Well what a journey we have been on since we announced our intention to sell our home of twenty years, Wychwood. Before we had even got used to the idea ourselves, the phone was running hot and the emails started flowing.
People who have shared in the creation of Wychwood spoke of our decision as if they were about to lose a family member. People who had never been here were calling to make sure the opportunity still existed for them to make the journey to see it for themselves. The rumour mill – which works overtime in a small island state – had us divorcing before we have even married and about to embark on a bitter custody dispute.
We simply had no idea what sense of ownership people have of this place. Years of opening our gates to the public have meant that not only have our many thousands of visitors watched as our garden developed and took on a life of its own, but they have shared in two decades in the life of a family. Not so long ago, a lovely old gentleman said to me: “I remember sitting next to your son on this bench, watching him eat a beetroot sandwich. All he had on was a white singlet and a nappy and we shared a bit of a laugh because I love beetroot sandwiches too”. Louis is now 15 years old. That’s how long this man has been visiting for.
Visiting what is essentially a private garden is very different from visiting a public garden. Botanical gardens are lovely, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve never been to one where I really felt a human connection, and yet whenever I visit a private garden I can sense the owners’ presence and see aspects of their creativity in every step. There is a feeling that you are being allowed to share in their lives, and that is why it is so special. People who have come here have had to put up with us as well, warts and all – right down to the nitty gritty of my washing hanging on the line. You don’t get that treat at the Hobart Botanical Gardens.
The sense of connection that people have to Wychwood is lovely, and it brings them back time and time again. Whether they have come with a friend, or visitors from the big island or overseas, its really gratifying seeing them wanting to share it with other people, and if I am honest I have enjoyed eavesdropping as they conduct a tour of the garden, pointing out the highlights and shushing their friend as they approach the creek on the off-chance a platypus might be waiting for them. They notice the changes we have made, or the demise of a favourite plant, or the fact that the peonies are better this year than last. And perhaps even that Louis is nearly six inches taller than when they last came.
Because of this perceived ownership, people are mortified that we won’t be here when they next come – or worse still – that the garden may well not be open again. It’s a distinct possibility. Does that worry us? Well, obviously we will feel bad for the people who love coming here, but how lovely for the new owners if they decide they want it all for themselves. There were plenty of days when we would have loved to have put the ‘Definitely Closed’ sign up and just sit on the grass soaking up the sun, not worrying if the lawns needed mowing or if the sprinklers needed moving.
Reality struck when the phone rang the other day and a woman was on the other end. Could she call in to see the garden in the morning? What time would suit? Oh and are you the new owners?
And there we were thinking we were indispensable.