Over spring and summer, around 3,500 private gardens around the country open for charity, allowing visitors to admire beautiful gardens and mingle with like-minded garden lovers. For a small fee you can explore stunning gardens you’d never otherwise have access to, and the owners of the garden will often provide light lunches and refreshments for visitors – we’ve even heard rumours of pizza and Prosecco in one garden. The North East has more than 50 gardens opening for nursing and caring charities – we take a look inside just three of them.
Mrs Clark has plenty of experience opening her gardens to visitors for charity, as she used to open for the Red Cross at weekends and the National Garden Scheme during the week. She now opens it on weekends for the National Garden Scheme, last year raising over £800. ‘Last year was terrific, it was a lovely day and people enjoyed the terraces,’ she says. ‘Other years it’s been pouring with rain and maybe not so good.’
Whatever the British summer weather throws at you, it’s more than worth making a visit to Loughbrow House garden. Since Mrs Clark moved there in 1959, the garden has changed massively. During her work decorating for events such as wedding, she was fortunate enough to train under florist Constance Spry, and also had help from Nicholas Ridley, grandson of architect Edwin Lutyens, whose influence can very much be seen in the garden.
Garden writer and photographer Susie White also had a hand in designing the beautiful rose garden, which has four beds with intersecting paths and a statue in the middle. Other highlights include the wildflower garden which is filled with masses of fritillaries, camassias, bluebells and campanula, a little arboretum with interesting trees, and a former quarry complete with air raid shelter that is now home to rhododendrons and camellias.
As well as light refreshments, you can also buy homemade chutneys and jellies that Mrs Clark makes with the harvests of fruit from her fruit trees. Loughbrow House open day takes place on 2nd June, 2–5pm.
Patricia Hodgson has been opening her garden in Northumberland for the NGS for eight years now, and has always found it a positive experience to meet and engage with other gardeners interested in her garden – she even does entertaining talks and has developed a Powerpoint presentation to show people how far her garden has come over the years. In recent years she has donated the money from tea and cake sales to the NSPCC.
On moving to the property 20 years ago, Patricia and Derek had their work cut out for them. ‘The garden was just all grass, brambles and a vegetable patch,’ Patricia explains. ‘It’s also on a very steep slope, but I’ve redesigned it completely and it’s more a cottage-style garden. The slope was just all grass and it was so steep I had to mow it on a rope – it took ages! Now I’ve put a waterfall in there and it’s a lovely place to have breakfast.’
Although challenging, the steepness of her garden is something Patricia now loves. ‘I had a vision of how it could look and I think all the different levels make it so much more interesting. I wouldn’t be happy with a flat garden now,’ she admits.
The Beacon is filled with perennials and shrubs, including purple sensations, oriental poppies, and geraniums. ‘I think I’ve got it to a point now where it looks good no matter what time of year,’ explains Patricia. ‘In June it’s just glorious, but even at this time of year I love it with the magnolias, Acers and tulips. I’ve also got a lot of Pieris which has lovely white flowers and is low-maintenance. Even if you’ve got a postage stamp-sized garden or weren’t very fit, you could have a pot with Pieris as a lovely feature that takes no maintenance.’
Patricia’s garden also enjoys a riot of roses come late June/July, sometimes lasting right up until Christmas. Her other suggestions for plants that will continue to provide colour later in the year include heleniums, monarda, and sedum. Visitors to her garden always love seeing ‘The Wee Beacon’, which is a smaller version of the main garden, complete with its very own picket fence.
Having tackled a taxing garden, Patricia has some wise words for any disheartened gardeners out there. ‘I think a lot of people who have big gardens can feel quite overwhelmed and try to do little bits here and there and then get disheartened when they can’t see a difference,’ she says.
‘For me, the main thing is deciding what shape you want your garden to be. Once you have that vision in your head, do the landscaping to get the shape right. Then it’s time to get your evergreens in for architectural structure, and from there just start at the front door and take it a stage at a time – you’ll soon see the benefits.’
As well as the open day on 9th June, 2–6pm, The Beacon is open to group visits from various clubs.
The owner of this garden, Maureen Kesteven has been involved with the National Garden scheme for 10 years as their volunteer county organiser, but only started opening her own garden in 2013. In the years she’s been gardening, Maureen has come a long way. ‘The gardening I did before I retired was as a complete amateur,’ she explains. ‘When we moved to this house, there was just grass with mature trees – no garden at all really.
‘I realised I needed to get some knowledge so I went to Kirkley Hall and did a horticulture course, followed by Newcastle College. Since then my garden has changed dramatically.’
Maureen has got rid of most her lawn and the garden is now made up of mostly beds with flowers. She’s also tackled the acre and a half of woodland attached to her property, which until 2011 was left untouched – and took some hacking with a machete to tame. But the effort was worth it, as it’s now a tranquil woodland walk with bridges and lots of shade-loving plants.
This year is the first year that Maureen will be opening her garden in June, as usually as the county organiser she simply slots in wherever there’s space left after the other owners have picked their dates – and it goes without saying that her garden will be stunning in June. ‘All the alliums will be out in June. A lot of my garden is geared to birds and bees so I’ve got things like Cirsium rivulare, lots of Nepeta which looks great in June, Sanguisorba, Spiraea, lots of geraniums. I also like big tall plants, so I have lots of cannas and callas,’ says Maureen.
Maureen is a firm believer in succession planting to ensure a colourful garden year-round, with hellebores being one of her favourite winter-flowering plants, followed by snowdrops and muscari, before tulips in spring, alliums and late summer-blooming heleniums. The one thing she doesn’t have a lot of is roses; ‘I’m not good with roses, I don’t give them enough care!’ she laughs.
If you’re looking for gardening advice, Maureen’s top tip is to work with the conditions you have and improve them, but not change them. ‘You can never have enough muck. My garden is pretty much pure clay, so I could never have something like a rock garden,’ she explains. ‘We have about 12 inches of soil and then it goes down to clay – when we put in our pond my husband joked we didn’t actually need the pond-liner.
‘My other tip would be to visit other gardens because that’s where you can pick up ideas and get advice from people that have been there and done these things already.’
As Maureen has a pizza oven in her garden, she’s been known to provide the immensely popular pizza and Prosecco – but you’ll have to pop in on June 23rd, 1–4.30pm, to see what’s on offer this year.