There’s a masochistic pleasure in visiting the gardens of strangers. You get to poke around gardens that are usually much nicer than yours, attached to homes that are probably bigger than yours, eat piles of home-made cakes and then go home to feel guilty about your own neglected patch of wilderness and all that cake you ate.
Garden owners who throw open their garden gates for the National open Garden Scheme, or NGS, to raise money for charity, may have lovely plots, but they have to put up with more than just a strict admissions criteria. The NGS publishes a guide to the gardens, known as the ‘yellow book’ and this has a reputation for attracting bus loads of pensioners, hell bent on pinching cuttings, trampling the tradescantia and loudly critiquing the quality of refreshments. But there is a resolute dedication to the cause from both sides. Last year the NGS raised £2.7 million which went to charities including Macmillan, Marie Curie, Parkinson’s Uk and the MS Society. Northamptonshire, now in its 90th year of supporting the NGS, has some of the best gardens; private ones you’d never usually get to see and those who open regularly but donate a weekend’s takings to the NGS cause.
It really is a lovely day out. Pick up a free yellow county leaflet and you’ll see details on where is open, whether it’s wheelchair and buggy accessible, some background on the garden development and where to get the famous refreshments. Some larger gardens open on their own, others often band together in village groups. Some will sell you plants to take home (so you really don’t need to steal cuttings).
I was introduced to the garden scheme some 15 years ago by county snowdrop expert Jim Leatherland from Hollowell, who, I only recently learned, died last year. Jim and his wife Joan were passionate about the scheme and opened their own, modest little garden twice a year and it would be a fitting legacy for the NGS to raise more money than ever in 2017.
Gardens open over the next few weeks include:
- June 17-18 – Flore Gardens. Ten village gardens open 11am-6pm.
- June 18 – Foxtail Lily and Jericho, Oundle; Harpole, six gardens open 1-6pm,
- Sulgrave, 11 gardens open 2-6pm; the Old Rectory at Sudborough, 11-5pm; Turweston, two gardens open 2-5.30.
- June 25 – Arthingworth, Finedon, Weedon Lois and Weston Gardens all open in the afternoon.
Visit www.ngs.org.uk to search for more.