The Hertfordshire NGS gardens opening in September and how to help the National Garden Scheme bounceback from Covid closures

PUBLISHED: 11:50 08 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:55 08 September 2020

Some Hertfordshire gardens are opening in September (photo: National Garden Scheme)

Some Hertfordshire gardens are opening in September (photo: National Garden Scheme)

Archant

Founded in 1927 to support district nurses, the National Garden Scheme is now the most significant charitable funder of nursing in the UK. So how is the charity dealing with the loss of its primary fundraiser?

Let’s backtrack. It’s late winter 2019 and the National Garden Scheme is getting ready to launch the 2020 garden visiting season giving unique access to over 3,700 exceptional private gardens in England and Wales. This year’s rich portfolio includes 585 new and 308 returning gardens planning to open, giving the largest increase of new openings for a decade for the organisation.

The NGS raises impressive amounts of money for nursing and health charities through admissions, teas and cake. Last year was a bumper year, with over £3m raised. But when you rely on 90 per cent of your income from garden openings, having all your eggs in one basket can be a fragile economy when the unexpected comes along to change that.

‘I should have known this year wasn’t going to be a good one,’ says George Plumptre, chief executive of the NGS, ‘when we got off to a poor start with our winter snowdrop openings as many were affected by a run of bad storms.’

Like all of us, news reports of the Covid-19 pandemic started to hit home when it was clear that it wasn’t just happening abroad, but was now spreading to the UK and it was likely that things were going to dramatically change. On March 22, George announced that the charity’s trustees had decided that all National Garden Scheme gardens would be closed to the public until further notice. This was the first time in the charity’s 93-year history that all the gardens have been closed. Even during the Second World War and the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic, many gardens remained open.

The National Garden Scheme has taken a hit this year (photo: National Garden Scheme/Judith Lion)The National Garden Scheme has taken a hit this year (photo: National Garden Scheme/Judith Lion)

‘Things happened very quickly,’ George explains. ‘At the beginning of March, everything was quiet and we were still making plans for opening the gardens. Within a couple of weeks we realised the National Trust were going to close their gardens and, based on government advice for safeguarding the public, our trustees took the difficult decision to ask all our garden owners not to open their gardens until further notice. Managing social distancing and preventing people from travelling unacceptable distances became a priority for the public.’

At the same board meeting before lockdown, another hard decision had to be made on how the funds raised in 2019 were to be distributed to charities and community garden projects throughout England and Wales.

‘Despite record-breaking funds raised we knew we were unable to distribute as much as we would have liked to our beneficiary charities. We had to retain enough funds to run the NGS until spring 2021, but we still managed to donate in excess of £1m to the majority of our nursing and health charities in spring, and are delighted that funds have tripled for community gardens that make such a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of so many.’

In 2020, new NGS Community Gardens Award funding of £97,210 was distributed to 44 projects across England and Wales in memory of the garden writer Elspeth Thompson, who died in 2010. From community-based training initiatives and social prescribing garden projects in GP surgeries, to mental health programmes and gardens that foster community cohesion, these provide support to people across the country. Bursaries amounting to £165,000 will also go to support gardeners in a variety of training or apprentice schemes, or who find themselves in hard times. 

Head to the NGS website to find your nearest garden to visit (photo: National Garden Scheme)Head to the NGS website to find your nearest garden to visit (photo: National Garden Scheme)

In Hertfordshire, 53 gardens were scheduled to open, with 11 of these new openings. During lockdown the garden owners have been busy, with some taking the opportunity to make changes in their gardens while others have organised plant sales to raise funds for the NGS. Three garden owners in Chiswell Green joined forces with the Hertfordshire group of the Hardy Plant Society and held a big plant sale in May at the bottom of one garden, raising almost £2,000 for NGS funds. Another garden owner set up a website for plant sales, leaving sold plants in their garden labelled for the new owners to collect on their daily walk.

‘Everyone was sad not to have opened their gardens,’ says Julie Knight, NGS organiser for Hertfordshire, ‘but many have been using the time to do new projects in their gardens, and raise funds for the NGS in other ways.’

The NGS website has a range of virtual tour videos of 200 gardens across the country to raise funds through donations for the Help Support Our Nurses campaign. Videos are filmed by the garden owners, and you’ll find some from Hertfordshire there to visit including Tom Stuart-Smith’s garden, The Barn at Bedmond; The Manor House in Ayot St Lawrence designed by Julie Toll, plus 43 Mardley Hill in Welwyn, 42 Falconer Road in Bushey and Pie Corner, Bedmond.

In May, the government advised that gardens were now allowed to open to visitors in a controlled manner which maintains social distancing, and other guidelines. NGS gardens across the country gradually began to open with safety measures in place. Visits are booked and payments are taken on the NGS website with a timed slot given to allow safe numbers and social distancing.

Discover hidden garden corners with NGS (photo: National Garden Scheme)Discover hidden garden corners with NGS (photo: National Garden Scheme)

Sadly not everyone is able to open, for a range of reasons: ‘Our unique quality is the fact that NGS gardens are the private domains of ordinary folk and are not commercial events,’ George Plumptre explains. ‘The decision to open is entirely voluntary and at the discretion of individual garden owners.’

But many are opening, including some that normally open at different times of the year. ‘There’s been a good response from garden owners in Hertfordshire,’ adds Julie Knight, ‘and many are keen to open again for visitors.’

NGS gardens opening Hertfordshire in September

Ayletts Nurseries, St Albans: Ayletts Nurseries are running their usual annual Autumn Festival with Dahlias on display from 5-13 September. There are some nice planting ideas to see past the Dahlia field and something for the wildlife too! No need to book. Just turn up and make a donation.

102 Cambridge Road, St Albans: This contemporary space, sympathetically redesigned in 2017 to keep as much of the existing plants, trees and shrubs in a 1930s semi’s garden, is a modern take on the classic garden in two halves - ornamental and vegetable. Open on Sunday 13 September. Book online.

8 Gosselin Road, Hertford: 8 Gosselin Road was scheduled to open last month. Instead, Annie and Steve will be hosting a weekend of fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Research at their plant nursery on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th September. Tickets and details for the event can be found here

More ways to support the National Garden Scheme

Visit a garden: Check the NGS website ngs.org.uk to find out which gardens are open and how you can access them. You may have to book your visit and pay in advance.

Donate: With gardens closed for more than two months, the NGS faces an 80% reduction in funds. Over 90 years the scheme has raised £58m for nursing charities. Core beneficiaries include Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK and The Queen’s Nursing Institute. Donate to the Help Support Our Nurses fund via justgiving.com/campaign/greatbritishgardenparty

Open your garden: Are you proud of your garden and would you like to share it with others? Whatever the size of your plot, consider opening it for the NGS and help to raise important funds. For information, contact 
julie.wise@ngs.org.uk

Join the Herts NGS team: If you can offer help and skills to the NGS garden organising team for Hertfordshire, contact county organiser julie.knight@ngs.org.uk

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