The National Garden Scheme in Hampshire

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 February 2020

Reconnect with nature and relax by visiting some of our lovely gardens this year, such as the delightful Terstan in Stockbridge Photo: Leigh Clapp

Reconnect with nature and relax by visiting some of our lovely gardens this year, such as the delightful Terstan in Stockbridge Photo: Leigh Clapp


Many people’s lives are touched by the National Garden Scheme, whether opening their gardens, visiting the beauties in our county or benefiting from the funds raised

Come on in and explore the gardens on offer Photo: Leigh ClappCome on in and explore the gardens on offer Photo: Leigh Clapp

An impact report last year confirmed what we in the gardening community already know - that the benefits and impact that the National Garden Scheme has is invaluable to the on-going wellbeing of thousands of people across the UK.

Both through the enjoyment of visiting about 3,500 private gardens and being surrounded by their beauty, and through the donations from funds raised at the open days; the effects are far-reaching. Research has proven that the benefits to our physical and mental health by being out in the garden, the activity of our 'green gym', the recuperative powers, sense of nurturing plants and the relaxation in a haven keeps us fit and connected to nature. Gaining ideas by visiting other gardens, chatting to fellow enthusiasts, while leisurely strolling amongst horticultural delights, completed with a cup of tea and a delicious homemade cake releases endorphins of sheer happiness. When you also add in the benefits for people who may not have access to gardens and the amount of money the organisation raises every year for a range of charities, the feeling is expanded even further.

The 2019 report looked at the impact the £3m donation the National Garden Scheme made from openings in 2018 and how the beneficiaries use the funding. You may not know that as a registered charity, the NGS is the largest cumulative funder of most of the beneficiaries. "Year by year, the cumulative impact of the grants we are able to give to our beneficiary charities grows incrementally, helping them make their enormous contribution to the nation's health and care, and strengthening the partnerships that we have with them all," explains chief executive George Plumptre. "They are partnerships of which we are enormously proud and we look forward to building further in the coming years."

The list of beneficiaries includes many organisations well known to us all; others may not be as familiar. The partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support celebrated 35 years in 2019, making the scheme the longest standing partner. A far younger partnership is with patients at Horatio's Garden, which is a cornerstone of the Gardens and Health programme that was launched with the commissioned report from the King's Fund in 2016 that outlined research on the benefits of gardening and visiting gardens. Other beneficiaries include Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Parkinson's UK, Perennial and The Queen's Nursing Institute, community projects and bursary grants. Guest charities, selected and shortlisted by volunteer county teams, are part of the scheme's nursing and health donations and are a beneficiary for two to three years. The guest charity for 2019, Mind, received £100,000, which will help ensure that no-one experiences a mental health problem alone. This month there will be an announcement of the donations raised in what was a record-breaking 2019 and the beneficiaries to receive monies.

Wander the paths in the private Bluebell Wood near Alton Photo: Leigh ClappWander the paths in the private Bluebell Wood near Alton Photo: Leigh Clapp

The history of the National Garden Scheme

From humble beginnings the acorn has grown into the mighty oak of today. 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 Garden 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. In the 1970s entrance fees were raised from one shilling to more realistic and useful levels, thus raising more significant donations. Since 1927 over £58m has been raised. Most of the gardens are privately owned and more than half a million people visited them last year. HRH The Prince of Wales became the scheme's patron in 2002 and in 2016 Mary Berry was made the president.

Informal abundance at Old Thatch in Winchfield Photo: Leigh ClappInformal abundance at Old Thatch in Winchfield Photo: Leigh Clapp

The country is split into counties, each with an organiser and team of volunteers. In Hampshire Mark Porter, with his team of 14 volunteers, has a real passion for gardening. As part of his retirement plan he had the desire to work voluntarily with charities and organisations associated with gardening and horticulture, which led to also being on the RHS Council, getting involved with the Hampshire Gardens Trust and running the local garden club. He and wife Jackie open their garden and vineyard, The Down House in Itchen Abbas, through the scheme. "Hampshire has a range of 124 that open this year, from small plantsman's gardens, through the serenity of woodland gardens, to those of large houses," he says. "You can be assured of a warm welcome at all of them and, at nearly all, that lovely, famous NGS cup of tea and a slice of cake!"

Local groups have also benefitted from funding, including last year, Treloar's School and College in Holybourne with children and young people with disability and KIDS nursery in Basingstoke who both received £85,000 for garden projects to foster healthy living, exploration of nature, productive growing and outdoor play.

So for a really good value day, knowing that you are also helping others, it's hard to beat visiting National Garden Scheme gardens as the season really gets underway this month right up to October. Gardening is even being encouraged by doctors as a social prescription for its therapeutic powers so hopefully you will be inspired to green up your patch, whether a windowsill, pots on the patio or acreage. For evidence you just need to take a look at the scheme's website where there are many personal stories of how gardening has transformed lives. So do make time to explore the plethora of gardens on your doorstep in Hampshire and enjoy a season of bounty.

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