Glimpses over the garden gate

THERE’S nothing gardeners love more than sneaking a glance over someone else’s garden gate.

Over the years, that’s been the secret behind the success of the National Garden Scheme and its famous yellow book, the definitive guide to thousands of gardens which open for charity from time to time around the country.

Under normal circumstances, this is a perfect excuse to nose around someone else’s flowerbeds and enjoy countless afternoon mini-adventures, exploring spring snowdrops and summer floral displays in settings which range from sleepy cottage gardens to majestic manor houses.

The coronavirus lockdown may have prevented those adventures so far this year, but there are high hopes that visits might be able to resume by the autumn and the NGS is anxious to recoup some of the funds lost during the crisis.

We know that gardens are good for our health (as long as we don’t enjoy the home-made cakes too much!) but as well as being able to savour the fruits of someone else’s labout and perhaps get inspiration for ways of improving our own small plot, these open days have raised millions for charity since the NGS was founded in the early 1900s.

Back then the scheme originally supported district nurses, but nowadays the visits encourage donations worth millions of pounds to nursing and health charities.

That 90-year history gave one gardening enthusiast the idea of trying to visit 90 open gardens in a year, and in January 2017 Julia Stafford Allen began chronicling her perambulations around the country in her blog, The Garden Gate Is Open.

Based in Norfolk, where she volunteers for the NGS and opens her own garden to the public, Julia is passionate about encouraging people to get out and visit gardens.

She says: “I think that garden visiting is a lovely pastime for families and gardens in the Scheme are usually private and children are admitted free.”

Although her blog is nationwide, her travels have frequently taken her through the Chilterns – to destinations like Welford Park in Berkshire, home of the Great British Bake Off since 2014, the Georgian manor house ar Walkern Hall in Hertfordshire or even a small wintry display of ornaments, mirrors and candles in the back garden of a house in Bushey, Hertfordshire.

“I loved the Bushey garden because children really enjoyed it,” she recalls. Other local forays – camera always firmly in hand – have taken her to see the display of snowdrops at Oak Cottage in the Berkshire village of Finchampstead and an unusual array of sculptures at Lord Carrington’s Bledlow Manor in North Buckinghamshire.

Her travels have taken her to Overstroud Cottage in Great Missenden, Rivendell in Amersham and even to Stoke Mandeville, although since the garden was still a building site, she returned a year later for the formal launch.

From extensive country landscapes and romantic cottage gardens to urban hideaways and ancient woodlands, there are thousands of open gardens to choose from, normally opening from February to October.

The £13.99 NGS handbook contains detailed descriptions of every garden, together with photographs, handy maps and calendars. This week NGS president Mary Berry launched a new appeal aimed at supporting gardens during the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking from her home, Mary said: “Right now people are not able to visit the gardens and there is no money being raised. In fact, as things are, the charity’s income is likely to be down by 80% during 2020. So a team at the National Garden Scheme made up of garden owners, volunteers and staff have organised a marvellous campaign centred about virtual garden visits. I urge you to support the campaign generously and to enjoy the stunning gardens.”

Since 1927 the National Garden Scheme has raised almost £60 million. Core beneficiaries include Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK and The Queen’s Nursing Institute.

See the charity’s main website for details of gardens open later in the year – and The Beyonder hopes to feature key attractions in our monthly calendar from the autumn. Check out The Garden Gate Is Open blog for details of previous garden visits around the UK.

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