Posted by: lialeendertz | July 22, 2010

Tarting up in vain

yes I tweeted this pic the other day, but my camera's broke so I couldnt take a new one

One of the reasons I havent been blogging much recently is that I have been spending every spare moment of every day on tarting up. Not tarting up of the nail-painting, waxing and weaving* (google it, menfolk) variety, but of the mowing, weeding and mulching kind. No significant planting or re-shaping, just trying to make the very best of what I’ve got, every evening, all weekends. The reason was a visit from local NGS ladies Su and Jane, coming to assess my garden to see if it’s good enough put in the yellow book and open next year. I purposely didn’t tell any one they were coming in case they said no, but now that they have (said no) I find – slightly perversely – that I want to tell you about it.

I’m not quite sure why I was so gutted. I suppose opening your garden for the NGS is a right of passage for any gardener, but takes on an extra layer for a garden writer. It proves that you are not just sitting in a bed sit copying and pasting stuff off of the RHS website, that you are actually doing it and have something to show. In truth there was also a gardeny-writery-competitive element to it: Martyn Cox does it, so I wanted to do it too.  So the ladies came. They were properly lovely, not at all the scary dragons NGS ladies are made out to be. They were encouraging and interested in the ideas and it all seemed to be going swimmingly until my: ‘So, what do you think?’ was met by a long silence. I kind of knew what was coming.

It wasnt a ‘No, never’ sort of a no, more of a ‘well there’s lots of access problems to sort out, and the garden is quite young, and you would need to find other gardens in the area’ sort of a no. I thought all this could be done in a year. They didn’t.

Down but not out, I have contacted Transition Bristol to see if they would like to do an open day here instead. Transition groups are the people who are trying to find small, local ways (as well as big, nationwide ways) of lowering dependence on oil and as such are fairly likely to appreciate my efforts, if that doesn’t sound too self-aggrandizing. It makes many things easier in that they are already aware of the eco-issues and the arguments (and are unlikely – if they don’t mind me saying – to have quite as high gardening standards as Su and Jane) and it means showing the garden to a very receptive audience. I really hope it comes off. But I suppose I am a bit of an evangelist at heart and I wanted to have your normal (ha!) gardeners come round – those that havent even thought about avoiding chemical fertilisers or forest gardening or whatever – and show THEM that a garden can be both eco and lovely. But it’s just not lovely enough, it seems.

*Since writing this post it has been brought to my attention, by Alys Fowler, no less, that I really meant threading. Weaving is a way of adding hair to the head, threading is a mysterious technique for the removal of hair and I still dont know how it works. However Ms Fowler suggests that it is ‘rather effective and possibly the most environmentally friendly’ hair removal technique. You see, we have the finest hair removal consultants on Midnight brambling…



  1. I am increasingly perpelexed by the NGS criteria. I have visited some gardens open under the scheme and find myself wondering when was the last time they were visited by the co-ordinator. An acquitance of mine opened hers for the first time the other week and it was OK but not great, lots of new planting etc. I would have been disappointed if I was a visitor. I think a lot depends on the local co-ordinator, some areas seem tougher than others. Ours seems a little relaxed and is more interested in meeting people (met her a few times). Also the 45 mins interest I think is too long and needs to be reviewed.

    Bet there are some local charities that would be thilled to have you open your garden in aid of them.

    Personally I havent got anywhere near enough confident in my garden to even let friends see it – unless it is early evening in May!

  2. What in heaven’s name is ‘weaving’? Sounds painful if you do it too tight, but do please enlighten if you’d be so kind.

    Sounds like its abit like being turned down by someone you didnt really fancy? Wouldve been all well and good if you hadnt have gone in for the snog but the fact that they didnt take to your goth togs can still be a slap in the chops. Good then that you’ve remembered the first rule of school discos: if you’re a goth, no point in trying it on with the mods. Stick with the miserable looking sod in the corner who has the same lp’s as you. Are there any transition folk left in Bristol? I thought they were all in Lewes *spits* or Totnes.

    I’m grumpy too today in case you hadnt noticed

  3. Well, at least you tried. I’d be terrified to open my garden. In fact, I did let a couple of gardeny ladies in a while ago, and one of them said accusingly at the end: “we didn’t see notice many roses”. Congratulations for approaching the Transition Towns people. I’m sure they will come flocking.

