What a way to spend a Sunday!

I started by calling this post ‘Garden Open – not mine, phew’, and then decided against it (I was never a sub, they’re the ones who are hot with headlines), but that does convey something of the essence of Sunday.

The Artist’s Garden was open for charity under the NGS (National Gardens Scheme, aka the ‘yellow book’), and I was one of the friends roped in who volunteered to help.

I am so relieved it wasn’t my garden (not that mine would make the grade, especially in its present denuded state). There’s the agony over the weather, and Sunday opened with rain and mist and general unpleasantness. Mind you, Karen’s garden still looked lovely.

I played hooky from my kitchen duties for a few minutes to take a few shots – be warned, this is an image-heavy post – before people came surging through the gates. The paths were a little slippery but the rain was slacking off and temperatures were rising, and before long the slates were completely safe.

Walking down to the studio at first, though, was an exercise in how often you could get water down the back of your neck from overhanging grasses. But the raindrops on the grasses were spectacularly lovely, and it was good to be able to appreciate their undisturbed beauty.

Soon visitors began to arrive…

One of the interesting comments which was overheard again and again was about  attention to detail, and not just in planting. I don’t find it surprising; Karen is a textile artist, and the principles of layering and detail are equally as evident in the garden as they are in the studio. Below, for instance, you can just see a couple of contrasting stones placed on the rock just right of centre, and the blue glass globes in the foreground (as well as some lovely plants – that pink is a huge lily).

I think we’d better have a close up of the lily:

I have to get this. I don’t mean I ‘want’ it (after all, ‘I want never gets’), or that I would like it, but that I have to get it. Ahem. Back to non-plant detailing.

There are ceramics too, and interesting pieces of wood:

here forming a background to Echinaceas ‘white swan’ and purpurescens, and a rudbeckia. And the colour combinations, oh, the colour combinations – like the Echinacea purpurescens again but with a grass this time:

But my duties called me back, and soon we were essentially running a tea and cake production line. Elegant tea cups, delicious cakes, no rain: perfect. I think the double gazebos for shelter were a brilliant idea – if they’d not been there, I’m sure it would have rained all day…

Relatives of the cake maker (and of two of the waitresses), these three knew that the lime tray bake was well worth choosing. Delicious – but there was soon a distinct shortage. Sigh. Man, and particularly this woman, cannot live by Echinacea purpurescens alone, that’s what I say.

As the afternoon wore on it got warmer and warmer – quite sultry, in fact (and not just in the kitchen, either). The demand for teas dipped, and again I was able to zoom around. The medlar is fruiting nicely, and though it is some time off being ready, I have my foodie eyes on it.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty to go round. That’s a hint, by the way.

There were a huge number of insects, including lots of bees, all encouraged by the sudden appearance of sub-tropical conditions on the coast of west Wales – another thing that many visitors commented upon. I was especially taken by one which was coordinating so beautifully with its favoured plant,

a yellow and black bug on a yellow and black rudbeckia.

I fell terribly in love with some of the colour combinations. I’ve been doing quite a bit of natural dyeing lately, and I was especially taken with the subtlety of this Eryngium plenum matched with a pale yellow grass (I’m no good at grasses – I can identify about three – so please forgive me):

Hmm, can’t think how I would get anywhere near that – but I’ll bear it in mind… and extraordinarily I met three other spinners, and I only knew one of them. Either a textile artist’s studio being open had drawn them in, or there is a deep link between spinning and gardening. I’m opting for both. Ahem. Back to the garden.

And then there are those plants whose colour combines well not with another plant, but with their surroundings:

This is Lobelia Russian Princess. It’s not subtle, but against the grey of the stone wall it really works. For me this is a plant to be used with care – it could so easily overwhelm and clash with others. Lovely here, though, and it lights up a dark area.

There are plants where I fell in love with the form:

I’ve always liked the flower heads of echinacea (yup, sorry, that again). They almost look as though they should be soft, but of course they’re not. Very, very tactile though…

And there are plants where the dipping light gave them rather special quality, like these pelargoniums (‘Mystery’) in a container.

By now the clock was moving remorselessly towards 5 p.m. The cakes were running out, the kitchen staff were only able to crawl and Karen had developed a sore throat from talking to visitors. It was time to close the gate, take down the road signs and indulge in the traditional open-garden-helpers’ perks:

Apparently these ran out at about two in the morning, and if it isn’t a tradition, it certainly needs to become one. I’m an old hand now: got pinny, will make tea and cut cake, can be hired again for extortionate minimal fees, not to mention the traditional helpers’ perks. Phew, until next year – or the year after, since Karen will only be open by appointment next year. Well worth seeing…

And farewell from Digger too, who guarded the veg all day and didn’t get as much as a sniff of a helpers’ perk. The Gnome Liberation Front will be meeting next Monday at the village gardening club.


