The Watch House NGS Open Weekend 2015

I must have done something very good in a previous life (heaven knows I am struggling to be good in this one) to deserve the weather we enjoyed this weekend. I would describe it as nigh-on perfect: temperatures in the early twenties, a pleasant breeze and just a few wisps of cloud high in the sky. Saturday started as it meant to go on, with visitors queuing up before opening time. At times the garden was so packed that head doorman Simon had to ask people to walk around the block before coming in. The constant stream continued all day, until we’d reached a record admittance of 120. It was lovely to welcome so many return visitors as well as lots of new ones from Kent and beyond. Garden lovers are a special breed of people; so inquisitive and appreciative of other’s efforts.

Pots on the front door steps
Pots on the front door steps

Sunday was an altogether more relaxed affair. Visitors trickled in steadily, allowing them plenty of time to get a real sense of the space. Entering the garden along a scented tunnel of Trachelospermum jasminoides I heard audible gasps as people emerged into a sunlit oasis of flower and foliage. Propped in a shady corner by the outdoor kitchen (that’s me in the red shorts below) I had time to explain how the garden was constructed and how it has changed since it was first conceived. Our main challenge has been adapting to the increasing shade. This isn’t in itself a problem, but does mean that some plants don’t perform quite as well as they once did. We try new things and move on, making the best of the sheltered conditions we’ve created for ourselves.

I enjoyed a long chat with two ladies from Deal who are organising a group of six gardens which will open for the NGS in 2016. I wished them lots of luck and thanked them for helping to put East Kent on the gardening map. We need more gardens to open in this part of the county, especially in Thanet.

First meeting of the Lyonothamnus Appreciation Society (membership: 7)
First meeting of the Lyonothamnus Appreciation Society (LAS) Membership: 7

This year it was our trees that garnered most attention, perhaps because of the cool shade they offered on a hot day, or maybe because of the relative variety we’ve crammed into a small space. The ferny foliage of Lyonothamnus was much admired, as was the tree’s reddish bark. A few visitors even noticed Pseudopanax chathamica, a tree which grows at a snail’s pace and is yet to convince me of its natural beauty. This tree does however tolerate everything that the east coast throws at it, whilst remaining unflinchingly evergreen.

There was much discussion about growing dahlias in pots (my only option) and getting agapanthus to flower well. With dahlias, it’s a case of choosing the right varieties and I have yet to find any variety better than D. ‘Amercian Dawn’ in this respect. It just adores pot culture and I adore it back. With agapanthus it’s a simple recipe: sun, restricted root-run and the right feeding. I use tomato food from April until October or professional agapanthus food when I can get my hands on it.

Sunday's top team: Simon, Alex, Nigel, Rachel and Scarlett
Sunday’s top team: Simon, Alex, Nigel, Rachel and Scarlett

The tea garden at No. 3 turned out to be a masterstroke, allowing us to entertain 8 at a time. My much ridiculed purchase of a tea urn turned out to be fully justified and we went through tea and cakes like the Ritz on a Sunday afternoon. Lemon loaf with buttercream was top of the pops as was the seed cake. Naturally I had to try them all and my vote went to the lemon cups; but then I do like a good fairy cake! Full waitress service was provided on both days by the lovely Scarlett Wardell, ably supported by Beth, Dan and Rachel.

Scarlett Wardell, waitress extraordinaire!
Scarlett Wardell, waitress extraordinaire!

For the second year running we raised just short of £800 (I might just make up the difference myself), which for a garden measuring just 20ft x 30ft I consider to be quite an achievement. So many visitors told me that they regularly read and enjoy this blog which was wonderful to hear. One lady commented that she felt a little shy about leaving comments, but I do hope she will now that she’s met me. We will be opening The Watch House again next year, hopefully with the beginnings of our new garden on show, so do keep an eye out for the dates.

Dahlias and Brodiaea in the tea garden
Dahlias and Brodiaea in the tea garden