With the prospect of warmer weather and beautiful blooms, many people will be making the most of the National Gardens Scheme festival weekend in June.
More than 400 gardens – from huge country piles to tiny horticultural havens – will be opening to the public through the scheme, which raises money for nursing and care charities.
Urban gardens, formal country areas, mazes, village and city ‘group gardens’, woodland walks and children’s gardens will all feature, along with a ‘Capability’ Brown garden opening for the NGS.
If you’re planning a visit to an open garden on festival weekend or later in the year, NGS chief executive George Plumptre offers the following tips on how to get the best out of your visit:
Take a notebook and camera. Jot down ideas on colour matching, border combinations and plantings, as well as taking pictures of borders and pots which you can replicate at home.
Interested in a particular plant? Look for open gardens which house a National Collection of specific plants, from acer and agapanthus to dahlia, nepeta, hosta and penstemon. Nearly 80 gardens that open for the NGS are guardians of a Plant Heritage National Plant Collection which carries the NPC symbol in the NGS Gardens To Visit 2016 (The Yellow Book) directory, available from the website (ngs.org.uk)
Check out groups of gardens accessible with the purchase of one ticket. There may be up to a dozen gardens which open at the same time in the same town or village. Buy one ticket and visit as many as you like. In their entry online it will say ‘Group Opening’ and ‘Combined Admission’.
Some gardens are aimed at families and offer particular attractions for children, such as a nature trail, play area or a competition. Others will allow dogs.
Many gardens sell the plants they display. The owners may have grown a few extra to sell on their open day. Alternatively, a local nursery plant-seller will have a stall there. Plants tend to be cheaper than they are at garden centres.
Ask the owners for growing advice and tips. Some owners – especially those who have opened their garden ‘by arrangement’ with larger groups such as gardening clubs or societies – offer tours. Most will be on hand to answer queries.
Consider what plants are going to be at their best when you visit. At the beginning of June many cottage garden favourites will be in full bloom including delphiniums, roses, peonies, aquilegias and flowering shrubs. If you want to see later-flowering plants such as dahlias, crocosmias, rudbeckias, asters and heleniums, you may choose to visit a garden which opens later in the summer.
Keen fruit and veg gardeners may opt to visit kitchen gardens which open their gates later in the year when things are coming into fruit. Groups of allotments open later in the season.
Make the most of sampling local produce such as honey and preserves which are often on sale, alongside the plants.
NGS open day participants also offer their own tips.
Geoff Stonebanks, of Driftwood, Sussex, suggests: “Talk to the owner of the garden about the history. My garden is coastal and has the opportunity to learn all the stories behind my family’s inherited plants, garden objets d’art, not forgetting Hector the tortoise.”
Julie Wise, owner of Rustling End Cottage, Hertfordshire, explains: “We have a lot of birds, amphibians, butterflies and moths visiting our garden which is in tune with nature. I record all of these and display the lists at our garden openings, including the variety of bird species nesting in the garden. We regularly receive visiting naturalists who are keen to chat about managing a garden for wildlife.”