Open gardens are spectacle to behold

Open Gardens

Open Gardens - Credit: Archant

THE idea of Open Gardens strikes me as odd. Odd, but wonderful.

I enjoy my garden so much, but it is quite a personal thing to me. I like to write about it, so I suppose I am sharing it with people in that way, but it has never appealed to me to open up for other people to come and have a look. This is probably because my own garden is so tiny, and if any more than about five people turned up, it would be full... but also because I’m not sure that I would think it was good enough for people to come and look at it.

Thankfully, there are hundreds of people in the country who do not think like I do. There are wonderful, and brave people who are opening their gardens up to the public through various open garden schemes - some local, and some through the NGS - the fabulous charity which enables people like me to go and have a nose around the fantastic gardens which open in aid of various charities.

The summer months must be the busiest time for Open Gardens. It stands to reason that within June and July, when most people’s gardens will have something of interest in flower, they would want to choose that time to be the time when they are open to the public. In my garden, for example, there would be absolutely no point in anyone coming between about August, and February... I know there are plenty of things that I enjoy looking at, but the main growing and blooming season is taking place now.

I decided to look into the idea of Open Gardens for this month’s column, and mainly to look into the differences between opening for a locally organised event, or opening as part of the National Gardens Scheme, and most importantly - their famous “Yellow Book”!

The first open garden that I went to this year was taking part in the National Gardens Scheme “Festival Weekend” a couple of weeks ago. I knew that I didn’t have time to go to more than one, so I contacted the lovely lady who deals with the PR for the NGS in Hertfordshire, and she suggested that I might like to try to get to Serge Hill, which is not far from Kings Langley.

There are two gardens there - next to each other, one belongs to the famous Chelsea Flower Show designer - Tom Stuart-Smith, and the other to his sister - Joan. I wasn’t disappointed by what I found there - I can honestly say that it totally blew me away.

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I’m not sure that I have ever seen a garden on such a grand size, which has been so thoughtfully planted. I have visited many gardens over the years, some of which have massive lawns and grand landscapes, but this entire garden had been properly “gardened”. There is far too much to describe on just these two pages, but there are some things which absolutely cannot go unmentioned.

There were whole “rooms” created by formal hedging - inside one there stood a deck chair - nothing but a deck chair on a lawn, surrounded by hedging - it struck me as the most wonderful place to escape to - to sit and read on a sunny day. There were swathes of different grasses in another area - and yet another area planted with what looked to be plants to specifically attract wildlife - that area wasn’t quite out yet, but I could tell that in the next few weeks it would be looking spectacular.

Joan Stuart-Smith’s garden was similarly impressive - with a superb walled garden, full to the brim with wonderful planting.

Both of these gardens were so wonderful, that I could have happily spent hours walking around them, only to turn back and start all over again. This is the joy of an open garden - it is something new - it is something different to the garden that you have at home.

There was one lady walking around with a notepad, taking down the names of plants that she thought she might like, I imagine. You could constantly hear people turning to their friend, or partner, and asking the name of something, or whether it would work well in their own garden. That’s exactly what Open Gardens are about for me - finding ideas and inspiration in the work of someone else’s garden.

In addition to this open garden - I attended two village open gardens last weekend - One of which was in conjunction with the NGS - in Cheddington near Leighton Buzzard, and the other in the village of Little Gaddesden - just outside of Hemel Hempstead. The two events had been organised quite differently, but they were both delightful events.

In both villages you could have been happily plied with tea and homemade cakes - from my extensive research this seems to be something which goes hand in hand with open gardens (thank goodness, as they are the perfect combination to my mind!). In Cheddington, there was an array of different gardens open, and interestingly, the local allotments had also decided to take part - this made a really interesting addition, and although I almost didn’t go along to them, as I was tight for time, I was really pleased to have made the effort - they were interesting, and full of many different types of produce that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought to grow myself.

In Little Gaddesden, the variety of gardens was wonderful. This event was being held in aid of the Hospice of St Francis - a charity dear to many local people’s hearts, and it was clear to me that everyone who had opened their garden for the afternoon, had put a huge amount of effort into it. All of the gardens were looking their best, and there were three houses with plant stalls! It was nice to be able to come away with some plants for my own garden, after having got some good planting ideas from other people’s.

Some of the gardens were large, and very impressive, but sometimes it was the smaller ones which really caught my eye - cottage garden style planting, and lovely places to sit and enjoy the gardens were a real feature in some of the gardens that I visited, and it has made me think that I might like to find somewhere in my own garden for a bench, to sit and look at the work that I have done with a cup of tea!

Whatever the reason for people opening their garden - whether it be to raise money for charity, or just to share their passion for their garden - I think it’s an excellent thing to do, and if you haven’t been along to any open gardens this year - have a look and see if there are any in your area!

Focus on: The National Garden Scheme

WHEN I was looking into Open Gardens, I realised that although I had been aware of the NGS for a long time, I didn’t really know very much about it.

I got in contact with Julie Knight, who handles the PR for the NGS in Hertfordshire, and she told me all about the scheme.

I was really interested to hear about the origins of the NGS being as far back as 1927, when a lady called Elsie Wagg had the idea of opening gardens and charging money to raise funds for the Queen’s Nursing Institute.

Although the charity has grown massively over the years, in essence it hasn’t changed much at all.

The gardens are now listed in the famous “Yellow Book”, which allows people to read a little about the gardens which are open, and to choose ones which they might like to visit.

I was fascinated to hear that in Hertfordshire we actually still have three of the original gardens that were open in 1927 - one of which being Benington Lordship which featured in my snowdrop column earlier this year!

Julie told me about the process which takes place for gardens to be accepted into the Yellow Book, and about how there is a vast range of gardens included - and that it’s not all as strict as people might think - which is good news, as it makes it far more interesting for people to see lots of different styles and types of garden.

I asked Julie why she thought open gardens were so popular, and she told me: “I think people who enjoy gardening themselves like to see what other gardeners are doing.

“They might pick up tips on plant cultivation, garden design or see new varieties and cultivars of plants.

“Our open gardens are so varied you might pick up ideas for areas in your own garden: shady dark corners, a border beneath a wall, use of climbers and containers or even gardening for the benefit of wildlife.

“People who may not be gardeners themselves or may not currently have space to garden may get their garden fix by seeing what other people do.”

She added: “A lot of the fun is that it’s often someone’s private garden that you wouldn’t usually get to look around!”

If you want to find a NGS garden to look around in Hertfordshire, follow this link:

Things to do in your garden this month

IF you’ve been growing soft fruit, such as strawberries, this will be the time to start picking.

If you haven’t grown any yourself, keep an eye out for Pick Your Own farms - there are plenty around the area, and it’s a lovely way to spend the afternoon outdoors.

Do note that this will probably be later this year due to the bad weather we have had.

* If you have grown sweet peas, make sure you keep picking them - the more you pick, the more will grow!

* Tie in new growth on plants needing to be - such as sweet peas, clematis, rambler or climber roses

* If you have hedges which need cutting - now is a good time to do it - but do make sure you check that birds have flown if they have been nesting there.

Make sure that all birds have fledged before you start with cutting the hedges!