The National Gardens Scheme in Kent

PUBLISHED: 21:27 16 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:41 20 February 2013

The National Gardens Scheme in Kent

The National Gardens Scheme in Kent

Felicity Ward, the NGS's county organiser for Kent, on this very worthwhile charitable organisation that brings so much pleasure to local garden enthusiasts

The National Gardens Scheme in Kent

Felicity Ward, the NGSs county organiser for Kent, on this very worthwhile charitable organisation that brings so much pleasure to local garden enthusiasts

From February to October a familiar sight is repeated across the country a gathering of cars and people around a yellow Garden Open sign. In Kent alone around 125 gardens, mostly privately owned, open for charity under the auspices of the National Gardens Scheme each year.

Enthusiastic owners invite visitors to enter through their garden gates and share in their passion for gardening. The gardens range from a grand scale through to the very popular smaller gardens, which are the mainstay of the scheme. Styles too are varied, with formal plantings, woodlands, water gardens, Mediterranean influences and even meadow style gardens. There are weekend, weekday and some evening openings, some serving delicious teas and many have plant sales as well to complete the experience.

The National Gardens Scheme, founded in 1927, is an independent charitable trust and raises funds by opening gardens to the public throughout England and Wales. Running the NGS affairs in Kent is a team of volunteers led by county organiser Felicity Ward. A love of gardening and meeting like-minded people, prerequisites for the role, shine through Felicitys sunny personality.

I chatted to Felicity at her lovely garden, Hookwood House in Shipbourne, that she also opens through the scheme. Home for the past 26 years with her husband and family, the garden has matured under her expertise and care.

It is in the garden that I can forget the rest of the world and enjoy the moment. I love gardening and feel cheated if I havent gardened for at least half an hour every day. I feel I must turn the soil and smell the earth and newly mown grass and enjoy the season, she says.

Felicity got involved with the NGS 10 years ago when a friend suggested she open her garden and then seven years ago the same friend asked her to be the county organiser. The whole team works wonderfully hard, everyone puts in so much effort and it is all voluntary. We split the county into areas with each committee member given around 15 gardens to look after. Our role is to support and help the garden owners, find more gardens and raise money for the NGS, she explains.

New gardens are always being added to the scheme. An owner may make contact to offer their garden or a member of the committee may go to a village opening or hear of a garden through friends. The garden is then visited at around the time it would be at its best to open and if successful invited to join the scheme the following year. The criteria includes a well-maintained garden with interesting design and good planting. One of the most enjoyable things is visiting potential gardens. I am always interested to see how different people use plants and combinations. Kent is different to most counties as it is so big with varying climates and soils interesting to see how people cope with that. The owners are all so enthusiastic and have a story to tell. They are so happy to share it with other people and the charity benefits from their hard work and artistry, comments Felicity.

Once a garden is selected the procedure is fully explained to the owners to ensure a pleasurable experience for all. The special NGS yellow road signs, posters and advice about opening are all supplied to the first-timers. All owners are rather apprehensive the first time, work hard to get their garden to perfection, then after the open day or days they are thrilled to have done it and generally go on opening each year. It becomes part of their gardening calendar.

Nationally around 2m is raised from garden visiting each year. A small entry charge of 3 to 5 plus money raised from plant sales and teas goes to the NGS charities or sometimes additional local charities. Last year Kent raised 175, 000 for a range of charities, including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Age Concern and Help the Hospices.

Garden visiting continues to be a very popular pursuit with around three quarters of a million visitors expected this year nationwide and an average of 250 visitors per NGS garden. Mostly keen gardeners, gathering inspiration for their own gardens, are attracted to the wonderful selection, sharing their passion while raising money for charity. Others come for a lovely day out, meeting up with friends, enjoying a cup of tea and homemade cake as well as a stroll around a beautiful garden.

Get in touch

If you would like to open your garden, contact Felicity Ward

Tel: 01732 810525


The National Gardens Scheme

Yellow Book of Open Gardens and local county booklet available from mid-February

Hookwood House, Shipbourne TN11 9RJ

Opens with other Shipbourne group gardens on 18 and 19 June (11am-5pm)

Home-made teas in village hall

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