We closed our garden, by Abbie Jury

April 12, 2014

in Articles, General Interest

Yes, this is a conversation we have every year: shall we go on opening the garden?

It’s very hard work and I end the season exhausted. It comes easier to the naturally gregarious, I suspect, the ones that don’t want to hide under the bed when people arrive. But for us, it’s the way we fund the enormous extravagance a large garden is. Has to be done – and anyway, it would be ridiculous not to share it.

Do you other openers love it?

Abbie clearly didn’t.

Portrait Anne Wareham copyright Charles Hawes

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Wareham, editor

Copyright Abbie Jury for thinkingardens

Abbie Jury:

We closed our garden recently. It has been a revelation.

When we first started opening twenty six years ago, it was for the ten days of our garden festival. In the time since, both the festival and our own garden have gone from strength to strength. As our plant nursery business grew, so too did the time we opened draw out until it was for eight months of the year, every year. We would open for the magnolias from August 1 – that is a spectacular time of year here. But all of our springtime is pretty spectacular, really, so we stayed open. Then we found ourselves opening for the summer season until we extended out to March 31.

Spring is pretty spectacular here Copyright Abbie Jury for thinkingardens

Spring is pretty spectacular here…

 The garden was an integral part of our business. It gave us horticultural credibility. Garden visitors bought plants and plant customers would often go round the garden. But neither side of the business was ever large enough to employ sufficient staff to give us a breather. At its peak we had four full timers (plus us and the two of us were close to another four labour units) and a few casuals or part-timers. It took an Australian colleague to point out to us that we were killing ourselves.

First to go was the mail order side of the business. We breathed a big sigh of relief. Next we decided we were sick of working seven days a week and retail could go except for the busiest month of the year. Another big sigh of relief. Then we decided we would rather garden than do nursery work so the wholesale side of the nursery went. We made all but one staffer redundant and, dare I say it, the irritation factor in our lives dropped by 90%.

This year, while loving being in the garden, we began to feel that we no longer wanted to share it with the public. At least not for a while. We had reached the point where we would hide from visitors if we could. Neither of us wanted to answer the phone when it rang. Yes, we may be the magnolia experts but no, we did not want to advise endless individuals on which variety to plant in their garden and exactly how wide a particular variety would grow in x number of years – especially as we were not selling them the plants. Shame on me, I stopped replying to all emails. After more than two decades of building up a high public profile, we just wanted to hibernate.

Burgundy Star Copyright Abbie Jury for thinkingardens

Mark’s Burgundy Star

Added to that, it has been a difficult time here. Tikorangi has the misfortune to be sitting on large gas reserves and the last eighteen months have been hell, with two companies determinedly extracting as much of it as possible. We are lucky. We can’t see the petrochemical development. But we can hear it. Some of the drilling is audible. The unrelenting heavy traffic has been distressing. The installation of infrastructure (roading, pipelines, designated high tension power lines and the rest) has been intrusive.

Fracking Copyright Abbie Jury for thinkingardens

The pertochemical industry is all around us now – not visible but often audible

We have been fracked to kingdom come over the past six years because of deviation drilling beneath us. Our water is monitored for contamination. We had an oil spill along our two road boundaries. Trying to get better process, better monitoring, setting up a neighbourhood network, pressuring Council, negotiating with one of the two companies (the other is hostile) – the toll on me has been high. It is meant to get better for us this coming year but I no longer wanted to wait and see if that was the case. I didn’t want visitors going away saying: “Lovely garden. Shame about the noise.” I started to talk about closing the garden.

Added to that, visitor numbers have been in decline. It is not that we ever got large numbers. Few gardens in New Zealand get big numbers and we are off the tourist trail. We took on the English model of open gardens in this country but there aren’t actually enough garden visitors to sustain it. Nor were we willing to compromise and go for events where the garden is used as a venue. Mark has always been adamant that he only wanted visitors who actually wanted to see the garden. I once tried doing a few weddings. Mark was opposed to it so he hid. It was…okay, I s’pose, until I met Bridezilla. “Lady,” I thought, “you are not paying me anywhere near enough to treat me like the hired help in my own garden.” The only wedding we have done since was our daughter’s best friend and no money changed hands.

