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Open Gardens


by Roger Pike

In September 2009, at the Annual General Meeting of the Talley Community Amenity Association, a suggestion was floated that Talley might hold an Open Gardens Day”. The idea was that several local residents would be persuaded to open their private gardens and allow visitors to look around them. It was confirmed that if such an event were to be held, it would be covered by the Amenity Associations Public Liability insurance. It was agreed that a small sub-committee would be set up to determine the level of interest in the village for such an event and, if sufficient people expressed a willingness to participate in it, to investigate the practicalities of arranging an Open Gardens Day.

Usk, between Abergavenny and Newport, has been running its own Open Gardens scheme for many years. The concept is simple. Local people open their gardens – large or small, complex or simple, established or still evolving – to the public. Some garden owners are experienced and knowledgeable plantsmen; while many are simply enthusiasts who are happy to share their gardens with others. The members of the sub-committee decided to visit Usk to see if the idea could be adapted for Talley and Cwmdu. Sadly, our communities are rather short of commercial facilities and business enterprises to support such a venture; but the sub-committee came to the conclusion that a simple pilot scheme should be launched in June 2010. About a dozen people had indicated their willingness to participate and St Michaels Church Hall in Talley could provide the administrative and refreshment focus.

It was felt that the variety of gardens in Talley and Cwmdu is considerable and there must be much to be learned and enjoyed on such a day. Plainly our scheme could never be on the scale of Usk, which is an altogether larger community. But a simple format, making limited demands on all those who take part, providing another focus for village life, should be something that many would like to support.

The first Talley Open Gardens Day was held in 2010. Although it was stressed that the event was in no way intended to be a competition to find Talleys best kept garden or a witch hunt to find the most neglected plot, (it was intended purely as a social event for visitors to view the wide range of gardens to be found in the village), it did not stop the various owners from tarting up their own grounds – hence the fervent activity that preceded the actual affair. Cars with their boots full of bags of compost (its cheaper to buy them three at a time) could be seen sneaking into driveways under cover of darkness to discharge their cargo to avoid being spotted by eagle-eyed neighbours. As predicted by the organisers, the morning of the great Open Gardens Day dawned bright and fair and the sunny conditions brought a huge sigh of relieve from the dozen garden owners who had agreed to participate in the initial event. The fine weather also encouraged far more visitors that expected from outside the village to undertake the journey to see what Talley had to offer in the way of horticultural delights. The days activity concluded with a short session in the Church Hall, during which those residents who had opened their gardens enjoyed a few glasses of wine while they discussed their experiences of the day. During this discussion it was agreed that the Open Gardens Day should become an annual event on the second Saturday in June each year.

So, in 2011 the activity was repeated. This time the owners of 14 gardens in Talley and 2 in Cwmdu agreed to open them to visitors. In 2010 the gardens had been opened for 5 hours, but this year it was decided to make it a 6 hour opening, thus providing an extra hour for the more resolute enthusiast to visit the increased number of open gardens. Each open garden was identified by a number displayed at its entrance and supporters simply had to purchase a ticket containing a brief description of each garden and a map indicating the various locations. However, unlike the previous year, the great day started as overcast and showery. In fact, at about the time when the gardens were due to open there was a hail storm – in June!  Notwithstanding the wet weather continuing for most of the morning, which kept early visitor numbers low, the organisers refused to be discouraged. Their optimism was rewarded by the brief sunny periods of the afternoon, which attracted just as many (if not more) people to the village than last year. Despite the adverse conditions – some thought it was the wettest, coldest week-end of the year so far – the event was considered to be a great success by all those brave enough to venture out.

Despite the almost constant rain during the ten days leading up to the third Open Gardens Day in 2012, the bright and sunny conditions on the actual day gave great encouragement to the garden owners who had agreed to participate in the event. Due to unforeseen circumstances, several gardens that were planned to open were not available on the day, but there were still a dozen varied gardens for visitors to go to see. The unexpected fine weather obviously encouraged many visitors from outside the village to undertake the journey to see what the gardens of Talley had to offer. Having now had three successful Open Gardens Days – only one of them in the rain – plans were put in place for the 2013 opening. The welcomed increase in garden visitors also led to the decision to extend the opening hours even further, so in future years gardens would be available from 10.00am to 4.30pm. Talley Open Gardens Day had now truly become the annual event that was first envisaged back in 2009.

For a couple of weeks at the end of May 2013 there was unprecedented activity in Talley. Much of this went unnoticed by the man in the street because most of the action took place in the privacy of private gardens. The reason for this, of course, was that the second Saturday in June was to be the next Open Gardens Day. For an assortment of reasons, several of the regular garden owners were unable to participate in the event this year. However, three garden owners agreed to allow their gardens to be included for the first time. Yet again it was stressed that it was to be a purely social occasion, with no form of competition involved, but that did not stop many of the participants undertaking nefarious activities to improve the appearance of their own gardens.

Although only a dozen or so people could be coerced into agreeing to open their property, it was surprising how varied their gardens were. Attractions on offer to the intrepid visitor included a diverse collection of shrub and flower borders, a range of distinct approaches to gardening on a steep slope, an assortment of wild-life areas and many imaginative uses of recycled materials to complement the plants. It was not just vegetables, flowers, trees, greenhouses and poly-tunnels on display either. One garden had incorporated stone chess pieces and yet others included water features and bee hives. Despite some owners describing their gardens as still being developed or continuing to evolve”, every one had a charm of its own. In every case there were outstanding examples of the love and enthusiasm that the owner clearly possesses for gardening, to say nothing of their obvious expertise in horticultural matters.

Very few visitors managed to visit every garden that was open in the six and a half hours allocated – so varied were the designs and so vast was the range of plants and other garden contents. Refreshments were available at two of the gardens and some had plants for the enthusiast to purchase. The chance for visitors to talk to other like-minded people about gardening aspects (or anything else for that matter) cannot be underestimated. The willingness of garden owners to discuss their gardening problems and the giving and receiving of horticultural advice can be much more rewarding that you might think.

I would like to put on record my genuine gratitude to all who supported this venture, particularly those who had agreed to open their gardens for the first time. The 2013 Open Gardens Day raised nearly £250 and thanks to the generosity of the Trustees of the Talley Community Amenity Association half of this was donated to St Michaels Church.

If you were not able to participate in this years Open Garden Day – either as a visitor or as someone who opened their garden – or if you did support the event and enjoyed the experience, the whole thing will be repeated next year on Saturday 14th June 2014. Why not make a note of the date now?