It’s sad news that ‘Open Gardens Australia’ ends in June 2015, after over 25 years of garden openings. You may wish to continue opening your garden as Judy and I do. This guide/story may assist you to continue opening your garden to the public, or to open for the first time. Here is our story.
HOW DID WE START? Our garden experience started in the late 1990s when our eldest son Scott became a paraplegic – not only Scott needed rehabilitation but also mum and dad. We needed something that would keep us busy and would not let us dwell on our son’s terrible accident. Thus gardening became our rehabilitation and eventually turned into an all encompassing passion where we spend all our spare time.
A few years later we had the idea that our garden might be good enough to open. We then approached the then co-ordinator of Open Gardens Australia, who visited and said YES, so that was the start.
We look back at those first few openings with a touch of embarrassment; really it was not that good compared to what it is now. The trouble with opening every year is that each year has to be better than the last. Many new projects have been completed each year and, of course, we’ve added thousands of new plants. Our garden is not the same garden that we first opened in 2002. I would hazard a guess that since we have opened we have had in the region of about 10,000 visitors, some whom return every year. This return visitor is really important if you plan to continue opening as you want as many return visitors as possible.
Having been through many ‘Open Gardens’, we pretty well know what to expect (that’s excluding the weather of course). We have been lucky enough never to have been washed out. Now that would really be a disaster!
Gardening has not been easy for us as we have not been fortunate with our soil or water; we have clay to a depth of 80 feet and no useful underground water. How do we know this? We sunk a bore through 80 feet of white clay and found the saltiest water the borer had ever seen. With terrible soil and no underground water, why would we do it? Simple, because we enjoy our garden and the pleasure it gives us and our visitors, and I suppose we enjoy the challenge.
WHO VISITS AN OPEN GARDEN? On the Saturday morning of the opening the bargain plant buyers arrive. Judy has prepared hundreds of beautiful bromeliads all in flower and the best of these are snapped up very quickly. Needless to say, lots of people go away very satisfied owners of new plants. It’s not just bromeliads; we now propagate a range of tropical plants all of which we have proved to grow in our garden.
On the second day we have a different type of visitor, these are the ‘lookers’ some of whom spend up to four hours in our garden. Most are garden lovers who have a million questions and photograph everything of interest.
OPENING TIMES, AND YOUR INVOLVEMENT: We open at 9am as this allows visitors to beat our subtropical heat, but you can be flexible with your opening times, either starting earlier or finishing later – that’s your choice. After the initial rush of plant buyers people then start to explore our garden. Our philosophy is that on this open weekend our garden belongs to our visitors who are free to relax and spend as much time as they like in the garden and hopefully go away with a good feeling and perhaps some ideas for their own garden.
For our opening we enlist family and friends to help with the gate and plant sales, as there’s just no way that Judy and I could cope otherwise.
Always be happy and prepared to answer the silliest questions and give advice and talk to people, make them feel welcome. Honestly there’s nothing better than seeing smiling faces as visitors leave your garden, as it makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Remember that there is no other garden in Australia like yours. Your garden is unique and this uniqueness is what you should promote as your garden is your own individual creation and it is very special. It’s your hard work and effort that has made your garden into what it is today, and rightly you should be proud to show it off on your opening. You are sharing something special with your visitors and bringing a lot of joy into people’s lives.
Prepare yourself in advance of your opening, ask yourself, who knows your garden best? You do of course, so why not do most of the groundwork and promotion yourself?
Here’s a hint, keep a ‘how to do it book’ and, believe me it will come in handy for future openings.
WRITE UP A DESCRIPTION: Highlight what your garden has to offer, be it a specific plant types, landscaping, sculptures, or the wildlife that visit or live in your garden etc.
PROMOTING YOUR OPEN GARDEN
Local Newspapers – Contact your local free newspaper; they are usually very supportive especially if a charity gains from the opening.
Radio – Make an effort to contact your local radio station, most have a gardening program on of a weekend; we are lucky as we have Noel Burdette and Jerry Colby-Williams on 4BC every Saturday and Sunday. We always contact the radio station and offer a number of free plants to give away, proviso being that they have to pick them up at the ‘Open Garden’.
TV – Try the major newspapers and television stations, you never know your luck, one year they might just bite and take the bait and do a feature on your garden, it does happen. It’s a lot of effort but if you want a successful opening then you just have to do it.
Flyers – I am lucky as I have a son who is a graphic designer, so he does our flyers for us. I usually get about 4,000 printed for about $150 and put them everywhere that I can think of, libraries, over 50s clubs, retirement villages etc. I also send a bundle to every garden club in South East Queensland. Most nurseries, produce stores etc will put out your flyers regardless of whether you are having a plant sale or not, as it’s all about promoting gardening.
Signs – Another thing you have to think about is ‘roadside signs’. You will need some core-flute which is available at Bunnings and a little bit of your artistic side to paint your signs.
Online – If you are into digital photography, why not start an online ‘photo album’ and promote it through garden sites etc. I have done this and my album now receives an average of 25,000 hits every month. I also have a garden blog ‘ianjudy.blogspot.com’ which has been read by 160,000 visitors from over 100 different countries around the world. I also review garden products on my site ‘gardenproductreviews.com’. There’s also lots of garden forums on the web where you can showcase photos of your garden, again this creates interest in your garden.
