One-day-only invitation to some of Norfolk's loveliest private gardens
- Credit: Supplied by the National Garden Scheme
They are the gardens glimpsed through gates or behind hedges and houses. Most of the year the swathes of spring flowers, glorious summer borders, splashes of lake or fairy-tale topiary is just hinted at.
But for a day, maybe two, each year, the owners of these cherished private gardens invite visitors to wander and wonder.
Some of Norfolk’s finest private gardens have been opening in aid of the National Garden Scheme (NGS) for almost a century. They range from manicured acres to town courtyards and everyone stepping into these hidden flower-fringed arbours, walking lush paths or enjoying home-cake on the lawn, is helping to raise money for nursing and health charities.
This year another 12 Norfolk gardens will join old favourites in the famous yellow ‘county booklet.’
Each garden is carefully checked to ensure it meets the scheme’s high standards.
Julia Stafford Allen is the NGS county organiser for Norfolk and said: “Some gardens may focus on the design elements, or may be plant-based and full of colour, others may be about foliage and texture. There are those gardens that are formal and those that are more relaxed and wild. There is something for everyone.”
Julia’s own garden, Tudor Lodgings, Castle Acre, is among the 70 Norfolk gardens which open for the scheme and she said NGS gardeners love being able to share their work, as well as raise money for charity. “One garden owner who opened for the first time last year said she had more pleasure in opening her garden, than having a party!” said Julia.
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Many people tour NGS gardens to gather inspiration but non-gardeners love visiting too and it can also be a family outing (children are free.)
“Most of our gardens serve delicious refreshments, often home-made, which can be a very important component to a garden visit!” said Julia.
It’s not all flowers and cakes though.
Graham Watts is one of Norfolk’s NGS assistant county organisers and enrols new gardens, vetting lawns, borders, planting schemes and ponds and helping gardeners prepare to welcome 200-plus visitors to their cherished plot.
Julia said: “Occasionally a garden may not be quite ready and so we might suggest waiting a few years."
And Graham explained: “Sometimes we say there’s potential but there’s things you need to do and we’ll come back next year. I think people get daunted, not because of the gardening, but because of everything that goes with it – refreshments, parking, publicity...”
The most common reason for having to turn down a garden is lack of parking rather than lack of horticultural flair so
Graham has a team of volunteers to help new recruits. “You can’t invite 250 people to your garden if there’s just two of you. It’s quite an undertaking,” said Graham.
He has been opening his garden, at Dale Farm in Dereham, since 2010.
After a career which included managing civic parks and gardens in Cambridge, Graham, and his wife Sally who ran garden nurseries for the city, retired to create their own garden.
Accustomed to welcoming the public into parks they responded to a call for more NGS gardens and were delighted to discover the money raised from tickets and refreshment and plant stalls, goes to health charities. Both lost their mothers to cancer and had been helped by Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie. “The NGS is the country’s biggest donator to those two charities so we thought it would be a good match and respect the memories of our mothers,” said Graham.
Last year Norfolk’s gardens raised more than £115,000 for its charities, which was even more than pre-pandemic figures.
“We enjoy opening the garden,” said Graham. “And people are very grateful that they are coming on to your private property. I think that’s the unique selling point of the NGS, it’s homemade, it’s their own garden, their own crockery their own home-made cakes and it’s different in each garden you go to.
“People also love being able to talk to the people who are doing the work.”
He said the majority of Norfolk NGS visitors have travelled less than 10 miles and many will come back year after year to see how a garden has developed.
“This coming year we’ve probably got the most diverse range of gardens we’ve ever had, from grand estates to a wildflower meadow,” said Graham. His favourite Norfolk NGS gardens range from the grounds surrounding moated Elsing Hall to a bungalow garden in Hargham Road, Attleborough. “You don’t know the garden is there. It’s just shingle in the front but you go through the gate into a wonderful secret garden absolutely packed full of plants and flowers. It’s like Chelsea Flower Show on steroids!”
Flowers, formality and follies – Norfolk’s newest NGS gardens
Hoe Hall, near Dereham, has a classic walled garden and spectacular white wisteria walk and is open on Sunday June 5.
Booton Hall, near Reepham, has formal gardens with tiered lawns plus a walled garden, parkland and woods. Open Sunday June 12.
Three city gardens on Unthank Road, Norwich, will be opening together. They include shrubs and trees and ‘no dig’ vegetable plots. Open Sunday June 12.
Ferndale in Stoke Holy Cross, near Norwich, is a half-acre garden packed with colour, features, and seating areas and open for the NGS on June 19, July 17 and August 14. Two gardens on Norwich Road, Stoke Holy Cross, will open together on Saturday August 20.
A sloping terraced garden on Kett’s Hill, Norwich, gives views across the city and opens on Sunday June 19.
Two contrasting gardens in Branksome Road and nearby Waverley Road, Norwich, one carefully colour-themed, one wilder, will open together on Sunday July 3.
Rags Folgate, near Wymondham is a wildflower meadow open on Sunday July 10.
The White House, Ridlington, near North Walsham is a former rectory garden with colour-themed herbaceous and mixed borders, a wildlife pond and kitchen garden. Open Sunday July 10.
Fiddian's Folly, North Barningham, near Cromer, includes quirky folly buildings in three acres of mature gardens. Open Wednesday August 3.
Kerdiston Manor, near Reepham, has a native flower meadow walk, dell garden and potager-style vegetable plot. Open Sunday August 7.
Norfolk gardens open for the NGS over the next few weeks include:
The Old Rectory, Catfield, near Stalham, on Sunday April 24, Quaker Farm, Spixworth, near Norwich on Sunday May 8, Stody Lodge, near Melton Constable on Wednesday May 18, and Chestnut Farm, West Beckham, near Sheringham, Lexham Hall near Litcham, and the Old Rectory, Brandon Parva, between Wymondham and Dereham, all on Sunday May 22.
For full information and to book tickets visit ngs.org.uk or most gardens sell tickets at the gate too.