    That utterly sucks…I was thinking about doing the same but if they won’t let YOU in…

  5. Am very impressed you invited the ladies round. Very brave. Don’t get why they turned you down really but then I’m a bit of a gardening numpty.

    What I *really* wanted to say was I love love love your porch/veranda. It looks wonderful. Did you need planning permission? I could fit the table tennis table under it, and a hoard of teenagers as well as plants…..{goes off into a daydream}.

    If we’re allowed to make requests, I’d love to see more pics etc.

    PS. Oh yes, back to the post. Good luck with the lovely sounding transition people.

  6. Oh no – I’m v. surprised and now also disheartened.

    I was screwing up the courage to ask the NGS people round but have bottled every time because I fear two things 1) their saying no and 2) their saying yes.

    I second Debs – veranda looks wonderful. Looks like it belongs in a Somerset Maughan short story.

  7. Gutted for you.

    I was also toying with the idea of asking the NGS ladies around, but I think I will go back into my shell and not ask them round.

    I think it is a bit like when I approach galleries with my art work … your heart and soul goes into it (garden and art work) and rejection is pants

    Thank goodness I am not a writer
    xx (sending you kisses to make you feel better)

  8. Perhaps you should have an open day and all your tweet and blogging friends could turn up and admire and eat cupcakes etc. It would be just as good as NGS – better actually. I would come! Roland Paterson could organise a minibus.

  9. I like Arabella’s idea, promise to say only lovely things and appreciate cakes and donate heartily to charity.

  10. I think it will be onwards & upwards from Highgrove so is mid-September OK with you? I am sure Patient Gardener can organise us by then. Do you ‘do’ cakes other than flapjacks?

    Actually I suspect it is the box plants, hand-knitted by a Fairtrade woman’s co-operative in war-torn somewhere or other that rather put those good ladies off.

    What is a normal gardener?

  11. Helen – Hmmm perhaps I did get them in at a tricky time of year. I think you’re right about the 45 minutes. It is really quite a lot to ask of any average sized garden.

    Mark – but the thing is I DID fancy them, well not actually Su and Jane, lovely but not really my type, but I kind of feel the garden people ARE my people. I will get them to snog me (by which I mean put me in the yellow book Su and Jane, if you are reading and becoming increasingly alarmed) one day. Oh dear but then I’d be two-timing the transition people… I think this analogy is getting out of hand.

    Jane – that totally made me cackle with laughter. I love the disappointment, the sense of rose entitlement! Brilliant.

    Leaticia, Dawn and Karen – I seem to have put you all off offering your gardens to the NGS, and I really didnt mean to! This is genuinely a quite small garden, and also a bit patchy looking. I have taken the above picture from the garden’s most flattering angle, which is a bit sneaky of me. Despite the disappointment I am really glad I tried, and I will try again next year.

    Deb – it is wonderful. We have a huge sandpit under there and it is just a magic place to be, especially in rain. I believe that in some areas you need planning permission for them, and in some you dont, so you will have to look into it where you live. I will try to do more pics, but my camera’s just broken, again.

    Arabella, Ursula, Ms B – You are very sweet and lovely but I am starting to feel slightly panicked now…

  12. Hi Lia,

    The NGS are a funny and inconsistent bunch aren’t they? Ah well, mope about a bit and use it as an excuse to drink! They don’t know what they’re missing.

    All is not lost of course. Didn’t Carol Klein get a TV series out of helping people to get accepted in to the scheme after initially being turned down? Could we get her on board? 😉 Jokes aside it is a prime example of how easily rectified these things are.

    With regards to entertaining people for 45mins I think all that my garden could muster up is 3mins. How many people really have a garden that big anyway?

    Anyway, if the rest of your garden is as good as the raised deck I would be sure to pay the entry fee!


  13. I don’t know why Mark doesn’t Like Lewes.

    I do know that they’ve been posting photos of someone’s little willy done there.

    Are the 2 things related?

  14. Your garden looks wonderful – far, far better than mine. (But then no one was more surprised than me when I got into the Yellow Book).
    I know the NGS are incredibly twitchy about health and safety, so I can only assume there are issues with steps or some such. I can’t believe they’d turn you down on the basis of the garden alone.

