Gardeners have grown in stature

Totley Open Gardens: Jennie Street working in her front garden
Totley Open Gardens: Jennie Street working in her front garden

Last weekend was marred by Saturday’s storm but there were still more than 200 visitors to 15 gardens, raising £2,200 at Totley Open Gardens

One of the key words used by visitors to Totley’s open gardens last weekend was “quirky”. Also, “challenging”.

Totley Open Gardens: Mary Jackson in her greenhouse

Totley Open Gardens: Mary Jackson in her greenhouse

“We don’t have slopes like this in Doncaster,” said visitor Ann Beckwith. “I think every garden we saw was on a slope, which does make it interesting. “But we know that if we buy plants from people here, they will grow at home.”

Organiser Jennie Street is in no doubt about the challenges facing Totley growers.

“It’s colder and wetter, there’s less sunshine and more wind in Totley than in central Sheffield,” she said. “It’s much more difficult here. We fight the weather we see coming over the moor.”

This may lead to the Totley quirks. For example, Jennie’s garden includes a topiary ostrich and caterpillar, the latter designed to undulate in the wind. She also features sculptures from recycled garden implements and paving stones made from enlarged ha’pennies.

Totley Open Gardens: Mary Jackson (right) chatting to Jennie Street about her garden

Totley Open Gardens: Mary Jackson (right) chatting to Jennie Street about her garden

There are bespoke thatched huts in Totley’s open gardens, gates made from old tools, and in Ray Sables’ garden (new to the scheme this year), there are around 14 home-welded sculptures.

“It’s good to have something you’ve made in your garden,” said Ray. “A sculpture breaks a garden up, whether it’s made of wood, metal or stone.” Or in Ray’s case, salvaged cutlery.

“I was in the welding business, so when I retired I wanted something to work on in my garage at home.”

He came up with garden sculptures, mainly using stainless steel cutlery sourced from charity shops and markets. “It’s a simple thing to use, and it’s cost effective,” he said.

The centrepiece last weekend was an owl with spread wings, which took a week’s work from Ray to make, along with 200 spoons, 200 knives and a handful of forks.

He exhibits his sculptures at Totley and Dore shows and many end up in his sister Ann’s garden.

“When Ray first said he was making a garden sculpture out of knives and forks I thought what the....?” said Ann. “But when I saw it, I said ‘wow, can I have it for my own garden?’ Now I build my garden around Ray’s sculptures, and when I open it up, people come to see the sculptures as much as the garden. But whenever Ray comes to dinner, I’m sure a few of my knives and spoons disappear...”

Totley Open Gardens was the first community garden event in Sheffield 14 years ago and has since raised over £20,000 for local charities including Transport 17, Totley Music Festival and History Group, and Cherry Tree young people’s accommodation service.

Last weekend was marred by Saturday’s storm, but there were still over 200 attendees at 15 gardens, raising a further £2,200 from donations, sales of plants and refreshments and sales of the programme sponsored by the Cross Scythes pub.

“Gardeners enjoy sharing, and it’s encouraging to get feedback from visitors to see your garden through other people’s eyes,” said Jennie.

The 40 gardeners who’ve taken part over the years have now become a social group, who meet regularly to discuss gardening in Totley’s wind, rain and cold.

“When you have a community open gardens event, you get people coming for the day, there’s a real buzz, whereas often with the Yellow Book open gardens scheme people just zoom in and zoom out again in their cars.” Jennie has offered advice to other communities over the last 14 years (insurance, tea and cakes and a preparedness to answer tricky questions are all essentials).

Sunday’s visitors came from as far as Leicester, Stockport and Norfolk, as well as several from Walkley thinking of holding an open garden event there.

Christine Bowman opened her garden for the first time last weekend.

“It’s a nice way to pass an afternoon talking to people,and it helps you get to know local gardeners.”

Mary Jackson is a regular open gardener, and was a former horticulturalist for Lady Astor and the Rothschild family. In her 80s, she’s still as keen a gardener as ever.

“I like helping local charities and I enjoy talking to people looking round,” she said. “There is a lot of interest in gardening now, and I’d say to people, if you’ve got any spare land, for goodness sake grow your own.”