"The visitation"

A garden club ramble to my place spurred me into action.
Sunday, 23 September 2012     

Pruned-back plants make for a bare look in my garden in spring

There is nothing that can focus the mind of a gardener quite like the knowledge that the members of the local garden club are about to descend upon one's property as part of their annual 'spring ramble'. I have attended several of the club's spring rambles over the years and even blogged about them, but have never put my garden up as one of the ones to be visited, because, quite simply, my garden and I don't 'do' spring. I know it sounds absurd, but a number of years ago, I decided to concentrate my garden display to be in the summer and autumn months, hence my interest in semitropical-style plants. I love spring blooms as much as the next person, but I just don't have many spring-flowering plants in my own plot. In fact, my garden doesn't make much sense at all in spring, being full of large gaps where summer- or autumn-flowering plants have been cut back severely in order for them to regrow for their later blooming period. There are also big spaces where large-growing self-seeding annuals such as Cleome hassleriana and Amaranthus caudatus (currently just tiny seedlings that look like weeds) will soar to a metre or more in height and bulk out the borders.

When asked a couple of months ago to 'fill in' as the final port of call for the ramblers this year, I got the impression that the choice of my place was due mainly to my being in possession of a sheltered area in case of rain, and owning the requisite number of tea-cups to host the afternoon tea that completes the excursion. However, I did feel it might be possible that some people would wander round my garden, so I felt motivated to tidy up the garden to a presentable state. I had neglected it a lot over winter so the task was fairly daunting. Overall, we actually ended up appreciating having this incentive to spruce the place up a bit and I came up with a list of guidelines for anyone else who might one day face a similar challenge:

  • Start as far in advance as you can, as a proper spruce-up of a garden can take far longer than you might ever imagine. If you know many months in advance, you can pot up some spring annuals in containers, and allow them to come to maturity, as these really do help lift a garden - especially an empty-ish one like mine. Mulch as you weed, otherwise you will find - as I did - that the areas you first weeded will be weedy again by the time you finish the final sections!
  • Look upon the exercise as a good excuse to visit nurseries to find a few plants to plunge into some of the gaps. Over the past few years, I have barely been to any nurseries, so it was quite a joy to have a good reason to go and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even signing up to loyalty programs at various nurseries. It was good to see new plants that are available - ones I had never even heard of.
  • Knowing people are coming to visit really makes you look at your garden with a critical eye. It is so easy to gloss over bad aspects of one's garden normally, and the spectre of the garden ramble made me make changes I should have done ages ago - pulling out very old, woody plants, replanting tired areas and moving plants around. A water fountain that hadn't worked for ages was miraculously fixed, paving was weeded for the first time for ages, and paths were washed!
  • If desperate, provide a distraction. I decided to have a plant stall with some plants propagated from my garden to raise funds for the club coffers, as I hoped this might sidetrack the visitors for long enough that they would forget about looking around the garden. Some kind friends contributed plants to the stall too. We also provided lots of chairs, to encourage them to sit down (after all, they had already visited three other gardens already, on a warm day!) and - hopefully - not want to get up again to actually walk round. I even briefly toyed with the idea of plying them with champagne in order to make them sufficiently mellow so that they wouldn't care about my garden's flaws, but I didn't actually stoop to doing this.
  • Freshly mown lawns and swept paths can make any garden look instantly better.
  • Point out gorgeous spring features in adjoining gardens (my neighbour fortunately had a white Wisteria in full bloom) - somehow these borrowed views can seem part of your garden.
  • I realised that perhaps I have taken my anti-spring attitude a bit too far - and I have vowed to include a few more spring-flowering plants into my garden so that I have something to look at during September in future years.
  • Remember that gardeners are actually really nice people, and just enjoy looking at something different and being outside in the sunshine on a perfect spring day. No one is going to judge you, and you will probably get lots of positive feedback about your garden.
  • After all your efforts, have a glass of the champagne and revel in the fact that your garden is actually neat and tidy (possibly for the first time in a long while if it is anything like mine) and that you are ready for all that summer entertaining you have been telling yourself you should be doing this year!
  • Try to persuade the garden club committee that March would be a really good time to have the next ramble - that is what I have already done!

