I can't count at the best of times (and definitely not when I'm under pressure) so I may be mistaken about this. But I think I have only 14 potential gardening days before I open my garden for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday 31 August. That's not allowing for rain, or relatives coming to stay, or picking people up from Gatwick when they return from the school choir tour, or any other demands on my time. Eeek!
What's even worse, lots of people have promised to come and see the garden, which is lovely, but ever so slightly intensifies the pressure. When one of those people is Anna Pavord (whom under any other circumstances I love to pieces) and another is Cleve West (ditto), I start to wonder whether leaving the country might be an option. I know for a fact there are several plants in my garden upon which Cleve has poured scorn in his Urban Gardener columns for The Independent. Eeek! Eeek! Eeek!
I've booked the week before the opening as holiday. I did the same thing last year, and it poured with rain. I don't mind getting wet, but it is difficult to get things done when you can't wipe your glasses fast enough to see what you're doing.The rain lasted most of the week, long enough to ensure that all the gardening chores became a major struggle. Then, just as I got to the cakemaking stage, the sun came out, and I spent two days baking Victoria sponges and pretty much baking myself.
In the middle of it all, I was rung up by work ("We know you're on holiday, but we thought you wouldn't mind, because you're at home") and asked to write 900 words for the Comment pages about why gardeners love gardening. Two words sprang to mind immediately, but unfortunately one was unprintable.
So, to business. I haven't got enough flowers. Foliage is fine for me, but other people like a bit of floriferous activity, I find. I do have some hardy fuchsias and some pelargoniums, but I've given up hope of the cannas flowering this side of October. I will need to find some slug-proof blooms of some kind. Dahlias, unfortunately, aren't slug-proof enough, so it will probably be yet more crocosmia.
Looks fairly tranquil, doesn't it? A pity those two windowboxes either side of the small table are STILL waiting to be planted up...
The back border is a bit, um, unfocused. The bananas are doing well, but they're above head height. Some things have got chewed and don't look very good (mainly the heucherella, which I think I will replace with heuchera). On the lefthand side of the garden, the eucalyptus is out of control, aided and abetted by the fatsia, so everything has become very shaded. I must prune. On the right, the clematis I kindly supplied with clematis netting earlier in the year hasn't managed to cover it yet. How's that for gratitude? Will green plastic clematis netting show up against a dark brown fence? Probably.
The offending clematis netting. Another judiciously placed pot of Canna 'Pretoria' may take care of it
Is there anything that's doing really well? Yes, the goldfish. These are all named after characters from Lord of the Rings. (What can I say: teenage kids; Tolkien; go figure.) We started off with Gandalf, Galadriel, Frodo and Bilbo, and then they started breeding, so I've lost track of exactly which one is Merry, or Pippin, or Strider. To be honest, I could never keep track of exactly which character was which when I read the book. I'm sorry, but personally I'm not a Tolkien fan. Tolkien for me is a bit like Monty Don or Tony Blair: everyone else seems to love him, but I just don't see the appeal. However, if you're going to keep goldfish in your pond and want literary names for them, it's a good idea to choose a long book with lots of characters, or a profilic author like Dickens or Trollope to inspire your choice. The buggers breed like crazy.
The pond. Aka Hobbiton
The best thing, I find, when you're trying to make your garden look presentable, is to start with the obvious things. If you have a lawn, you'll want to mow it, but also make sure the edges are pristine and neatly clipped. It costs nothing (apart from an hour or so of your labour), and the whole garden will look instantly better.
Nigel Buckie, who opens for the NGS the same day as me (at 19 Montana Road, London SW17), was taken to task by two elderly ladies for not mowing his lawn the first year his garden went on display. "I hope you're going do better next year, young man," one said. "Next year," said Nigel, "that lawn won't even be there!" His backyard is now so full of plants - bananas, palms, tree ferns, hostas, hedychiums (ginger lilies) - that it acts as a kind of microclimate and he can grow things like strelitzia (bird of paradise) and leave them out all year.
I find that however lush your garden may be, there are inevitably gaps or, at the very least, boring bits. It's a good idea to have two or three (or several) things in pots on standby to fill these, and I try to choose plants that will look appropriate and not just plonked there. Think about grasses, or foliage, as they might blend in better (and give more lasting value for money). I use metal three-legged stands which make it easier to site a large pot in an existing bit of planting without squishing the perennials underneath.
Keep an eye out for weeds and if possible, get a friend to go round the garden with you beforehand. A fresh eye is always much better at spotting things such as the bindweed growing through the bamboo and the bramble that insists on erupting from beneath the holly tree.
The main aim as far as the NGS is concerned is to make as much money as possible for their charities. My main aim, however, is to ensure that people who come to visit the garden enjoy themselves. That means lashings of tea and a waistline-defying spread of coffee and walnut cake, lemon cheesecake, apple cake, carrot cake, lemon sponge and as many other things as I can think of, or cook, in the time available. It's lovely to be told that your garden looks good, but it's even nicer to see people having a thoroughly good time. I suppose I'd better go and get on with it.
For full details on the opening, go to the NGS website, look for the Garden Visiting page and type '28 Multon Road' into the Garden Name field.