Beautiful borders, unusual plants, design inspiration or maybe just the lure of cake, whatever the reason, the Gloucestershire National Gardens Scheme is thriving with hundreds of people visiting plots across the county every week. Yet there’s one group that’s often overlooked: gardens open by arrangement rather than on a set date.
It may, agrees county organiser Norman Jeffery, be a very British quirk, a fear of being a nuisance, of putting someone out, but visitors are often reluctant to approach these garden owners to organise a trip.
“It’s a shame because they are missing out on some really good gardens,” he says.
While these plots are not completely overlooked, they don’t generally fare as well as their set date counterparts.
Some gardens open by arrangement because a lack of parking means they could not cope with an influx of several hundred people – a problem that is common in some of the Cotswold’s tiny villages.
Others, explains Norman, like to have some idea of how many people are going to turn up; NGS open days can notoriously be a case of ‘feast or famine’ and numbers are hugely influenced by the weather.
“Being open by arrangement gives them some control over the numbers which makes the organisation of the day easier.”
Norman adds that it’s a system that also works in the visitors’ favour as they get a “more exclusive experience”, often with a guided tour of the garden by the owner.
“Garden owners enjoy the fact that they can give the personal touch a bit more.”
There may also be the chance for refreshments other than the traditional tea and cake with some gardens offering the opportunity for evening visits with wine.
Other Gloucestershire National Gardens Scheme members have both set dates and open by arrangement visits – a good way of still getting to see a plot if you missed the NGS day or the weather was bad.
The numbers needed for a private visit vary from garden to garden with some setting an upper limit, others a minimum number required and many being open to any size of group.
Often these arrangements are used by gardening clubs or other societies but they are also an ideal way for a group of friends to have a day out.
“You get to see the gardens with friends and in a more exclusive setting,” says Norman.
It’s also a good way of keeping the garden visiting season going as the number of set days tails off during August and September.
Gardens with veg, flowers and views
In Gloucestershire there are several gardens open by arrangement only and lots more that allow private visits on top of their NGS days. Here are some that are open by arrangement from now until the autumn.
Ampney Brook House at Ampney Crucis is nearing the end of a five-year project to create a varied garden with herbaceous borders, woodland and vegetables.
Late summer colour is one of the strengths of The Meeting House at Flaxley. The two-acre plot also has a reed bed sewage system and an orchard with wild flowers.
Daglingworth House, Daglingworth, (pictured at top of page) is a garden that skilfully combines well-stocked borders, lovely views and humorous touches.
Pasture Farm, Upper Oddington, has been developed over the past 30 years. It includes topiary, mixed borders and ducks.
Greenfields and Barn House, both at Brockweir Common, offer the possibility of arranging to see both gardens on the same day. Greenfields is a recently developed garden of different ‘rooms’ while Barn House has a large collection of grasses.
The unusual backdrop of a ruined castle makes Beverston Castle an atmospheric and romantic place to visit. It also has a large, walled kitchen garden and glasshouses.
At Hodges Barn, near Tetbury, the house includes a converted C15 dovecote while the garden is wide-ranging with mixed borders, water and woodland areas.
Designer and writer Mary Keen offers visits and a short talk to groups at her garden at The Old Rectory, Duntisbourne Rous. Dahlias are a late season feature in this garden that’s planted for year-round interest.
Another writer with an open garden is Victoria Summerley at Awkward Hill Cottage in Bibury. Described as a ‘work in progress’, her garden is being redesigned to encourage wildlife and includes both formal and informal planting.
Upton Wold, near Moreton-in-Marsh has wonderful views, wide-ranging planting and some unusual trees, including the National Collection of walnuts.
Views are also a feature of Trench Hill at Sheepscombe whose three acres includes woodland, ponds, vegetables and mixed borders.
The Arts and Crafts garden at Cotswold Farm, Duntisbourne Abbots, has a Jewson-designed terrace, bog garden and allotments in a walled garden.
Brockworth Court blends many different styles from cottage to formal in a garden that includes a natural fish pond, kitchen garden and historic tithe barn.
Finally, there’s the chance to visit the well-known Barnsley House, former home of designer Rosemary Verey and now a hotel. Groups with a minimum of 10 people can see the famous potager, knot garden and mixed borders.
• For details of dates, admission prices and numbers required at gardens open by arrangment, visit the NGS
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