Friday, September 5, 2008

FYI: the National Gardens Scheme

I'm sure lots of you out there know all about the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) and their Yellow Book. However, I'm always surprised by how many people don't know about the scheme, or if they know about it, they're a bit confused as to what it is for. Some people think the money goes to the gardener or owner. Others think it is about promoting good gardening, like the Royal Horticultural Society.
Since raising money for the NGS is the whole point of opening my garden, I thought I'd post a reminder of what it's all about. Those of you who already know, look away now and I apologise for boring you.
The National Gardens Scheme was set up in 1927 to raise money for the Queen's Nursing Institute, which provided pensions for district nurses. Until that time, if you wanted to visit a garden such as Sissinghurst or Hidcote, you really had to be a friend of the owner (in other words, somebody rich or aristocratic).
Individuals - including Vita Sackville-West - were asked to open their private gardens to the public for"a shilling a head". In the first year 609 opened and raised over £8,000. The scheme was a fantastic success, partly because for the first time, members of the public could see behind the high walls and yew hedges of some of the most spectacular gardens in the UK.
Some of those gardens, many now owned by the National Trust, still open for the NGS each year (although the entry fee is now a little bit more expensive). Today the NGS raises around £2 million a year and benefits a range of charities, but with a general emphasis on cancer care (MacMillan Cancer Relief, Marie Curie Cancer Care, and Help The Hospices are three NGS beneficiaries).
Over the years, small gardens have joined the big showstoppers, so that the public can see a very wide range of designs and ideas; from a tiny garden inspired by Pompeii and ancient Rome in Bristol, to the superb topiary at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. All these gardens are listed in the annual directory, known as the Yellow Book, which costs £7.99 and is published each year in early spring.
This year, the NGS introduced a new Friends scheme, so even if you don't open your garden, you can still feel part of the fund-raising effort. The website (see link above) gives full details.