26 thoughts on “What a way to spend a Sunday!

  1. paulinemulligan

    Lovely photos of Karen’s garden, how wonderful of you to help in the kitchen. Helpers are so necessary to be able to open your garden, don’t know what we would have done without ours when we opened for the Yellow Book for 5 yrs. Love the grasses with the Echinacea, super contrast of textures.

    1. kate Post author

      It was a good day – the weather really should have been invited to the Helper’s Celebration too, mind you. It wouldn’t have been half so enjoyable if it had been raining (and if I start training now I should be ready for 2014)…

      The textures in that garden are fabulous.

  2. patientgardener

    Bravo the helpers always make such a difference and I know Karen really appreciates the help. I would volunteer next time but would depend on date as 2nd is son’s birthday. As for grasses I can only name two kind of

    1. kate Post author

      It was a good day… and of course, it’s not just the day itself – I know your weeding and coleus suggestions were much appreciated last time (there was a good use of coleus this year, too – handy pot for dark corner)…

  3. Dobby

    I’m going to get them to put a chair lift in between the back door and the garden!
    It was a great day. I knew I should have taken Monday off work and stayed for more helpers perks!! See you in 2014!!

    1. kate Post author

      Well, I didn’t stay either… work’s such a nuisance. The Night Owls were a select party… and apparently there was some window-based shouting from helpers’ partners along the lines of ‘haven’t you two got a home to go to?’

    1. kate Post author

      It is indeed. Worth a trip, maybe? You’d be made very welcome if you ventured up this far!

      (I keep coming back from visiting Karen’s and threatening mine, but they’re so very, very different despite being about five minutes’ walk away from each other that they really don’t compare. Honest…)

  4. Janet/Plantaliscious

    Your post made me chortle – and the helpers perks look most excellent, worth the hard work! I’m rubbish at attention to detail, so it was good to see how it makes such a difference in Karen’s garden. Not sure I am going to be able to change though. And blow it, just as I thought I had my kitchen garden all planned out, you show me Karen’s and now I am having new ideas…

    1. kate Post author

      It was a good day… I know what you mean, I keep seeing Karen’s and changing my mind about mine, and then I get back to mine and all those ideas just won’t work in the same way. Different place, different microclimate, different gardener…

      I could do with applying a little attention to detail to my weeds. And a flame thrower.

      (By the way, I think they’re having a rethink on the veg front – it’s been a horrible veg year round here. Dire…)

  5. welshhillsagain

    Thanks for sharing your photos. I could see it was going to be brilliant when I came on Thursday! It is so very Karen to have produced a stunning garden this year and be intending to change it all over the course of next year! I agree with you totally about attention to detail. It is not something I am good at, I tell myself I am more of a big picture person when what I mean is that I am always rushing through my garden on the way to somewhere else in it. Karen has that and a painterly eye too. Sounds like a very good day!

    1. kate Post author

      I really relate to the rushing through en route thing – oh yes… It was fabulous, really looked its best, but I can see what she means about some things needing to be refreshed and changed. But what a lot of work when it already looks so good….

    1. kate Post author

      The perks were great, the cakes were even better. Didn’t manage to guard enough of the coffee and walnut, alas. (Next time she opens, I’m hiding that one.)

  6. Crystal

    Really enjoyed the virtual trip around Karen’s garden, and without getting wet too. Mind you, couldn’t sample the cakes. I guess you had to be there, after all.

    1. kate Post author

      Her plants are in such good condition, and they all behaved themselves on the day too (it dried out quite quickly, and so did I). Pity I can’t post a virtual slice of cake!

  7. Cathy

    You have really captured the essence of Karen’s garden in this post. It shows how effective the use of textures and little extra details are – and what a lot of colour there still was, considering it’s September.

    1. kate Post author

      Her September colour makes me want to spit. Well, OK it makes me want to break into her garden at dead of night and lift half her plants. Actually it’s really indspiring me to get my act together and do something along the echinacea and rudbeckia lines…

  8. Karen - An Artist's Garden

    Kate, I left a comment here and it is vanished off into “never never land” I am sorry. I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated your help – we could not have managed to do the tea and cakes without you, Dobby and various floating helpers being nailed down to the kitchen.

    I also want to thank you for the delightful pictures of the garden – it is lovely to see what you have noticed and your images paint the garden in a very favourable light! Although, even though I say it myself, it did look rather nice “on the big day”

    1. kate Post author

      Never mind, this one is here!

      That’s no problem, I quite enjoyed it despite comments about availabilty of airline tickets and early-purchase discounts for September 2013 (must remember for 2014)… and it did look lovely. Really lovely!


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