National Gardens Scheme openings in May

Angi KennedyIt's a sign of the times – the National Gardens Scheme has decided to throw open the garden gates for the first time on a mid-week.Angi Kennedy

It's not so long ago that Sunday was the day of rest, a real family day before the law changed to allow shops to open, and before the idea of a 24/7 society had even been mentioned.

But today, as we know, increasingly flexible working arrangements over seven days rather than the traditional five have meant the weekends have become far less defined.

This change in the way we live our lives week to week has had implications for almost all of us.

And now the change has reached that bastion of the English Sunday afternoon, the National Garden Scheme. For more than 80 years, the NGS has arranged for beautiful gardens around the country to open for charity on certain Sundays of the year, raising an extraordinary �25m in the past 10 years alone.

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But next week, for the first time since its formation in 1927, NGS is opening gardens mid-week, and among them is the gorgeous Lexham Hall garden, near Litcham in the heart of Norfolk, which will be open to the public next Wednesday.

Lexham Hall is a fine 17th and 18th century private hall that is not open to the public. It has parkland with a lake and river walks, as well as a formal garden with terraces, yew hedges, roses and mixed borders.

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Another delight is its traditional kitchen garden which features a crinkle crankle wall. There is also a three-acre woodland garden, where visitors can view azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, spring bulbs and fine trees.

It's no wonder that this very special spot has been featured in Gardens Illustrated and Country Life. Although Lexham has become particularly popular for its snowdrop walk, it is a garden for all seasons.

NGS county organiser Anthea Foster said: 'Times have changed, and garden design and visiting too. The formal garden now competes with the vegetable and wild flower gardens for interest.

'Many people now work in businesses that include Sunday openings; consequently 'days out' are the weekdays. People used to book holidays by the week or fortnight, now short breaks and mid- week breaks are popular.'

Charities that have benefited from the NGS open gardens through the years include Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Crossroads - Caring for Carers and Help the Hospices, The Queen's Nursing Institute, The Royal Fund for Gardeners' Children, and Perennial - Gardeners' Royal Benevolent Society. Also benefiting from funds raised through the open gardens is the National Trust's NGS gardeners' careership programme which has led to a number of post-careership gardeners now being employed by the trust and by major private owners. Many have also risen to the horticultural heights of head gardener.

Of course, the Bible for anyone wishing to find out which gardens will be open this year is The Yellow Book 2009, which is out now. Tourist Information Centres and garden centres around the area also have copies of the useful 2009 NGS Norfolk Gardens leaflet which has information to show where and when you can visit. Alternatively log on to for more information and follow the Norfolk National Gardens Scheme garden trail.

And, as ever, the NGS is keen to hear from gardeners who feel they might be able to join the scheme. If your garden is of high quality, character and at least 45 minutes' interest, contact Fiona Black on 01692 650247 to discuss opening your garden or recommend a friend's garden.


The NGS gardens in Norfolk that are still to open this month are:

Sunday May 10

t Burgh House, Burgh Road, Aylsham, NR11 6AT, which is new to the scheme.

t Devils End, Church Lane, Haddiscoe, NR14 6PB.

t Holme Hale Hall, Holme Hale, IP25 7ED.

t Mannington Hall, near Saxthorpe and Corpusty, NR11 7BB.

t Rivermount, Hall Lane, Knapton, NR28 9SW.

Wednesday May 13

t Lexham Hall, near Litcham, PE32 2QJ.

Sunday May 17

t Burgh House, Burgh Road, Aylsham, NR11 6AT - another new addition to the NGS calendar of open gardens.

t How Hill Farm, Ludham, NR29 5PG.

t Lexham Hall, near Litcham, PE32 2QJ.

t Ryston Hall, PE38 0AA, which is also new to NGS.

t Sheringham Park, Upper Sheringham, NR26 8TL.

Friday May 22

t Hoveton Hall Gardens, near Wroxham, NR12 8RJ.

Sunday May 24

t Bolwick Hall, Marsham, NR10 5PU.

t Conifer Hill, Low Road, Starston, IP20 9NT, new to NGS.

t Grasmere, 57 Ullswater Avenue, South Wootton, PE30 3NJ.

Monday May 25

t Grasmere, 57 Ullswater Avenue, South Wootton, PE30 3NJ.

t Raveningham Hall, Raveningham, NR14 6NS.

Sunday May 31

t Derwen, Whissonsett Road, Colkirk, NR21 7NL.

t Oulton Hall, Oulton, Aylsham, NR11 6NU.

t Sheringham Park, Upper Sheringham, NR26 8TL.

t Sol, Whissonsett Road, Colkirk, NR21 7NJ.

t The Mowle, Staithe Road, Ludham, NR29 5NP.

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