The Final Countdown 


Twelve days to go and preparation for this year’s garden opening feels like one of those bad dreams where, try as one may, one never reach the finishing line. I can usually let go of the reins a little during August, but with the opening happening at the end of the month I have to keep it looking pristine for what feels like an eternity. Gardens Illustrated could arrive on my doorstep at any given moment and I’d be ready, not a leaf or petal out of place. The Bank Holiday cannot come soon enough.

Hindrance number two (number one being the builders, who have had enough air time already) was a tummy upset. This brought down my usual cast-iron defences and exiled me to bed for the early part of last week. When one is busy it’s amazing just how disruptive a couple of days out of action can be. Feeling rough, I limped back to Broadstairs on Wednesday evening to quickly sweep up, water and inspect two very large, remote-controlled Velux windows that had been installed in the roof of our new garden room. I am not your typical gadget man but am nevertheless easily impressed by anything that has a sleek little box to control it. When the windows might be operational is anyone’s guess: November has even been mentioned, which does not bear thinking about.


Dahlia 'Firepot'
Dahlia ‘Firepot’


After another prolonged cold spring I reckon the garden is only a week behind last year. This is a help rather than a hitch. My bellwether is always Hedychium ‘Stephen’, a ginger that I ruthlessly divided this spring lest it burst out from the sides of its black plastic tubs. I now have six huge plants in place of the original three and they are in rude health, some approaching 8ft tall. All are coming into flower right now, precisely seven days later than last year. I so wish it were possible to transmit scent via the Intranet. Alas the flowers last only a few days, so they will be gone before our visitors arrive. H. yunnanense started and finished blooming in the space of a week, which is one of the drawbacks of not being at home every day to experience these fleeting events in nature’s unpredictable timetable. Next will be peach and coral H. ‘Sorung’, flowering for the first time at The Watch House.


Dahlia 'Darkarin' - more blanc than burgundy!
Dahlia ‘Darkarin’ – more blanc than burgundy.


A disappointing lack of flowers in the main border is something I have to address, but a lack of colour is more than compensated for by the pots that are slowly taking over the terrace. I was bemused to discover a new dahlia, named ‘Darkarin’, sporting pure white flowers instead of the rich burgundy blooms I was expecting. Then another opened the correct colour with a highly pronounced Mallen Streak, making me think I may have purchased a rogue tuber. It’s curious rather than pretty and will perhaps settle down, producing solid red flowers once it gets going. Him Indoors is happy as he likes white flowers and they don’t generally have a place in my summer planting schemes.


Still not quite what I was expecting.
Dahlia ‘Darkarin’ and friend – still not quite what I was expecting!


Meanwhile D. ‘Totally Tangerine’ is proving to have lots of flower power and D. ‘Mambo’ is pleasing me much more than ‘Blue Bayou’, which I find a little too heavy in the centre of the bloom.


Dahlia 'Mambo'
Dahlia ‘Mambo’


Officially the garden at Polegate Cottage was handed back to us in a usable state this weekend, although a good downpour is required to shift the dust from the surface of the paving stones. I tried, in vain, to make something of it using plants purchased for 50p from the local garden centre. I have green rather than magic fingers and am not sure anyone is going to be convinced by a load of pot-bound begonias shoved quickly into containers. Hopefully points might be awarded for trying.


Potted plants by the kitchen sink
Potted plants by the outdoor kitchen sink


I endeavour to find a positive in the most challenging of situations so I’ve suggested to Him Indoors that we theme our teas this year around construction: builders’ tea, rock buns, fruit slab and something I have just invented called an RSJ cake, which is a Victoria sponge with raspberry and strawberry jam inside. Any other suggestions to expand on this theme would be most gratefully received. And, if the lyrics of Europe’s 1986 No. 1 hit are still running through your head, all I can say is that I’m very sorry.


And still it grows....
And still it grows….




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27 thoughts on “The Final Countdown 

  1. Mr TT, a civil engineer, is unable to come up with any more suitable suggestions, hopeless. So, I have told him that next year we are definitely going to Broadstairs in August. Your garden is looking fabulous and I envy your beautiful Aeoniums. Hedychiums and Dahlias. Hope you are fully fit and best wishes for a lovely day for the Open Garden.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Broadstairs in August is an acquired taste. During Folk Week (this week) it is pretty boisterous. The weeks either side are to be recommended, unless you enjoy a heavy dose of Morris Dancing. Thank you for the good wishes 🤓


  2. My daughter Joanne opened her garden a few years ago – it’s a very small garden and she had over 200 visitors. We had heavy rain in the weeks leading up to the open day, which was also being filmed for the Open Gardens tv programme. She had also entered the Britain in Bloom competition. We had to replace some plants three times – in the dark and rain darting back and forth to activate her security light!! It’s hard to believe that she couldn’t understand why I loved gardening. She is obsessed with plants now. We too love aeoniums and dahlias. Love your garden and blog. Have a great open day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now that does sound like an ordeal! Enough to put all but the most hardened gardener off. We have had a very similar number of visitors previously. Hard to say if we will do as well this time. Well done to your daughter for opening, it’s a huge commitment but I bet everyone loved it.


  3. The only addition I can offer is Heli Bar. But that might only apply to those of us with cracks in our walls.
    What is driving me to distraction currently is the dreaded builders’ radio. Or more to the point the ‘singing’ (I use the word advisedly) that goes with it. Maybe they are practicing for Europe?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. We are still fighting drought conditions. Restrictions and fines are in place for outside watering. So far, we can still ‘hand’ water flower and vegetable gardens and new plantings but that is it. Hope you get some rain just not on your open house dates. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The song you mention took a while to come to mind – fortunately, I like it!

    Anyway, good luck with your ‘final countdown’. Hopefully, you got some of the rain we experienced today to wash away the dust. And I hope you are properly over the bug.

    The garden looks wonderful….. and nice to know that respectable gardeners still succumb to 50p garden centre bargains!


  5. I’m new to following your blog, so don’t know the full story. I’ve got builder in too, new kitchen, and they cut my outdoor tap. My poor plants were gasping for some water. Hope you build is finished soon. Your garden and plants are gorgeous. What camera do you use? Your photographs are fantastic and show those blooms well. As for cake, my nan use to make Tomato Soup Cake. It’s much nicer than it sounds. Very moist. Search ‘Campbell’s tomato soup cake’ or ‘Spice Cake’ or combination of those terms and you’ll find many recipes, if interested.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’d love a plan of the design of the Watchhouse and Polegate Cottage when you get a chance. I still can’t picture how the houses and gardens connect. Or have I missed a post?
    As to food and beverages, I really think the punters should be come bearing gifts to the generous people who open their gardens for others to enjoy. Spot of bubbly anyone?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Keeping the garden looking pristine in August is a challenge, but yours looks stunning. I love the pot arrangement by the kitchen sink. That rogue Dahlia is a gorgeous colour, more cafe au lait than white. I hope Park allee is hanging on in there whilst waiting for its new home.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your garden, photographs, musings and passion for gardening are a joy to see and read. I wish I could visit your garden on its open day but sadly that’s not possible. I’m sure the garden will not disappoint your lucky visitors. The torture of having builders in brings Rocky Road to mind 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sorry to hear you have been poorly, hope you are back feeling tip top! This weekend will be a roaring success, I just know it. Your garden is beautiful, you are fabulous and fun and there will be cake. Really, sounds like paradise to me! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tip top (ish) again, thank you Gill! Please do a sun dance for me on Saturday, or better still keep the rain and wind down there in the West Country. Soggy cake is not a good look. We’ll make a special cake the year you make it down to see us!

      Liked by 1 person

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