Wedding Copyright Abbie Jury for thinkingardens

See ‘A Cautionary Tale’ on the jury.co website.. Our lovely daughter is the bridesmaid in dark brown at the front.

The global financial downturn is still biting, if the decline in overseas visitors is anything to go by. We used to get a steady trickle of British and American enthusiasts and some interesting tours. That dried up with the GFC and the trickle is now only a drip.

Time to close, we thought, at least for a year or two. The day the signage went up saying “Closed until further notice”, we received the first ever letter of complaint that we can remember. Some old biddy. The man who greeted her had not smiled (that would have been Mark – he is reserved). She resented paying 50c for a cup of tea (!!!). We were ripping her off. We should only be charging $8 for garden entry, not $12 and that should include tea and coffee. We will keep that letter as a reminder of why we have closed. We don’t want to be public property any longer and have people like that wandering around looking for fault.

As soon as we closed, our lives changed in ways we had not thought of for years. Our children spent much of their lives in a garden with the public passing through (albeit in small numbers). There were rules. They were not allowed to swear, bicker loudly, have screaming arguments or play loud music if there were people in the garden. The kids hated the leaf blower and the lawnmower waking them in the morning. It is damned inconvenient never being able to hang the washing on the line at certain times of the year or when tours are coming. I still remember second daughter saying to me at a busy time: “Mum, can you tell people that they don’t need to wave to me as they pass the dining room windows and I am having my breakfast.” That of course would be a late morning breakfast. She was a teenager at the time.

 Copyright Abbie Jury for thinkingardens

Washing line – scourge of the open garden…

Out of every hundred garden visitors, ninety nine will be pleasant and appreciative. Two or three will be positively stimulating and enrich one’s day for having visited. And the hundredth will be horrible. Sod’s law says you will always remember that hundredth visitor. I have noticed this with other people who open their gardens. In fact we can have quite entertaining conversations amongst garden openers about the hundredth visitor and what new depths of ghastliness they plumbed. It is very unfair to the other ninety nine who are much less memorable.

We opened about seven acres of garden. We have more but the core area is that seven acres. Maintaining that to opening standard takes a lot of time and effort. Lawns have to be mowed often, edges done, debris cleared, surfaces swept, paths raked, long grass cut with the weed eater, public facilities kept clean – and that is on top of the usual weeding, planting, pruning, trimming, staking and all the rest of gardening. When you have an open garden, the timing of projects is critical because the garden has to stay looking good.

It is also quite difficult when you are a serious gardener with one of the better plant collections and one of the few inter-generational gardens in the country, to be competing for garden visitors against free public sector gardens and the plethora of what we call $2 gardens (those that charge by gold coin donation, $2 or, horrors, maybe $4 if they really fancy themselves). (NGS equivalent? editor.)It makes us look expensive even though our garden contains more intensive garden and different areas than a dozen of those small gardens. We have been patronised and put down by the ignorant many times over the years (that 100th visitor again).

No more. We are like prisoners out of gaol. It is wonderfully liberating.

We can hang the washing on the line any time, any day. Skinny dipping in the pool is not fraught with potential embarrassment. It does not matter if the paved areas are overdue for a sweep. Bare patches here and there in the garden are fine as long as they don’t worry us. We only have to deadhead rhododendrons that set seed, not all of them. It no longer matters if a bit of debris is left for a while before being cleared away. We can cut back plants as hard as we like, knowing it may take 18 months for them to look good again and we will not be judged by the hacked appearance in the interim.

Copyright Abbie Jury for thinkingardens

Now we are gardening solely for our own pleasure and satisfaction. It is too soon yet to see whether I lose the constant sweep of my eyes wherever I walk, checking for missed weeds, something askew or in urgent need of attention. It is the eye of the assessor. I am hoping it goes.

