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Jill's Jots

Coaches - a blessing in disguise?

We enjoy sharing our garden with individuals, groups small or large, and if the weather co-operates it all works very well. Of course tea and homemade cake is part of the occasion and many a recipe is also shared. Baking for those of us who are not natural cooks can have its ups and downs, resulting in some memorable bakes. Alun renamed one drizzle cake to Lemon Chisel cake, just because I had gone into the garden and forgotten to take it out before hand. I must admit that it was a tad hard but the inside was fine, for our consumption only I hasten to add – visitors would definitely not have been allowed to share that one! So, groups can provide a challenge in more ways than one and coaches even more so. Have you ever thought how long a coach can take to load/unload, it can seen quite a time when you have the first visitors just itching to get into the garden and you have been asked to wait for all before saying a word or two of welcome. Then there is the sheer number who all seem to turn up exactly at the same time for tea, and the requests – weak – strong – not too much milk – milk only – Earl Grey – no Fruit Tea please with a dash of cold water. And then the decision as to which cake they should choose, sticky toffee often wins but carrot and orange is a close run second. One thing you can be sure of – if a cake is popular with one group, and you then bake extra the next group will not choose it! There is no rhyme or reason as to what goes first, the challenge is to make the visit enjoyable for all whatever the weather throws at you. Of course, in between serving you will also be asked numerous plant identification questions often with the aid of a photo on a mobile phone. When stumped, it is always worth checking where the photo was actually taken, elsewhere or here as sometimes they have not been!

Then, there is the coach to consider, Aulden is only 3 miles from the nearest A–road but is approached down a typical lane, not a concern to most coach drivers who are usually used to lanes, coaches usually turn in our drive to return the way they have come. I say usually, because on one occasion, the coach got stuck. The driver reversed happily and then the gear box went, so he was unable to go forward, reversing was not a problem except our gate and hedge were in his way. So there it stayed and to complicate matters we had other visitors in the garden whose cars were now trapped by the coach. Fortunately, it was not a very long coach which meant that the few cars that use the lane could just about pass. A breakdown truck was called and lengthy discussions took place, another truck came and time ticked by. All I could do was to keep serving tea/cake and hope that it would get sorted at some point. Thankfully the folk that were in the garden saw the funny side and enjoyed a cuppa then took their dog for a walk around the fields. Everybody thought it quite amusing, but perhaps not the driver and there was talk of could I provide B & B for 40! It was a good job I had plenty of cake/biscuits etc which could do as a make shift lunch and the weather was kind. Eventually coach was given a temporary repair; so that it could limp down to Hereford where a replacement coach was arranged to meet them. I think the group certainly enjoyed it as when we went to give a talk to them later that year – it was a case of you were the garden where the coach broke down! Certainly a different way of being remembered, but perhaps one that we would not wish to repeat.

Plant buying for coach groups is another matter, most Hardy Plant folk just dive into the sales and if it is also the end of the group's holiday, you can bet your bottom dollar that the hold of the coach is already full. Some drivers allow plants onto the coach, others don't but that does not deter the hardy planter. They buy and worry about that later, fitting plants in is worse than any jigsaw puzzle and I have seen them stacked four high, hopefully the road home was smooth. In this circumstance labeling of bags is a necessity as it must be a mammoth task to unload and sort when they are home. Thankfully that is out of my hands!

Despite the worries, we love seeing folk and only breathe a small sigh of relief when the coach pulls away leaving us with the little washing up and perhaps a piece of cake of – if we are lucky!