  15. I can indeed organise the transport. We can be picked up a mile away, go through the necessary security checks upon entering your street, and then spend 1 1/2 hours messing about in your garden. Do you have a ridiculously overpriced shop there too? And cafe? If you want Lia, you can stay on the bus and avoid us all.

    A friend of mine (and mr Stacewicz’s) opened his little garden up a couple of years ago. He got really stressed about it all and spent hours and hours prepping it. He had a good turnout and spent all day answering the same questions from wierdo gardeners. He has since pretty much given up on the hobby and reshaped his garden. (His before and after shots )

    So there, Su and Jane were doing you a favour.
    Back to my macaroni.

  16. Flapjacks. That is all I have to say.

    Well, actually that is a slight fib, I have a great deal more to say. Apart from anything else I had better say more in order to explain why I wrote Flapjacks.
    You did not bake for the ladies of the NGS. They are a little like Russian traffic policemen or Albanian border guards. They need a bit of encouragement: if you know what I mean….*

    * before I am prosecuted for doubting the incorruptibility of the NGS I would like to point out that nothing I have written so far is based on actual persons or events. I also know the President and, though balding, he is as honest as the day is long.

  17. A tweetup and Transition opening both sound much better to me.

    I’d like to open for the NGS too, but I know the lack of parking round here (before we even consider the 45 mins interest) makes it a no-goer.

    So I opened mine virtually 2 years ago and raised over £1,000 for WaterAid instead thanks to my lovely blogfriends 😀

  18. Hurrah to you for trying, boo to the NGS for saying no and another hurrah to you for moving straight on to trying to inflict, whoops, open garden for other people. I get in a panic everytime a friend turns up to see mine, so can’t imagine why anyone would put themselves through such an ordeal.
    PS waxing, weaving, plaiting – I seem to have missed out on a whole lot of girl things!

  19. I have investigated threading and feel we should experiment with MarkD and some baling twine.
    It will be an education for us all and he will thank us in the end.

  20. It looks lovely. Well lovely is an anaemic word – I probably mean beautiful, stylish and interesting and I second the calls for a twitter opening. And the transition folk will love it too. I’m having a ‘stop-over’ in totnes in a few days on the assumption that I can sit a cafe for a few hours and listen to some sort of gentle revolution being plotted at the next table.

  21. Lia,

    I don’t know your garden so I cannot make any comment about it. I do know a great many gardens that are in the NGS and are awful, and gardens in the Good Gardens Guide and RHS Garden Finder that are awful. Many of these awful gardens attract a great deal of praise.

    None of this is surprising since the garden world stubbornly refuses to move beyond the position that ‘all gardens are lovely’ and ‘it’s all a matter of taste’. So the people who go around making these judgements are making them on no basis at all.

    The famous 40 minutes probably indicates how long the County Organiser thinks it will take to write down the plant names of all the plants in the garden. Otherwise, tidiness, healthandsafety, access and similar tick boxes matter..

    And then there is personal prejudice and worse. Quest-Ritson took Veddw out of the Garden Finder because he had taken offence at some unknown slight – and we would never have known that if he hadn’t slipped up and accidentally made that public.

    So take consolation that this ‘judgement’ is worthless and that as long as people refuse to spend time and effort learning about gardens and garden design, and refuse to develop and value discrimination it will remain worthless.

    And do find some time to have a day off and come and see how awful Monmouthshire NGS gardens can be…

    XXXXX Anne

  22. Ryan – unfortunately the rest of the garden is NOT as lovely as my raised deck, but thank you for the compliment on this small and very selective view of the garden…

    BlundstonedLove and James AS – I will return to the flapjacks in a minute but…there is an awful lot of talk in these comments about MarkD. This blog is about me…ME! If you want to talk about MarkD’s manhood or excess hair there is a perfectly valid forum for such things over at Otter Farm.

    Victoria – Thanks, I have cheated with the picture a bit tho, in that it is the nicest corner. There are lots of access problems and the like, which makes me unsure whether to persevere or not. I just so wanted to get in!

    James – flapjacks – you are spot on. I didnt bake. Worse, I ate the last piece of cake in the house the night before they arrived. I was warned, and i paid no heed…

    Roland – an overpriced shop can be arranged! Ive got some lovely flapjacks, only £3.70 each.