It is also too soon to see if closing our garden gives us more creative space. We have two major new gardens to build in the areas freed up by closing the nursery. One has been on the drawing board for about six years. We have all the foundation plants in our open ground areas, just waiting to be moved into place so when we finally do it, the effect will be pretty established from the start. We have the funds allocated. We know what needs to happen to build that garden and it will be a major extension. We just haven’t had the time and mental space to do it. Maybe now we can get into the swing of construction in the next few months, ready for planting in the coming year. We may even get to finish the wild garden or North Garden as we call it, which has been gently growing for over two decades but needs the bridges fashioned and the final tweaking to get it to the stage we want. We are now free to experiment. Maybe we will get time Copyright Abbie Jury for thinkingardens

Maybe we will get the time to finish the wild North Garden and make the bridges at last.

We may never open again. Who knows? We haven’t taken down all the signage yet. We are keeping our options open. We may only open for targeted weekends – maybe snowdrops, magnolias, rhododendrons and summer lilies. We have no idea whether we will miss the contact with garden visitors which can be very affirming. In the meantime, the only way to get into our garden is by personal invitation as our guests. Does anybody want over four dozen china mugs, two tea urns (different sizes), a folding trestle table, umbrellas, walking sticks, a canvas gazebo, a visitor toilet block and assorted other accoutrements?

We won’t ever stop gardening. Mark won’t stop breeding plants but glory be. We be free.

Abbie Jury  website 

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Portrait Abbie Jury copyright Abbie Jury on thinkingardens, editor Anne Wareham, Veddw

 

 

 

 

The Jury Garden in New Zealand is the breeding ground for the Jury plant hybrids, many of which are known throughout the international gardening world. Abbie Jury is also a garden writer, while Mark Jury continues plant breeding in the path first trod by his uncle, Les Jury and his father, Felix Jury. @Tikorangi (Twitter)

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christine dakin April 13, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Your piece might make me question just why we open our garden. I do admire you for taking a big decision even if you have done it in stages. But you must have some other form of income to enable you to close the nursery and garden. That’s basically the main reason why we open, its for the money. The theory is that garden visitors see plants growing in the garden and then buy them in our nursery, that does happen but the time spent with some people doesn’t always equate to a decent spend. We are open for the NGS and this year its even more relevant that we raise a goodly amount in donations because Philip is being treated for cancer right now. Consequently I am running the place almost completely single-handedly.
Two years ago we had a café on site run by an enthusiastic young women and that seemed to bring far more than the 1% of horrendous visitors. Yummy mummies who had no idea what their kids were doing, also many examples of putting pennies in the donation box rather than ££££££££’s. I was almost permanently grumpy during the three years of the café being there.
Might you get more and more ‘slovenly’? Maybe you could report back after 6 months or a year, I’d certainly be interested in knowing how your gardening habits will change.

Valerie April 13, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Twenty years ago the village launched an Open Gardens Day to raise funds for a new local hospice. It was great success and it has been continued by the Horticultural Society every two to three years. We found that we were planning our big projects in the “off” years and making sure that we had stuff that looked good for the end of June date chosen. Last time it was more widely advertised, and we were also persuaded to have a donation box for teas and plant sales, rather than charge set amounts, “as people are more generous when just asked to donate.”

It didn’t take our helpers on the well supplied tea and cake stall, to realise that a goodly number of folk weren’t taking any notice of the donation box. When gently reminded, oh the excuses. “I thought it was in with the entrance fee”,” my husband is going to pay/ I thought my husband had paid.”,”I didn’t realise that was what the box was for”. One woman who had already taken five teas with scrummy cake, asked if she could open the box to breakdown her £20 note. I gave her change and she put one pound of it in the box.

Similarly, three ladies at the plant stall were overheard to say, “You can take what you like. No-one is taking any notice.”

Once every two or three years, is no hardship garden work wise, but Himself asks if giving a donation equal to what we receive for the day would be a lot less stressful. But what was just a village event where we knew everyone is no longer and we have reluctantly bowed out for next time.

People do ask if they can come to see the garden, so small groups of likeminded folk like the WI, U3A, Horti Societies still come, which is more like friends visiting and more enjoyable and it helps that the garden is not part of our income. I gave up the plant nursery years ago and went to work at someone else’s garden, but that’s another story!

