Secret Garden Designs by Christina Oates BACK TO "Christina Oates - Garden Writer" Main Page

BEHIND THE 'GARDEN OPEN' SIGN AT FOVANT HUT

"I've come to see your bronze", announced the rather well-shod lady. As none of our garden ornaments is quite in that category I was rather flummoxed. "You know, the one in the magazine article". Then it dawned on me. A picture in a recent piece about our garden had been of one of our pets caught by the photographer in a rather statuesque pose (see below).

What she'd been looking forward to viewing was a life-sized porcine sculpture. When, in fact, out of the corner of my eye I could see the "bronze" trundling up the path and heading in our direction. Sensing that Diamond, our full-of-life Vietnamese Pot-bellied Pig, was about to hone in on the tassels on this visitor's immaculate moccasins I hastily pointed on the garden plan to where she might find an installation of 'Nuba Kites' by Jonathan Garrett our local potter.

Other visitors that afternoon were the more usual sort - retired couples taking their time, wandering, sitting and observing; younger ones discussing deck construction with my husband Nigel; a plant enthusiast querying my labelling of a Euphorbia (she was right); clients bringing me photos showing the results of their labours and my design; and a pair of regulars who return to see the garden in various seasons and who have their favourite bench where they take their cup of tea.

It is very satisfying for us to see all sorts of people enjoying our garden. Not something we'd anticipated when we'd originally discussed the idea a few years ago. We started with just a few invitation-only open days for my garden design clients and then, the next year, we decided to take the plunge and open regularly to the public. So now, every summer Saturday afternoon until the middle of August we are on duty. There is always that slight frisson of worry about will anybody turn up, will the mower break down on Friday, is it going to rain, will the irises be out, will 'Rosa alba semi-plena Mme Legras de St. Germain' be past her best?

Trying to anticipate how many visitors will come on a particular day is nigh on impossible. One dry and sunny bank holiday was very quiet, and yet another one attracted a vast crowd which was a bit of a problem when it seemed that the majority wanted a cup of DIY tea all at the same time and we only had six mugs! We stocked up on extra crockery but definitely thought we'd have no need of it on Ladies Finals Day at Wimbledon. I considered it a safe bet to sneak inside to watch the match but in the end as more and more visitors arrived I had to rely on snippets of running commentary lobbed through the kitchen window.

Our first coach load of visitors was exhilarating. Twenty-one ladies from Rhode Island USA launched themselves into the garden in that particular very friendly but very intense way of American tourists. They were very keen gardeners intend on extending their knowledge and I felt like an empty husk at the end of the 50 minutes allocated by their very strict tour guide. As the coach bumped its way slowly down the byway pushing past swathes of cow parsley I was rather dismayed to see the tour leader get off and come back to the gate. Surely not another question about Cerinthe major purpurescens? No, she just wanted a picture of Nigel and me in front of "your charming garden" - and she sent me a print with a most effusive thank you note.

My thanks, though, go to two indomitable ladies who came along on the very wettest day last year making sure we didn't score a duck that week. Equipped with wellingtons and huge umbrellas they seemed bemused when I expressed surprise that they'd ventured out on such an afternoon. I even saw them sitting on the swing seat watching the dark curtains of rain approaching from the west across the fields. Now that's true dedication to garden visiting.

I am, of course, looking forward this summer to meeting internet readers in my garden when, of course, the sun will be shining, there will be enough mugs for tea and Diamond will not be a disappointment.

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Copyright Christina Oates

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