National Garden Scheme’s 90th birthday in Kent

PUBLISHED: 10:45 02 May 2017 | UPDATED: 10:45 02 May 2017

Taking tea in an open garden is part of the enjoyment

Taking tea in an open garden is part of the enjoyment


The National Gardens Scheme’s 90 years of opening private gardens for charity will be marked with a special Anniversary Weekend this month

Garden visiting through the NGS celebrates 90 yearsGarden visiting through the NGS celebrates 90 years

Garden lovers across the county I am sure will be familiar with the National Gardens Scheme and the bright yellow signs up for gardens to visit. You may not know, however, how the scheme came into fruition and the extent of its work.

2017 celebrates an impressive 90 years of the National Gardens Scheme opening private gardens across England and Wales. The scheme began on 28 May 1927 when Hatfield House in Hertfordshire opened its garden gate to anyone willing to pay the one-shilling (5p in today’s currency) admission.

This was the first garden to open on behalf of what we now call The National Gardens Scheme, which was established by the Queen’s Nursing Institute as a way to contribute to a memorial fund they had set up in aid of their patron, Queen Alexandra, following her death in 1925. The fund would pay for training and also support retired nurses.

Since 1927 more than £45m has been raised for nursing charities, including being the largest charitable funder for Macmillan Cancer Support, donating more than £16m since 1984.

Take a stroll through the landscape at Riverhill Himalayan GardensTake a stroll through the landscape at Riverhill Himalayan Gardens

All over the country there are many thousands of garden owners who open their gates to visitors through The National Gardens Scheme. In the 1970s entrance fees were raised from one shilling to more realistic and useful levels, thus raising more significant donations.

Most of the 4,000 gardens are privately owned and more than half a million people visited them last year, raising more than £2m for nursing, gardening and other charitable causes.

You don’t have to drive very far to find an open garden; there are more than 100 open through the season in Kent, including eight of the original openers still opening today: Chilham Castle, Great Maytham Hall, Hole Park, Ightham Mote, Knole, Penshurst Place, Riverhill Himalayan Gardens and Scotney Castle.

A visit to an NGS garden is great value for money – a chance to enjoy wonderful gardens, have a home-made tea, buy some plants and all in the knowledge that the donation you have made, through the entrance fee or purchase, goes to charity.

Alliums feature at Old Bladbean StudAlliums feature at Old Bladbean Stud

So do make sure you are part of the special 90th Anniversary Weekend over the spring Bank Holiday, 27 to 29 May, to celebrate by visiting a garden near you on one of the days.

Did you know?

• District Nursing was supported by Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria and became a national voluntary organisation, before becoming the Queen’s Nursing Institute in 1928

Plant of the month: Aquilegia, ColumbinePlant of the month: Aquilegia, Columbine

• The idea of opening gardens to raise funds for nurses originated from Elsie Wagg in 1926, and was considered quite radical for the times. Tradition has it that she said “we have all these beautiful gardens in this country and hardly anyone sees them except the owners and their friends – why don’t we ask some of them to open next year for our appeal?”

• In 1980 The National Gardens Scheme Charitable Trust was established as an independent charity

• The Patron of the National Gardens Scheme is HRH The Prince of Wales and the President is Mary Berry

• In 2015 The Yellow Book is renamed Gardens to Visit

Jobs to be doneJobs to be done

• 2017 sees the launch of a new look to the Garden Visitor’s Handbook and signage

Plant of the month

Aquilegia, columbine

The exotic lush planting at Haven gardenThe exotic lush planting at Haven garden

• Dainty and decorative

• Charming, old-fashioned cottage favourite

• Range of colours

• Hardy perennial

Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, an original opener, combine modern design with the pastRiverhill Himalayan Gardens, an original opener, combine modern design with the past

• Bee-attracting nectar

• Self-seeding

Growing notes

• Fertile, moist well-drained soil

• Sun or part shade

• Plant in late summer for flowers the following spring

• Propagate by seed sown in spring, late summer or autumn

• Great companion plants with late tulips and alliums

Jobs to be done

• With warmer weather comes the need for weeding, watering and keeping an eye out for pests

• Many perennials may benefit from the ‘Chelsea chop’ by being cut back by half, for example rudbeckia, sedum and helenium, to make sturdier plants that will flower slightly later

• Divide overgrown perennials, clumps of spring bulbs and hostas as they come into growth

• Deadhead tulips and spring bulbs but allow foliage to die down naturally

• Be waterwise by collecting rainwater in containers such as water butts

• Lift spring bedding and plant summer containers and bedding, such as begonias, petunias, pelargoniums and antirrhinum

• Put stakes in place now for border plants before they get too tall

90th Anniversary Weekend

The following are just some of the gardens open on the special birthday weekend

Canterbury Cathedral Gardens

Five canonical gardens within the historic precincts of Canterbury Cathedral that open each year for the NGS, including the Deanery with wonderful roses, wildflowers and an orchard, as well as modern and traditional planting in the Archdeaconry.

On the Saturday a new garden will be opened that has been designed by Cathedral Head Gardener Philip Oostenbrink to mark 90 years also since the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral have been in existence.

Canterbury Cathedral Gardens CT1 2EP

27 May (11am-5pm), 28 May (2pm-5pm)

Combined admission £5, children free

Kent Life readers who join the Friends before 30 June 2017 can get 15 months membership for the price of 12 in their first year. Simply quote ‘Kent Life’ when you make contact.

The Friends (single membership £25 pa, £40 joint)

Riverhill Himalayan Gardens

One of the founding gardens and home to the Rogers family since 1840, Riverhill will be open as normal over the weekend but is holding birthday celebrations on the Saturday, with NGS balloons and banners up, birthday cake in the café, a special Family Quiz Challenge which will refer to the NGS and profits from special celebratory cream teas going to the NGS

Riverhill Himalayan Gardens, Sevenoaks TN15 0RR | 18 Mar-10 Sept, Wed-Sun and Bank Holiday Monday (10.30am-5pm)

Admission £8.25, children £5.95


This past runner-up in our Kent Life Garden Awards is planted with wildlife in mind. The award-winning 300ft garden is a glade densely planted in a natural style, which includes towering exotic tree ferns, lush hostas, two ponds, cactus, rock and Japanese areas.

Haven, Minster CT12 4BZ | 27, 28, 29 May (10am-4pm)

Admission £4, children free |

Goodnestone Park Gardens

This is a popular choice for its floriferous borders, old-fashioned roses, park-like grounds and historic connections with Jane Austen. See also our feature on the bicenentenary of the writer’s death.

Goodnestone Park Gardens, Wingham CT3 1PL

28 May (11am-5pm) | Admission £7, children free |


A romantic four-acre garden cared for by the same family for 160 years. The peonies and roses will be beginning their display amongst an abundance of herbaceous and annual plants. Here there will be extra surprises; you can enjoy a special 90th NGS birthday tea with jelly, decorated cakes and sausages, and even take home a party bag.

Falconhurst, Markbeech TN8 5NR | 28 May (1.30pm-5pm) | Admission £5, children free

Old Bladbean Stud

This garden will be looking particularly lovely as it starts its summer show, with alliums, bearded irises and columbines everywhere. A very creative garden, full of interest, with formal and informal areas.

Old Bladbean Stud, Bladbean CT4 6NA | 28 May (2pm-6pm)

Admission £6, children free |

Copton Ash

This is a real plantsman’s garden with many rare and newly introduced species raised from wild seed. Celebrate here with Gillian’s delicious cakes and pick up a plant at the special plant display

Copton Ash, Faversham ME13 8XW | 29 May (12pm-5pm)

Admission £4, children free |

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