    VP – perhaps I should accept that it isnt going to happen. I have similar issues. You virtual opening sounds fab. Well done you!

    Gilly – I suppose i quite like having these little (!) challenges. The garden looked pants two weeks ago. Now everyone that comes in goes, ‘Ooh doesnt it look nice’ just cos I’ve done the weeding, waxing, trimming etc…

    Frugilegus – thanks. Well I havent heard back from the transition folk yet so all this is most extremely previous of me. They seem like good people though, to be sure. Would be fun I reckon.

    Thank Anne – it’s kind words, but I am a bit concerned that my garden may actually be fairly rubbish compared to the standard they are used to. A couple of years may actually be about right, but i do take (and appreciate) your point about not taking this as a judgement.

  23. BlundstonedLove – I think you’ll find Berkshire is my stomping ground…..

  24. Sorry to hear the ladies didn’t fancy you Lia. I’m all for jumping on Roland Paterson’s bus to come and make merry in your wonderful garden. I will judge it by the number of bees present only. And I’m sure you’ll get there eventually. Kate xx

  25. Whether threading or weaving or any other thing, it looked pretty gorgeous to me!
    I’m a bit sceptical about all these sort of organisations.
    Find another way to open and you’ll have me banging on your door!
    There that has put you off!

  26. Ditto PG I am increasingly perpelexed by the NGS criteria.

    I visited a Cumbria garden recently that was, frankly, an absolute tip in places but the owner is a local horticultural “luvie” and has been included for years.

    It’s very brave of you to write this post, I think many of us secretly fantasise about opening for NGS – I know I do, and I also know I will never reach their standards.

  27. NGS gardens should be judged on the standard of their cakes. If they are bad, or worse, non-existent, it completely ruins the garden. So, if you do have a bloggers open day, can you rustle up something chocolatey or carrot-cakey, please?

  28. This is tragically true…:-(

  29. I am up for the tweet up in your garden. Will bring cake and use public transport if that helps.

  30. What a bummer. Your garden looks great. Obviously not as good as mine, but still great. LOL. I’d try and get some more feedback out of the NGS. The scheme depends on gardens joining, so I’m surprised they’ve turned you down. Why don’t you suggest you’ll put on a weaving display at the same time…

  31. Are you MAD? I’m a garden writer, and I cringe when I have to let the window cleaner in the back garden, let alone hundreds of NGS devotees.
    This is the beauty of the close-up photo: it’s like garden burlesque. Only show the little bits you’re proud of and keep the rest private for those you love and know your faults.
    Threading, by the way, is when a beautician holds thread in her teeth about an inch from your face and yanks out your eyebrows with it. It’s bloody agony.

  32. Well your post did have the effect of getting me off my arse to visit some of the NGS events in our local area. Not bad, and I did learn that rocket flowers taste like peanut butter, which was news to me.

    And can I plug our own open day, details at

  33. Sorry to hear that Lia. I don’t think the NGS always get it right. A good while back someone who opens their garden under the scheme asked me to review their garden for the Telegraph. Unfortunately when I got there I thought it was a place stuffed full of plants but with no coherent design – the whole effect rather displeasing. The 45 minutes criteria was stretching it a bit too…

    Funnily enough I was approved by the NGS for opening, but the deal breaker was that I wanted to give some of the money to the Laurie Engel Fund who work with the Teenage Cancer Trust – they have just opened a badly needed teenage wing at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Laurie was our dear friend’s son who died, his father happens to be the journalist Matthew Engel so a bit of publicity there, in addition Gardener’s World Magazine had kindly said that they would flag it up in one of the features I was doing showing the garden in high summer…
    Given that the NGS support cancer charities and that they used to allow people to share profits with a charity of their choice, their intransigence was a little baffling. I explained to her that when I was in hospital with my son, it was humiliating to see teenage cancer patients having to sit in a room with ‘Postman Pat’ on the walls, neither should they be placed with adults, they needed their own space… It’s a pity because there would have been plenty from teas and plant sales to go round. They said it cost around £300 to put people in the guide and that it was not worth their while to have to share anything with anyone…

  34. I agree with Hilary..a lot of pressure opening your garden….and she’s right about threading…Joe tried it… And they didn’t stop at his eyebrows.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: