by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener
This week I had the pleasure of doing my first in-person presentation in almost three years to the Peterborough Horticultural Society on some very special south England gardens that my husband and I were able to visit in May 2022.
National Garden Scheme
I also talked about the amazing UK National Garden Scheme (NGS), where gardeners open their private gardens on specific days during the year to raise funds for primarily health charities. Since many people had never heard of the NGS, I thought I’d share with a wider audience with my blog for this month.
The NGS gives access to over 3,500 exceptional private gardens in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands, which in turn raise impressive amounts of money for nursing and health charities through admissions, teas and cake. And it’s not just about seeing beautiful gardens – there is a strong focus on physical and mental health benefits of gardens too. They also support other charities doing amazing work in gardens, and provide health and grant bursaries to help community gardening projects. You can read more here.
How I wish we could start something similar here in Canada (or Ontario, or Peterborough)! Imagine all the good that could happen just from sharing our gardens with people. I’ll have to think more about this.
So we managed to see two very special private gardens (that both open for the NGS as well) and get to meet the gardeners behind the garden, which is always my favourite thing to do when I visit to a garden. I want to understand the inspiration, the goals and objectives, and the plans for the future…because we all know our gardens are ever evolving places.
Waterperry Gardens (east of Oxford in Oxfordshire) has a long legacy and an amazing history as one of the few horticultural schools for women (from 1943 to 1971) – run by two outstanding women – Beatrix Havergal and her partner Avice Sanders.
It’s an 80 acre estate with 8 acres of formal gardens, and is famous for the herbaceous border. This is what it looked like May 2022 when we visited, and how it looks now (fall 2022, photo courtesy of Head Gardener Pat Havers, who I was lucky enough to meet in person in probably the busiest time of the year!) I love this blog written about her in 2017.
You know you’re a hard core gardener when your Mum takes you to work in a wheelbarrow!
Pat grew up in the gardens as her mother worked there, and has been working there herself for the past 20 years -10 years as Head Gardener.
“Living in the village it was every little girl’s dream to have this haven on their doorstep”, says Pat. “I would spend hours running through the beds and asking all the gardeners questions about their work. This soon caught Miss Havergal’s eye and I became the youngest student of hers at just the age of 4. My guess is perhaps she did this to keep me out of trouble.“
Her passion for the gardens were evident in everything she said. I found out about her favourite quiet space (down by the River Thame), and the incredible legacy established by Havergal and Sanders, that continues to this day in terms of courses, plant identification tags, and garden design.
This garden is the Formal Garden/Silent Garden, where people are encouraged to turn off the phones and just enjoy the beautiful knot garden, sculptures, and seasonal changes.
St Timothee Garden
Just a bit further east near Maidenhead in Berkshire is St Timothee, a spectacular 2 acre private country garden planted for year-round interest with a variety of different colour-themed borders, each featuring a wide range of hardy perennials, shrubs and ornamental grasses.
The garden artist at work here is Sarah Pajwani, and I love her approach to gardening (similar to my own), and especially her focus on making her gardens appealing all year round, including those winter months. While England obviously doesn’t have the harsh winters we have here, her focus is on maintaining structure and colour in the garden.
An overgrown field area when she moved in (2006), Sarah created a design rationale with the help of professional landscapers, but then set about filling her garden with plants of her choice, border by border. She definitely loves her purples and pinks, but also has a few ‘hot’ borders with lovely reds, oranges and yellows.
There are so many lovely aspects to her gardens, including a large pond, wild meadow, potting shed, and formal parterre garden. While we were there in May, her photos of her winter garden are amazing, designed to have year round interest that’s easy to manage.
Sarah’s garden received national recognition in 2021, being recognized by The English Garden magazine as the National Winner for favourite garden. A garden not to be missed if you are in the area!
This excellent garden blog shows the beauty of the St Timothee Garden in wintertime, when it’s one of the first to open for the NGS.
While we did enjoy seeing many of the ‘signature’ ‘must see’ gardens on our English trip – like Sissinghurst, Hidcote, Kiftsgate Court Gardens, and Great Dixter – it was these private gardens – where we had the opportunity to meet the gardeners – that were the highlight of our trip. So if you’re in the UK, be sure to check out the NGS website for what gardens are open while you are there – they have a great interface to help you – either by week or by arrangement.
(Special thanks to the magic of Twitter for connecting me to Ontario gardener Lynette, who connected me to master gardener Nicki in Sussex, who helped me find these very special gardens and gardeners. You will both be on my list of gardens to see next time I’m in your area.)