Whether you’re a gardening novice looking for help, an old hand seeking inspiration, or simply want to enjoy a lovely garden without the work involved, open garden events are a great source of free advice and new ideas. This month sees the season get fully underway with the launch of the National Garden Scheme handbook featuring more than 3,800 gardens across England and Wales.
Formerly known as ‘The Yellow Book’, due to its distinctive colour, the handbook has been renamed Gardens to Visit but this ‘bible’ for garden lovers is still the key to unlock gates to events encompassing rolling estates, country cottages, town centre plots and even allotments.
Since its foundation in 1927, the scheme has donated more than £45m to charity, including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care and Perennial, which helps gardeners in need.
Each garden is ‘vetted’ before being allowed to join the scheme, although the NGS stress plots do not need to be Chelsea gold medal standard to take part. Many have plant sales and most provide tea and cake.
Gloucestershire is a key player in this fundraising and last year contributed around £120,000, just short of the all-time record in 2014.
“It was a very successful year,” says county organiser Norman Jeffery.
This season, there are several new gardens opening in the county and the return of some old favourites with full details in the county booklet, which has just been published.
The first of the newcomers to open is Beech House in Quenington, near Cirencester. This riverside plot has formal terraces, a herb garden, shrubs and bulbs and opens with The Old Rectory on June 19.
Another combined opening sees Greenfields at Brockweir Common join Barn House for an event on June 26. Unusual plants and shrubs are a feature of this plant lover’s garden, which is divided into smaller ‘garden rooms’.
Plants and buying them will be the focus of an unusual open event that is also being held on June 26. Oakwood Farm is hosting a plant fair with specialist nurseries and stalls selling gardening accessories.
Awkward Hill Cottage, the home of journalist and author Victoria Summerley, is opening during the afternoon on July 3 and again in the evening on August 28. Set in Bibury, it was completely redesigned four years ago and incorporates both formal and informal planting.
Also opening in the evening for the first time this year is Hidcote Manor Garden. This world famous National Trust garden has many rare trees and shrubs in a series of outdoor rooms. The event, on June 21, will include talks by the head gardener on the history of Hidcote.
This season sees the return of Cheltenham to the scheme. A group of town centre gardens will be opening on September 18 and showcasing environmental features such as organic fruit and vegetables, wildlife ponds and rainwater harvesting.
“It’s lovely to at last have some gardens within Cheltenham because we’ve not had any for some years,” says Norman.
Many NGS gardens open by arrangement, making them ideal for group outings, and whole village events, such as Stanton and Blockley are a great way of seeing a range of different plots.
Already Norman is starting to plan ahead for 2017 and he urged anyone considering opening their garden to get in touch.
“It’s not a frightening experience and you don’t have to be a professional gardener to fit into our scheme. It’s just about sharing your garden with others.”
• Gardens to Visit 2016, priced at £11.99, is available from bookshops or can be ordered from http://www.ngs.org.uk/
• The county booklet is available free, with donations appreciated, from garden centres, bookshops, Tourist Information Offices and libraries throughout Gloucestershire.