  •  Reader Comments

    1/7  Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 24 September 2012

    I"m just off today with a friend to...guess what! Visit a garden. Your hints re getting a garden ready are spot on, specially the bit about weeds coming back so quickly. I"ve been working for weeks to prepare ours for opening then last Monday evening, a massive hail storm, worst in 26 years. Plants minced. Remembering wise words that gardens recover and gardeners just pick themselves up, out I go with secateurs. It will be nice to have a break today and hope our hostess is not too worried. Hope you had a great visit to that garden. I think I now appreciate so much more how much work goes into opening a garden and I am in awe of people who do open their gardens regularly! Hope your garden soon recovers from that awful hail storm. Deirdre

    2/7  Rae - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 24 September 2012

    Deirdre I loved seeing it in a different season - it gave em more confidence about the very significant gaps in my garden with little sticks in the middle. The white wisteria was stunning and your ploy worked - heaps of people sat down without even looking at the garden. The other tip for the under 7 set is to have a couple of chooks and a gorgeous cubby - the girls had a wonderful time. Thank you for having us - I know you were reluctant but I loved seeing your garden again. Thanks very much, Rae - great to see you and the girls on Sunday. Deirdre

    3/7  Margaret - 3777 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 24 September 2012

    I"d like to see you garden sometime. My garden is at its best in Spring, not so good in Summer! Does anyone know where I can get a rhododendron "Pink Pearl"? I"m doing some restoration work on my father-in-law"s old garden; he had 2 rhodos - one is huge now, but Pink Pearl has disappeared. I"m happy to pay for it, of course,but haven"t had any success searching at nurseries. Not sure about that rhododendron, Margaret - maybe someone might know where you can get one. Deirdre

    4/7  Marleneann - 4556 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 24 September 2012

    Your garden reads a lot like mine here in Buderim. Springtime it seems a little boring. November is the best month for my garden. After the spring showers and warmer weather it jumps into action. Yes - the garden really gets going once the warm weather kicks in. I can never believe how much growth actually happens and how tall things will get over summer! Deirdre

    5/7  Carole - 2230 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 24 September 2012

    I think I am past the excitement of A Visitation- I pass! My garden looks its best in autumn, with the flowering of the sasanqua camellias, purple ginger, azaleas and hibiscus blending with a flush of flowering from the brugmansias, murrayas and duranta.Icing on the cake if there are bromelliads staging a display too.I must admit I am quite chuffed at the moment to see my clivea flowering for the second year,the brugmansias are about to bloom again and the pittosporum undulatum is in flower too. Your garden sounds good at the moment, Carole! Glad you also like autumn flowers like I do. We have so many plants that can give a long display through the warmer months. Deirdre

    6/7  Gillian - 2119 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 25 September 2012

    Thank you Deirdre for opening your garden it was lovely as usual,we enjoyed your hospitality and your wonderful husband and daughter giving up their time to help. Thanks for the tips when opening one"s garden they will be helpful if I ever put myself through that "agony" again. Nice touch having the plant stall, always exciting seeing what you have to offer for us, I love buying your plants, they do so well for me. Gillian. Thanks so much for your kind words, Gillian. We were so lucky to have such gorgeous weather on Sunday and it was great to have a good roll-up of club members to the ramble. Deirdre

    7/7  Suzanne - 2073 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Thursday, 27 September 2012

    Yes Deidre opening your garden is very stressful and right now I"m contemplating do I cut off the masses of bluebells which are starting to pass-over? At the same time I"m hoping for more roses and clematis to flower! A few days make all the difference I find and one can just do what time permits. I would recommend if you have your house cleaned, do it a few months in advance not 6 weeks before as quite a lot of my climbers close to the house were really set back. Bob is shooing the cockatoos. I know what you mean re a few days makes a difference re flowers opening or not! A lot seems to depend on the weather so a few warm days helps them along. I am sure your garden will look gorgeous. The brush turkeys round here are a problem for those opening their gardens and we have had some destructive cockatoos as well! Good luck for the weekend. Deirdre

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