Abbie Jury April 14, 2014 at 8:25 am

Oh Valerie, one thing we learned early was that the cheaper you price yourself, the more riff raff (or tyre kickers as they are known here) you get. As soon as you lift the price a little higher, those ones disappear in an instant. They may well moan about your prices but who cares. Mind you, we did joke one year about trying the Ryan Air approach – free entry but $3 to use one of our umbrellas, $3 to use the loos, $3 to bring their own food in, $3 to sit in one of our chairs etc. We figured we could still come out on top.

Valerie April 16, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Sounds a workable solution. Tickets to be purchased in advance and given up to the Inspector. (A good role for my mother, she’d terrify anyone trying to sit on an unticketed chair)

Abbie Jury April 16, 2014 at 8:37 pm

I once got into terrible trouble locally for publishing a piece that contained the following:
“The Fringe Garden Festival proved that there is a good market for people who only want to spend $2 visiting a garden. So we thought that next year, should the Fringe be determined to continue on the same dates, we could cater for their garden visitors by allowing them entry to our carpark. The carpark looks particularly pretty at this time of the year with a splendid semicircle of rhododendrons in flower. We could name all the rhododendrons if required and strategically place a bevy of ornamental touches.

Visitors who are only prepared to pay for one ticket garden entry (the $4 visitors) could have access to our carpark, our front lawn and our rockery.

Two ticket entry people could therefore visit the carpark, the front lawn, the rockery and the subtropical gardens under the rimus.

Three tickets would give the run of the place (all of the above, plus the sunken garden, rose garden, avenue gardens and the park), along with free tea and coffee, advice and unlimited time.

Electronic tagging would be necessary so if that anybody strayed beyond the area they had paid for, an electronic voice would boom out: “Number 42. You have exceeded your area. Your time is now up. Please return to base immediately.” (the full story is here http://jury.co.nz/2006/11/18/buying-some-controversy/).

Hell hath no fury like the $2 gardener derided.

annewareham April 13, 2014 at 10:51 am

There is an enormous difference between moaning about the price of a cup of tea and garden criticism. Even between saying ‘I didn’t like x’ and actually putting the effort into working out exactly what isn’t working.
And – it hurts, but it’s not fatal and it does wonders for your garden. See http://veddw.com/annes-writing/being-criticised-by-anne-wareham/
XXx

Abbie Jury April 13, 2014 at 11:01 am

Neither of us has ever had a problem accepting advice or suggestions from our peers when it comes to the garden. That doesn’t hurt at all and a fresh set of eyes can be very helpful. But there is a big difference between that a self appointed critic who comes in determined to make public judgement. That is the fraught territory.

annewareham April 13, 2014 at 11:05 am

Why is appointing yourself a problem? Doesn’t that just mean someone who isn’t necessarily a friend? (or peer)

Diana Studer April 18, 2014 at 8:03 pm

perhaps Abbie is talking about people who come specifically to find something to whine about. Not thoughtful criticism, just WHINGE!

annewareham April 18, 2014 at 8:29 pm

Could be. There are definitely people in the world like that! Xx

Helen April 13, 2014 at 9:29 am

I could never open a garden to the public I’m not thick skinned enough but I admire those that do for whatever reason. I am also grateful to them as it gives me an opportunity to learn about what works and what doesn’t and discover new plants. I think Abbie’s comments about the 100th visitor and the impact such people have on the garden owner are very telling and support my view, previously expressed here, that critics should try to be more measured in their criticism of a garden and not just trash it because they can.

I hope Abbie and Mark learn to love their garden again – it looks stunning

Abbie Jury April 13, 2014 at 10:38 am

Thank you. We have never stopped loving our garden. It is just a very private joy now. And yes, I did not join in the earlier debate on garden crit because I can see the other side a little too clearly. And I wasn’t at all sure I wanted some of the advocates of such criticism in my garden!

Katherine Crouch April 12, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Scale Abbie’s experience down to 5 years of NGS opening of an 80 foot long garden and that is more or less how I felt when I no longer opened the garden. A return to slobbish not-gardening was bliss. Luckily I had only a couple of vile visitors. Lord forgive those that trespass against us, but never forget their names…….

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