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Could you put your garden on show?

As the National Garden Scheme celebrates its 90th anniversary, Hannah Stephenson talks to NGS chief executive George Plumptre about how far open gardens have progressed and what to do if you want to open up your own garden to the public for a good cause

By Hannah Stephenson

Many gardeners and the wider public will be visiting an open garden this year, one which is opened to the public on one or more specific days of the year to raise money for nursing and caring charities.

The National Garden Scheme, which is celebrating its 90th birthday this year, remains the biggest charitable funder of both Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie.

Its president is high-profile baker and gardener Mary Berry, who has opened up her own NGS garden for 20 years, while the scheme has undergone a revamped image which is more informal than the old one and a newly designed 'Yellow Book' - which lists details of this year's open gardens.

It has just announced that £3m will be donated to its beneficiaries in 2017 as a result of funds raised through garden openings in 2016, and George Plumptre, the charity's ebullient chief executive, explains: "In our 90th anniversary, it's wonderful to celebrate all our new gardens coming in, but also look at the gardens which opened 90 years ago and are still open - even Sandringham, thank you, Your Majesty."

This year, 3,650 gardens will be opening for the scheme, including more than 500 new and returning gardens, 270-plus groups of gardens, 38 allotment groups, 15 school gardens and 10 hospice gardens.

When the scheme started in 1927, just two gardens opened on Whit Sunday - Hatfield House in Herts and Sandringham, Norfolk - for the public.

And The Times sent a photographer to Hatfield House, capturing the first visitors.

"What interests me is the way that we represent how gardening has diversified. In the 1920s most of our gardens were country houses, country cottages - all rural," says Plumptre.

"One of the fascinating things is that a number of gardens, like Great Dixter, a famous garden in Sussex and the famous home of Christopher Lloyd, and Sissinghurst (Kent), which is even more famous, were brand new when they first opened before the war and now, in our 90 years, they have grown to become national icons.

"In 1980, there were 30 gardens opening within the M25 and today there are 300. It's that growth of diversity which reflects how people garden.

"Many more of our owners do all the work themselves. In the 1920s most of the gardens that opened relied on gardeners. Today, you do it yourself and so when you open, it's the fruits of your labour that people are seeing.

"City gardens are developing slowly, which is really exciting. Groups of gardens in villages is another really important development of recent decades."

He says it is still sometimes a challenge to get people to open up their gardens to the public just for one or two days of the year.

"We always visit a garden to have a look before they open. Everybody thinks there's a certain stamp of quality if you are opening for the National Garden Scheme.

"We do get a number of people who say, 'Oh, I couldn't possibly open up my garden to the public for the National Garden Scheme because I'm not nearly good enough' and then you find that actually they're one of the best. Gardeners are very modest folk. They don't push themselves forward. It's normally a friend who says, 'You must go and see that garden'."

Do you think your garden could be opened to the public for the NGS? Or do you just want to visit one of the open gardens? To find details of all gardens opening near you, visit the NGS website www.ngs.org.uk or download the free NGS 'GardenFinder' app.

- Ulster Gardens Scheme (www.ulstergardensscheme.org.uk) holds open days to help raise funds to support work in National Trust gardens in Northern Ireland.

- The NGS 'Yellow Book' is available from all good bookshops and all counties have their individual booklets, which can be picked up via the NGS website www.ngs.org.uk

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As the National Garden Scheme celebrates its 90th anniversary, Hannah Stephenson talks to NGS chief executive George Plumptre about how far open gardens have progressed and what to do if you want to open up your own garden to the public for a good cause

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