A day in the life: Sir Roy Strong CH, The Laskett Gardens

Sir Roy Strong CH describes opening The Laskett Gardens as part of the National Garden Scheme

Sunday July 21st was D-Day: the biennial opening of The Laskett Gardens for the National Garden Scheme (NGS). We first opened in 2015 and 1,200 visitors invaded us, many from as far away as Cornwall and Essex! Those who open their gardens for charity will know what it means to provide cups of tea, cake and sandwiches for that number of visitors. On that occasion we ran out of cake and had to rush to the local Morrison’s for emergency cake supplies! However we made £12,000 for the NGS so there are no enduring complaints.

In 2017 visitor numbers fell and I thought we’d probably see a similar drop this year so we planned for 500. But we were wrong. We welcomed 800 people which meant £8,000 for the charities the NGS supports (of which Perennial is a beneficiary). We had the option this year of choosing to which of those causes we’d like the money to go. I said this time to the MacMillan nurses, recalling how they had seen me through the last days of my wife dying of pancreatic cancer in the autumn of 2003.

It takes a small army of volunteers to ensure a garden opening on this scale runs smoothly. Hereford Cathedral, where I am a regular worshipper, produced a welcome number; Shaun, Philip and Shane, the gardeners, supervised car parking in the field opposite which our neighbour kindly let us have for the day;  Philip’s wife, along with Janey, my part-time housekeeper, manned the entrance seated behind a card table taking the money. Other friends mucked in and I wandered around welcoming and speaking to as many guests as possible. Brockhampton Court, a local care home, loaned us tables while chairs came from Sellack Church to turn the Colonnade Court into a continental café. We have a small kitchen behind the Colonnade and the poor washer-uppers never stopped. The turnover was so quick there was no time for the dishwasher. Those manning the car park had two way radios lent by a local game keeper. This is Herefordshire country life at its very best.

We were lucky with the weather. The Friday and Saturday had been grim but Sunday was a perfect day and the crowds flooded in from ten o’clock non-stop until we closed at four. What struck me was the number of new visitors. I loved the man who confided in me that his wife had been dragging him around garden after garden for years but this was the first one he had really enjoyed. Another announced that he too, like me, had read History at Queen Mary College in the early 1950s under Professor S. T. Bindoff and brought me greetings from someone I hadn’t seen for a half a century. Plenty of others asked me to name of this or that plant and then there was the lady who propelled her car towards those selling tickets saying she wanted to drive round the garden!

But this was the happiest opening that I can remember not least because I felt this year the garden, after years of change and replanting, had really ‘come together’. That’s always a magic moment. Even our new double classic English herbaceous border, only planted up by Shaun in the spring, looked somehow mature.

At the end of the day all of us involved gathered for a glass of Prosecco and nibbles in the Colonnade Court to chew over the day. I saw that every helper went home with a bottle of fizz and got up and gave a thank you speech, after which we all fell around laughing and slumped back in our chairs in an exhausted but happy reverie, glad that we wouldn’t be doing this again until 2021.

ROY STRONG


 The National Garden Scheme is Perennial’s largest single annual donor, having donated more than £1.8 million since our partnership began in 1986.