The National Garden Scheme to celebrate 85th anniversary

PUBLISHED: 10:04 21 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:05 20 February 2013

The National Garden Scheme to celebrate 85th anniversary

The National Garden Scheme to celebrate 85th anniversary

This year is packed with anniversaries and special events and Linda Viney reports on one with its roots in Lancashire

This is a year of celebrations with the Queens Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, but there is a horticultural landmark that might have escaped your attention. Its the National Garden Schemes 85th birthday and it has some of its roots in Lancashire.

Its Yellow Book, published annually, lists gardens opening for the many charities it supports. Gardeners in the north west are hoping for bumper crowds and are busy digging, mowing and sowing to ensure their plots are ready to welcome you. It certainly makes a good and inexpensive day out and many will have delicious home made refreshments on offer and plants to buy.

The NGS is honouring the original gardens that opened 85 year ago with a special seven inch metal plaque representing a 1927 shilling piece - the admission price when the scheme started. There are three in our region - Levens Hall, Rydal Hall and Dalmain, all in the Lakes.

April 1 is also the date set for a special Daffodil Day commemorating Wordsworths legacy involving seven gardens starting from the Holker in
the south to Rydal Hall in the middle and Carlisle Cemetery in the north. This is not a trail - it would be to lengthy to cover in one day - but
with a choice from north to south there will be at least one for you to view.

Lancashire has more than ten new gardens this year, some joining with others already opening. There will be five opening over the Jubilee weekend offering a good way to celebrate the extra holiday. They range from large mature countryside gardens, with emphasis on hard landscaping, to more suburban gardens, several showing how interesting artefacts can be incorporated alongside plants to give an added dimension.

The NGS was founded in 1927 to raise money for the nurses of the Queens Nursing Institute (QNI) by opening gardens of quality and interest to the public. However it was back in 1859, a philanthropic Liverpool merchant, William Rathbone, employed a nurse to care for his wife at home.

After his wifes death, Rathbone retained the Birthdaynurse and asked her to help poor people in the neighbourhood. Then, convinced of the need for the wider availability of local nursing care, he raised funds for the recruitment, training and employment of nurses to go into the deprived areas of the city, which he divided into districts, each with an honorary Lady Superintendent.


This was the beginning of district nursing. By the end of the 19th century the idea had been taken up across the country and, with the help of Florence Nightingale and the warm approval of Queen Victoria, the movement became a national voluntary organisation for setting standards and training nurses. By 1926, a prominent figure in nursing called Miss Elsie Wagg, came up with the novel idea of combining the national obsession with gardening and raising money for charity. The simple, but radical idea was to ask individuals to open up private gardens for a shilling a head.

At that time garden visiting was already a well established pastime but only for a privileged few.


In the first year 609 gardens raised over 8,000. A network of volunteer county organisers was set up and by 1931 over 1,000 private gardens were open and a handbook, known as The Yellow Book because of its bright cover, was produced.

After the Second World War, the National Health Service took on the District Nursing Service, but money was still needed to care for retired nurses and invest in training so the NGS continued. In 1948 it joined forces with the National Trust to restore and preserve important gardens and opened many of its most prestigious for the NGS. Despite massive inflation in the post-war years, the entrance fee was held at one
shilling. After a great deal of persuasion, more realistic entrance fees were introduced in the 1970s and the gardens began to raise significant amounts.

Over the years the gardens have changed in size and style and NGS now has thousands of smaller gardens. However several Pioneer gardens still open for us and each year some rejoin under new ownership.

There are many ways you can get involved with the NGS, not only by visiting gardens but you might be interested in opening your
own. It doesnt have to be large - many small ones have interest
and character. Visitors are not just attracted by the extent of a garden, but also looking for interesting planning and design, a good range of plants and gardens which have been tended with love and care. And, most importantly, a good cup of tea!

Three to visit


Dale House Gardens, Goosnargh, Preston April 7 and 8 (10am-4pm). Admission 3.50 (children free)
This tasteful garden is home to half an acre of limestone rockeries, raised alpine beds, lawns and well stocked herbaceous borders plus koi carp pond. There is also a greenhouse and polytunnel with beautiful and unusual bulbs. Facilities include wheelchair access, refreshments and plants for sale. For more information contact Caroline and Tom Luke on 01772 862464.


Swarthmoor Hall, Ulverston, Lancashire - weekdays from March 19 to April 27 (10am-4pm).4.50 (children free)
Swarthmoor Hall is known as the cradle of Quakerism for its religious connections. The house itself is a Grade II listed building and dates back to the Elizabethan era. It is also just a few minutes away from the Lake District National Park. Facilities include tours, holiday accommodation, wheelchair access and plants for sale. For more information contact Jane Pearson on 01229 583204.


Holker Hall Gardens, Grange-over-sands, Lancashire from April 1 (10:30am-5:30pm). Admission 7.50 (children free)
25 acres of romantic gardens, flowering meadows, inspiration formal gardens and a peaceful arboretum and interesting labyrinth offer just a few reasons why Holker Gardens should not be missed this spring. For more information contact call 01539 558328.




The Yellow Book is available from the NGS www.ngs.org.uk or telephone 01483 211535 and good book shops at 9.99. There is also an App for iPhones.


For a free booklet of gardens open throughout Lancashire contact Ray and Brenda Doldon with a stamped addressed envelope at 2 Gorse Way, Formby, Lancashire, L37 1PB, telephone 01704 834253 or email rayandbrenda@o2.co.uk. For the Lakes, contact Diane Hewitt, Windy Hall, Crook Road, Windermere, LA23 3JA, send a DL sized envelope with large letter stamp.



The print version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of Lancashire Life

We can deliver a copy direct to your door order online here

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