Sunny times ahead with Yellow Book

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Spring may still seem a long time coming this year, but the publication of the Yellow Book means gardens will be bursting into colour sooner than you think.

National Gardens Weekend is on June 15 and 16. Across the country, 800 gardens have answered are taking part and opening to the public for charity that weekend.

Other gardens are opening their gates at different times, so it’s best to check for dates online or see the individual county booklets available from libraries.

Every year National Gardens Scheme (NGS) gardens across England and Wales welcome about 750,000 visitors.

Most of the gardens are privately owned. Some open as part of a group, with the whole community involved.

The gardens give all the money raised directly to the NGS, including cash from the sale of teas and plants, except when owners ask for a small proportion to go to a local charity.

The scheme gives away more than £2.5 million each year to nursing, caring and gardening charities and has donated a total of more than £25 million in the last 15 years.

Most of the NGS’s work is done by volunteers in county teams so more than 80p in every £1 raised at garden openings goes directly to its beneficiaries.

In north Bucks, there are gardens opening in Winslow, Buckingham and Hillesden.

South Northants, venues include Evenley, Brackley and Weedon Lois.

The National Gardens Scheme was founded in 1927 to raise money for the nurses of the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) by opening gardens of quality and interest to the public for ‘a shilling a head’.

Garden visiting was already a well-established pastime, as described in Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, but only for a privileged few.

In the first year, 609 gardens raised more than £8,000.

A network of volunteer county organisers was set up and by 1931 more than 1,000 private gardens were open and Country Life magazine produced a handbook, known as the Yellow Book because of its bright cover.

In 1948 the NGS joined forces with the National Trust to restore and preserve important gardens. In return, the National Trust opened many of its most prestigious gardens for the scheme.

Despite massive inflation in the post-war years, the entrance fee was held at one shilling.

More realistic entrance fees were introduced in the 1970s and the gardens began to raise significant donations.

In 1980 The NGS Charitable Trust was established as an independent charity, with Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother as patron and HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, as president.

In 1984, Macmillan Cancer Relief joined the list of beneficiary charities.

In the years that followed, other charities joined including Marie Curie Cancer Care, Help The Hospices and Crossroads Caring For Carers.

Over the years, the gardens have changed in size and style and NGS now has thousands of smaller gardens.

But several ‘pioneer’ gardens still open for the scheme and each year some rejoin under new ownership.

The scheme’s patron is now HRH The Prince of Wales.

Search for open gardens or order copies of the Yellow Book at www.ngs.org.uk