6 Devon gardens open for visits

PUBLISHED: 10:32 14 July 2020 | UPDATED: 10:56 14 July 2020

August colour in Helen’s garden at Little Ash, Fenny Bridges. Photo Helen Brown

August colour in Helen’s garden at Little Ash, Fenny Bridges. Photo Helen Brown

. Photo Helen Brown

The National Garden Scheme, which raises thousands of pounds for nursing charities every year, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic - but some private Devon gardens are starting to open once again

August colour in Helen’s garden at Little Ash, Fenny Bridges. Photo Helen BrownAugust colour in Helen’s garden at Little Ash, Fenny Bridges. Photo Helen Brown

People have been spending more time in their gardens, nuturing plants, growing vegetables and watching wildlife. Gardening was one of the most popular activities during lockdown, although due to safety reasons, no one was able to go out and visit public or ‘open’ gardens.

That was a shame for one open garden scheme, because it would normally raise thousands of pounds for nursing and care charities.

The National Garden Scheme, well-known for its yellow NGS ‘open garden’ signs that appear across the country every year, has raised over £17 million for Macmillan in the last 35 years and £10 million over 25 years for Marie Curie.

The NGS scheme in Devon alone has raised over a million pounds in six years, with the 2019 total standing at £191,000.

Sutton Mead, a well-established moorland garden at Moretonhampstead, will be opening in September, along with Mardon, also on the edge of the town. Photo: Sutton MeadSutton Mead, a well-established moorland garden at Moretonhampstead, will be opening in September, along with Mardon, also on the edge of the town. Photo: Sutton Mead

Early on in lockdown the NGS offered virtual tours of gardens on its website, but as soon as restrictions were eased, some gardens did manage to open to the public, with pre-booking online and social distancing measures in place.

One of the first in the country to open in this way was Little Ash Bungalow at Fenny Bridges, which is owned by Helen and Brian Brown.

The one and a half acre garden is filled with herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees and along with the colourful borders has natural areas including a stream, pond and woodland area, as well as little areas of wildflower meadows.

It opens every year, at the end of May and again in August. It had looked like the late May date was out of the question, but then restrictions were eased, a cautious go-ahead was given by the NGS and Helen took the plunge, opening on Tuesday 2 June.

Lewis Cottage Garden at Spreacombe, Devon, will open in July and August. Photo: Matt AustinLewis Cottage Garden at Spreacombe, Devon, will open in July and August. Photo: Matt Austin

“We had an email to say it was going to be possible, so I volunteered,” she says. “The garden was looking good and I was so aware that all those nursing charities had been missing out.”

Realising how important it was for people to feel safe visiting her garden, Helen made careful plans.

Online booking through the NGS website meant numbers could be controlled. “I had to decide how many people I was happy to have in the garden without putting them at risk.”

She set up one-way systems where there were pinch-points or narrow paths and wrote little reminders of social distancing on slate tiles, placing them around the garden.

Helen wanted to open her garden to try and raise money for the nursing charities, but she was also aware of how beneficial it might be for visitors.

Furloughed from her job as a learning ranger with Forestry England, Helen was spending even more time in her garden.

“I got all sorts of jobs done, all the nitty gritty – like taking out two big bamboos and really sorting out the nursery area and having a real attack on the bindweed.”

The physical work, and simply being in the garden, helped eased the uncertainly of her daily situation. “It was really therapeutic, and really helped with my mental wellbeing.”

It made her aware of how so many other people sharing the same uncertainty, could benefit from being in gardens.

“It’s a feeling of escape, to be in a space that gives a feeling of peace and joy. It’s that mental wellbeing,” she says.

And she adds: “I missed walking around other people’s spaces. In someone else’s garden you’re not looking at all the bits that need doing!”

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Miranda and Edward Allhusen are Devon county organisers for the NGS and open their garden, Sutton Mead, at Moretonhampstead each year. They plan to open under the new system in September.

“Any garden owners who open have thought long and hard about it; they all want the garden visitors to feel safe,” says Miranda. “The gardens have been looking better than ever and it’s been a real shame not to be able to share them. People are always thrilled to show their gardens as they put so much into them.”

Refreshments, another very popular aspect of garden visits, are provided where the owners feel it is safe to do so.

Helen says that the older generations who have formed her ‘regular’ crowd of visitors might feel too nervous to venture into the gardens – especially if they are also hoping to enjoy a cup of tea and slice of homemade cake! Her first opening, just days after restrictions were lifted saw just a few visitors, but she was pleased to discover they were all new to the NGS scheme and were visiting for the first time.

“It wasn’t a very good showing, but on the other hand I did something and got the ball rolling. I hope now that the ball has rolled on, and more people will be picking it up and opening their gardens.”

Find a garden:

The NGS gardens need to be pre-booked in advance through the website . A list of gardens that are open is posted on a weekly basis, so it’s worth checking regularly. Some are now able to offer refreshments, or there may be the opportunity to take your own picnic.

Devon openings include:

Little Ash Bungalow: Helen is planning to open her garden on 15 August.

Morteonhampstead gardens - Sutton Mead and Mardon: two moorland gardens with mature orchards, shrubs, woodland walks, ponds and plenty of unusual plants. 5 and 6 September

Middle Well at Stoke Gabriel: two acres of garden including woodland and stream area, structural features and a mix of shrubs, climber and specimen trees. 6 September.

Bickham House at Kenn: eight acres of landscaped gardens, borders, trees, lily pond and walled garden and plenty of late summer colour. 9 August, and 5 & 6 September.

Lewis Cottage at Spreyton: four acres of herbaceous borders, woodland walks and bog garden. 25 and 26 July, 30 and 31 August.

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