You don’t have to be grand to open your garden to the public…

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Village and town Open Gardens events are a good way of making money for local charities. And it brings people together – the London Open Garden schemes are a real testament to the great community spirit that exists in village-like pockets all over London.

Now that we’re in Kent, I find myself helping to organise an Open Gardens Event for the medieval town of Faversham on June 29th. The Faversham Society has been running a ‘Secret Gardens’ event for many years, but nobody could be found to run it in 2013. Now that garden designer, Fern Alder, has moved in, we all feel encouraged, and a committee was established on an ‘I’ll do it if you do it’ basis. We started with seven of us last November. None of us had organised this event before, so we were effectively starting from scratch.

These are our top tips:

1)      All you need is side access rather than horticultural brilliance. If someone is generous enough to allow people to visit their garden, then the garden qualifies. Everyone has a different idea what makes a good garden. Some of our 35 gardens are tiny plots crammed with colourful flowers. Many are tucked behind historic houses and others are new, dug out of what was a building site five years ago. Each one will be someone’s favourite. So it’s important to have a wide range rather than to get involved with any kind of Garden Style Police. There is a ‘code’ apparently: a ‘plantswoman’s garden’ means a serious gardener, and a ‘wildlife’ garden is often ‘we can’t stay on top of the weeding.’

Some gardens in Faversham are tucked  behind historic buildings.

2)      The jobs are: finding the gardens, liaising with the garden owners, keeping the minutes, publicising the event, designing the posters and handbooks, ensuring the insurance and working out how the entry is going to be paid for and enforced. The last is the most difficult. We have decided on entry by £6 handbook (2 x £10), sold from the Fleur Visitor Information Centre in Preston Street. It gives you access to 35+ gardens. But we’re still arguing about whether we could have done it a better way, even after six months.

3)      Don’t forget insurance. Normal household insurance doesn’t cover anything as insanely dangerous as inviting people to stroll round your garden. You will be on the phone for a very long time while your insurers are thrown into panic about it. Some charities have insurance that will cover you – our Open Gardens is a fund-raiser for the Faversham Society, whose insurance covers us. Otherwise Lycetts and Pavey Group do open gardens insurance quotes.

Don't forget insurance - and make sure  you clear garden tools away. 

4)      Publicity is a big job. The local papers and their ‘what’s on’ listings are a must. Fern has listed the event with the Garden Media Guild, and there are articles or listings promised in the Lady, The Daily Telegraph and The Evening Standard, but nothing can ever be guaranteed. Don’t forget the WI, local gardening clubs, charity and town notice-boards, people’s windows and websites. We’re doing two banners (at £48 each) to hang on railings. Planning permission isn’t needed for banners if they’re advertising a charity event and are less than 0.6 square metres.

5)      Design is another big job. We’re lucky to have Jane Hannath, who is a designer, on the committee. She has designed the handbook, posters and flyers. It would have been a good idea to co-opt a photographer, too, as much of the publicity has been done with Instagram photos, plus whatever we can beg off people.

If the warm spring means all  the flowers are over by the end of June, pelargoniums in pots will save the day.

6)      Don’t even think about the weather. Three of our gardens were flooded in December’s surge tide (the highest since 1953). One has been dug up for a mains leak…and spring is so warm this year, might everything be over by the end of June? I’m relying on foliage contrast for effect – I have a wonderful dark red cotinus coggyria ‘Grace’ which offers six months of intense colour. And my lavender, lychnis coronaria and erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ all flower for months at a time. And if there’s a real panic, pelargoniums in pots will save the day. So do pop in – and, if you don’t already have an ‘open gardens’ in your own town or village, have a go yourself next year!

Erysimum Bowles Mauve flowers for months at a time, and the cotinus  coggyria in the background offers leaf foliage contrast even if all the flowers are over by the end of June...

Thanks for reading,

Alexandra_signature