I think it’s probably true to say that most of the people who came to our garden open day were attracted by the music, and less people came because they’re interested in organic gardening, local food production and permaculture. For future events, that’s something I’d like to address – to attract more people for that reason. But I’m not sure how to achieve that. Okay, I was lazy with the publicity for the 2014 event, relying almost solely on social media. But then I am in a couple of Facebook groups with this kind of focus, and I did share my event there. I know that if I’m looking for gardens to visit that inspire me; I find it quite difficult to find out what’s going on.
Visitors amongst the cosmos
One of things I thought might work is National Gardens Scheme – this is where people open their gardens to the public, and the money all goes to NGS, who pass it on to charities. A couple of huge advantages here are that they are well known, and there’s some guarantee of quality. They produce a ‘yellow book’ of gardens to visit each year, and their gardens are generally well-attended. Speaking as someone who has actually been shown a ‘garden’ as part of a non-NGS open gardens trail, which consisted of just lights and gnomes, not even any grass, the quality guarantee is important. I want to know that what I’m going to see is something worth seeing. But this means that there’s an inspection process. If you offer your garden to this scheme, some very nice ‘local organisers’ come and take a look.
Bee on calendula
So the point of this tale is that these local organisers came to our event last month, and then very politely declined to include me in the scheme in future. One of the reasons listed is ‘in short, we would like to see more flowers’! Now I know my ornamental borders would score a ‘could do better’ grade in class, but I’ve been to NGS gardens where I would give that grade to their vege gardens, wildlife areas and orchards. So I guess what this is telling me is that they are not judging gardens with the same set of criteria. I don’t think it’s the local organisers’ fault – they may well have understood and even enjoyed what they saw, but they know their audience and what they want to see. Also, the rules say that your garden must provide ‘at least 40 minutes of interest’. Now I had looked at my garden and thought that if I were to visit something similar it would take a good couple of hours to get round it. However, having watched our guests explore this garden I realise now that I’m extremely slow. It seems that not everyone is as geeky as me. So maybe there isn’t that much for the average visitor to see – especially if overflowing flower beds and immaculate lawns are what they’re looking for.
But where does this leave me? I was never entirely sure we were right for NGS, but thought it worth a go. I know when I look in the yellow book for places to visit, I struggle to find anything I think is really interesting. But I don’t know where else to seek out ideas. Garden Organic used to run a scheme where members could open their gardens, with profits going to Garden Organic, but that’s been run right down these days – I think I saw just one garden advertised under that scheme this year. Also, there’s no inspection so no guarantee of quality, or even ‘organicness’ (is that a word?). The Permaculture Association has its LAND scheme, but that’s more aimed at small producers and social inclusion projects. In order to be included in that, you need to accept volunteers at least 4 weekends a year (I think). A private garden with owners with full-time jobs, families and other commitments, just doesn’t fit into this scheme.
Well, we won’t be doing another open day until 2016 so there’s plenty of time to think on this some more. Obviously it would be great if a new scheme sprang up based on allotments and productive gardens, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Maybe I’ll add it onto my list of projects for my retirement? In the meantime, maybe I should try harder to grow an audience for this blog, my Facebook page, and get more Twitter followers. But then, that means writing more, tweeting more etc. And actually, I’m too busy doing it to write more than I do (although I could try and remember to Tweet more often). Maybe next time, I could do more work on the old-fashioned publicity side – tell the local paper, for a start. And send flyers to local gardening clubs – I don’t actually go to them because they’re too focussed on flowers!
All the photos from the day are in a Flickr album at https://www.flickr.com/photos/16074873@N03/sets/72157647535129967/