The National Garden Scheme Festival 6th & 7th June
Four hundred private gardens to visit in two days is an astonishing statistic but that is what the National Garden Scheme’s (known by many as the NGS) annual weekend Festival (6th & 7th June) is all about.
The NGS was originally set up in 1927 to raise money for nurses who didn’t have pensions in that now distant era. Since then it has given away some £45 million to various charities including Macmillan Nurses. The formula is simple, primp and tweak your garden into a perfect state, charge people a modest entrance fee and another small charge for a scrumptious piece of cake
with a cup of tea and hey presto you have joined the ranks of some 3,800 gardens open to the public under the auspices of the scheme. Full details of all the gardens open are listed in a book known as ‘The Yellow Book’ which appears each spring. It is a winning formula.
The NGS Festival is a wonderful way to celebrate Mid-Summer’ says George Plumptre, Chief Executive of the NGS, who dreamed up the festival three years ago. ‘It is the optimum time for garden visiting when they should all be looking at their best’. The four hundred gardens scattered right across England and Wales are extraordinarily varied in both size and style, ranging from the traditional country house garden to funky urban gardens to village and city ‘group gardens’(several gardens clustered together). Hip hip hurrah is the resounding cry that should be emanating from keen garden visitors all over the land.
‘Visiting a garden is a nice relaxing experience’ says Mr. Plumptre. ‘I grew up with the NGS’ . He was brought up at Goodnestone Park, near Wingham in Kent (www.goodnestoneparkgardens.co.uk – see my blog posted February 2015 ). His mother, Margaret, Lady FitzWalter, would give him the distinctive NGS yellow arrows and say ‘On your bike and put them up’.
Wearing another hat, Plumptre is a distinguished garden writer, and his latest book, English Country House Gardens published by Francis Lincoln, won the Garden Media Award for the most ‘Inspirational Book of the Year’ in 2014.
All too conscious that until recently the NGS had an elitist image and evokedgardens surrounding old rectories or houses with the epithet ‘Manor’, ‘Place’ or even ‘Park, George is energetically revolutionising the NGS. To this end the NGS has been mentioned on the ‘One Show’ and Radio Two. When Clare Balding mentioned the NGS on her radio show (it has 2.5 million listeners), the website crashed an hour and a half later. In 1980 there were only 30 gardens open for the NGS in London; today there are more than 300.
A visit to an NGS garden make a perfect outing for Granny and these days with the increasing emphasis on wildlife in the garden for the children too. Gardens only open for one or two days a year are irresistible for the locals, often attracting hundreds of visitors eager to see their neighbour’s horticultural taste.
‘There is nothing else like it in the world’ observes George Plumptre. The TV presenter Joe Swift says ‘whether you are a seasoned garden visitor or a first time supporter, I urge you to stop by a couple of gardens over the Festival weekend and join in the celebration of the great variety of gardens.’