so before the gardens opened. They had obviously heard Paul Vincent on the Potting Shed on Radio Devon in the morning. Or maybe they read about us in the Western Morning News or were simply loyal followers of The NGS Yellow Book; one things for sure they arrived in droves. Gardens filled with admiring, aspiring gardeners, cream teas flew out of the kitchen, the bus trundled breathless people back and forth. “How do you manage these steep hills?” they asked time and time again; villagers just smiled while our wonderful gardens and their hard working owners glowed in the sunshine! All in all it turned into the most incredible weekend


Last year we raised a wonderful £2400 but nothing prepared us for this year. Gradually I collected the money from each garden, I counted the tea money. I counted it again. I counted all the money over and over. I couldn’t believe my sums! This year we have broken the county record for any group village garden opening. We raised an astonishing £3036!!! All the money goes to the National Garden Scheme who pass it on to Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Cure Cancer Care, Help the Hospices and The Carers Trust plus related guest nursing charities. For the last 86 years NGS has worked with garden owners to improve lives, over the last ten years NGS has raised a staggering ten million pounds for these charities; well worth the anxiety, effort and hard work of doing something we gardeners love!
As Assistant County Organiser for NGS South Devon I must say a huge thank you to all the gardeners and people of Dittisham who made the weekend not only possible but such a huge success : months of hard work, generosity and good cheer, a community effort overflowing with goodwill. And particular thanks must go to Marina Pusey. Without Marina’s help, I could not have even begun to make it happen.

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