Social media – Facebook is a great tool for sharing information and photos with gardening groups of like minded people. Why not start your own Facebook page as I have. Mine is called ‘The Giving Garden’ and it is rapidly becoming very popular. Use social media to promote your opening, as this is the future.
Email – you could ask visitors to add their email address to a list to hear about your next opening.
In person – Look up the local garden clubs (there’s a list of Australian clubs at Garden Clubs of Australia) and offer to talk about your garden – how it started, how it has changed, what there is to see and any specific plant interest you have. You can also talk about how you came to open your garden and what it has done for you. I started doing this and have now progressed to being a regular speaker at garden clubs. I have now bought a data projector and screen just for this purpose and have four different power point presentations in which I show photos I have taken from our garden, and this creates lots of interest in the opening. We are so busy now that we have to keep a ‘garden diary’ of all our appointments. It’s become a full time job, but one that we enjoy.
LEGALITIES AND INSURANCE – Probably the most important task you have to do is to insure yourself with a Public Liability Policy. Do not open without one. An ‘Open Garden’ policy is available from Poole Insurers based on the Sunshine Coast, which covers openings, plant sales and refreshments. The cost is a little over $200 for 12 months and well worth it.
OTHER COSTS – It’s been really tough going in the years of drought and, without a doubt, I believe in the last few years gardening would have to be the most stressful hobby going. In 2009 we went for six months, three weeks and two days without a drop of rain. It was hurtful opening our parched garden that year, but visitors understood. Of course, the more severe the weather, the less visitors you will have, and in 2009 we had temperatures of 42ºC which understandably kept a lot of people away. In all our open gardens we have only had one year not in drought and that was 2010.
As gardeners we have all had to adapt and change our gardening practices, sometimes at great personal financial cost; I know that because we have had to buy seven rainwater tanks holding 107,000 litres at a cost of over $15,000 just for use in the garden, but.
our garden is that important to us.
It is always a worry in the time leading up to the opening – will there be too little or too much rain, or storms, frost….hail. They all can, and do, happen. Google always gets a good work out, ‘googling’ and trying to get a long range forecast for the opening weekend. If we are really fortunate we will get some rain prior to our opening and it’s amazing how quickly the garden starts to look green and lush.
I must mention that it is probably a good idea to hire a ‘porta- loo’ for the weekend, as you don’t want visitors entering your house to use your toilet.
WHAT TO CHARGE FOR YOUR OPEN GARDEN – Another important decision you will have to make is ‘how much do I charge’? I believe between $5 and $6 is a fair price (and children under 18 free) but it’s up to you how much you charge and if you want to distribute this or a portion to a charity of your choice. I personally think you as the owner should get some of the gate receipts in order to recover some opening costs such as printing, toilet hire, signs, postage, etc.
Extras – We try to make our garden opening an interesting experience with plant sales, food and drinks, expert advice on tropical fruit growing (we have over 70 tropical fruit and nut trees which provide the over-storey) and care by our good friend Kasper Schnyder, demonstrations of composting techniques, demonstrations of garden equipment and, last but not least, the fact that Judy and I take the time to meet and greet as many visitors as we are able to.
We also ask the inventor of the ‘Waterfork’ (Norm) to demonstrate his product and he is usually very pleased with the results for the weekend, for this we ask him to provide one of his ‘Waterforks’ as a raffle prize.
We have always asked a charity to cater and run a raffle for our ‘Open Garden’ openings and they have always done well.
For the opening weekend our back patio is converted to an outside eating area where visitors can partake in morning and afternoon teas with beautiful home made cakes and a sausage sizzle for lunch.
We have estimated that we have raised well over $36,000 for charity since first opening.
In 2013 the Lions Club made $5,477 profit from our ‘Open Garden’, and all this money went to help disabled children.
WHY DO WE CONTINUE TO OPEN OUR GARDEN?
We love opening our garden as we find the open weekend to be a fantastic experience and a real pleasure to meet so many like minded people who are interested in gardening. The comments both in the visitor’s book and from the visitors themselves are a pleasure to read and hear, and I must admit these comments do make us feel pretty good. We have never had a negative comment from the hundreds of visitors we receive each opening, and we have had nothing stolen or any damage caused to our property.
After weeks of preparing the garden, two hectic days opening and then another two days to cleanup, we think we deserve a holiday so we head up to the Sunshine Coast for a well-deserved break. What do we do on our break you may ask? Well we visit garden related friends and nurseries and, of course, come back with a car full of plants. After it’s all over I am already thinking about new ideas and plans for next year and Judy is trying to dissuade me, saying enough is enough.
Can I be cured? The answer is of course NO.
Finally, don’t think that opening your garden is easy. It’s not, it’s a lot of hard work, but it is rewarding and we think well worth the effort.
[NOTE – Ian and Judy’s wonderful 1 acre subtropical garden at 5 Carlton Court, Birkdale, Queensland, is open on 22 and 23 November 2014, 9am-4.30pm]