We’re well into summer now and I’m sat here wearing sweatpants, long sleeves and a dressing gown, trying to keep warm. It’s no secret that summer in the UK this year has been even more miserable, cold, wet and grey than it sometimes can be – and yes – that is bitterness in my tone.
Not being guaranteed to have at least a few days in a row of warm sunshine (we haven’t even managed an afternoon of it for over a month) has had a chilling effect on visitor numbers and enthusiasm for people to come and support us on NGS Open days. Continuously unsettled weather where the forecast for the same afternoon can sometimes be wrong means people just won’t book a visit if it’s showing a chance of rain, which it has been doing, almost every day.
There was one recent Open Day where we were forced to clear out the greenhouse so we could shelter the teas and cakes (and people) under it while the rain bucketed down, sideways at times with the wind. The weather was truly vile that afternoon and only those who had pre-booked turned up – all en-masse during a brief break in the rain. We had less than half the number of visitors, but oddly managed to sell all 40 slices of cake while I was panicking that I had baked far too many.
There was sense of fun and camaraderie among the volunteers and the visitors that cold, wet afternoon. Strangers sat down and huddled together, chatting under the gazebo and in the greenhouse. The volunteer helpers were still cheerful and smiling despite getting increasingly wet and cold over the course of the afternoon (at least we were all well-prepared with waterproofs). It seems that hostile weather brings out the more eccentric side of people and while weather conditions are out of people’s control, their attitude towards how they want to experience the afternoon, isn’t.
The weather for our next and final NGS Public Open Day is looking similarly wet, but at least we know how to set up the garden for heavy rain (tip: you need far more towels than you think). The forecast might yet change but it rarely does for the better.
With the final public Open Day in sight and only a couple of private group visits shortly after, the end of the “open season” is not far away but thoughts and plans are already turning to NGS 2024. While we have had a spectacular opening year – weather considering – we do know that we want a little bit more of our summer time back so we’ll be reducing the number of public Open Days we do, down to perhaps three. The open days combined with poor weather means I haven’t been able to get as much garden maintenance done as I’d like and so there will be rather a lot of catch-up needed after the final group visit.
It felt barely a few blog posts ago that we were gearing up to open the garden for the first time and nervous about the catering, getting volunteers, setting out the seating and all the countless little things that go into preparing for visitors. Now – towards the end of the first year – we feel like veterans, having experienced large and small groups, sunny and atrocious weather. That hasn’t reduced the amount of work each time, we only become much more efficient at doing it.
While I look ahead to the next Open Day, I can only think what a learning experience it’s been – opening for the NGS this summer – and I’m also reminded of all the wonderful comments written into the guestbook by garden visitors. Incredibly positive comments about the garden and about the cakes, that help with the motivation to get over the bad weather.