Growbag Blog

It’s open season on garden-visiting!


We are into full garden-visiting time now – hurray! And it’s our mission this week to encourage everyone to get out there and explore some spring gardens, big or small – Covid restrictions have been lifted, the tulips and peonies are smiling, and there is cake to be munched!  
How do you go about it?

  • Step 1 – Log onto the National Gardens Scheme website (England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scilly isles) or Scotland’s Gardens (Scotland) – both links at the end.
  • Step 2 – Use their great search function to look for gardens near you or wherever you fancy visiting and/or search for your preferred date.
  • Step 3 – Head off equipped with your phone/camera, a notebook and some cash (remember that?). You’ll need to pay a small entry fee and….there may be plants for sale!

What can you expect? Well, here are some of our experiences both as visitors and ‘garden openers’:


I don’t think I have EVER visited a garden, particularly a private one, where I didn’t spot at least one brilliant idea, or a fabulous piece of planting……or meet a welcoming and enthusiastic gardener. I veer towards choosing to visit the smaller, more intensely-planted gardens rather than landscaped parklands.  I don’t think I’m alone in finding them of more interest to the average amateur gardener, and a wonderful casebook of ideas for one’s own garden.

And for ideas of where to go, there is no equal to the fabled Yellow Book of the National Garden Scheme.

Taking time to visit an Open Garden – always worth it!

There are astonishingly more than 3,586 NGS gardens throughout the country!  In our area alone (East, Mid and West Sussex) there are 225. And even in pandemic-hit 2021, these gardens raised more than £3 million for the beneficiary charities such as Marie Curie and Macmillan Cancer Support.  

My husband and I visited one of them last weekend – The Oast at Mayfield – and were bowled over by the beauty of the spot and the various plantings, as well as the care and enthusiasm that had gone into creating such a happy and atmospheric celebration of gardening. 

A feast of spring colour at The Oast, open for the NGS

It’s a bit more of a worry when you’re on the other side of the fence, and you are the one doing the Opening, of course. It’s my turn again the first weekend in June. Help! What plants will or won’t be flowering, who will make the cakes or man the plant stall, and most importantly WHAT WILL THE WEATHER BE LIKE?!  

Crossing my fingers for my garden opening weekend……….

Laura has also experienced the anxiety and the pleasure of opening her garden and we may even one day see Caroline fling open the gate of her new garden in the Highlands…


All very gung-ho from Elaine as usual but I notice that she forgot to mention that she once managed to set the same weekend for opening her Eastbourne garden as her Normandy one, so muggins here (‘Hi Sis! Errr ..did you have anything planned next weekend …? ) had to trundle over to the next county to play host in her place.

Open Gardens
Luckily Elaine’s wonderful friends had already sorted the most important aspect of her Open Gardens weekend

But actually that’s one of the lovely things about opening your garden or visiting another, like Jubilee street parties or being welcomed by a host of friendly volunteers at a Covid vaccination centre, it seems to bring out the best in everyone involved, and even Young People seem willing to pitch in (as in our feature picture this week when two apprentices from my workplace, Paul and Indigo, ran the tea stall for me)

Open gardens
The NGS provide excellent support with posters and the Yellow Book, but you can also go it alone with your Open Garden

In our village we don’t do the NGS (slightly terrified of their criteria ‘the garden needs to offer 45 minutes of interest to visitors’ – eek!) but, when we all have the energy, we band together to open around 5 gardens on the same day in aid of our local hospice.

Whether it’s cottagecore or tropical retreat you’re looking for, there’ll be a garden that caters for your taste.

The good thing about having a suite of gardens open together is that there’s bound to be one that appeals, whether it’s ‘what pretty clematis and roses’ (Elaine), ‘what wonderfully weird plants’ (alas me, I can’t help it), ‘oh lupins! I love lupins!’ (Caroline – and they were delphiniums)


They look similar from a distance! There’s no doubt we have fewer open gardens (and everything else) per square mile here in Scotland but I was lucky enough to see a presentation earlier this year from ‘Scotland’s Gardens’ (our equivalent of the NGS). Boy oh boy, some of our gardens are total ‘stoaters’ (this expression will need explaining to Laura who, earlier this week, had to have the phrase ‘doing one’s dinger’ translated as well).

As for opening my own garden eventually, I have some plans already which my narrow-minded sisters won’t have thought of. You see there’s more than that one way of providing those 45 minutes of interest, and one option would be an evening-opening, with a bar replacing the ubiquitous tea and cake.

Forget the cakes, just pour me a sundowner. This looks a very promising venue for an early evening garden opening…

My other observation is that in my experience visiting gardens is a companionable sort of occupation – best done in twos at the very least. And if that +1 is not such a plantaholic, take it from me that the ’45 minutes of interest’ can actually be a pizza oven, water butt, garden office, dogs’ graveyard, sun dial and even wheelie bin arrangements. They can inexplicably appear equally as compelling as a stunning herbaceous border to a chap. If by any chance the house has a cladding or roof issue that you don’t have yourselves, I think you’ll find the whole escapade will be considered thoroughly satisfactory. You see it’s not always about the plants!

Be prepared for your partner to be more interested in what is happening with the solar panels than with the charming garden planting

Why not visit a garden this weekend? You’ll find loads in England, Wales and Northern Ireland here and in Scotland here

This is a link to a blog we wrote about Open Gardens about SIX years ago!

And we’d love to hear if you have ever opened your garden – just send us a comment below.

Louise has chosen a great all rounder tree for her plant of the month – click on the box below to find out what it is

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

8 replies on “It’s open season on garden-visiting!”

Thanks for the massive plug for the NGS…..
Would love to see Laura’s garden( and Caroline’s but a tad too far..) x Irene

Hello Irene, Laura here, unfortunately we’re not doing Slinfold Open Gardens this summer as our usual weekend for doing this was going to clash with the village Platinum Jubilee plans but we may do something this autumn so we’ll keep you posted. But if ever you’re over this way please do pop in for a cuppa and a look round the garden!! Very best wishes Laura

Hi Tim, thanks for writing in, Elaine here. I’ve just clicked on your garden and it looks fabulous! Our daughter and her family live in Kingston so I shall definitely be directing them your way on July 17th. Good luck with it – opening your garden is such a mix of fear and fun, isn’t it, and doing so for such a great cause, just makes it even more worthwhile.

Yes, Linda, it just seems to bring out the very best in everyone, doesn’t it – even if the UK weather doesn’t always play ball! All the best, Elaine

Thank you for mentioning Scottish Scheme! I love the idea of an evening bar, Caroline, bring it on! Good luck with your June opening Elaine, hope the weather behaves! I also love group/village openings – so much more fun for the Openers and less pressure. Happy visiting!

Daria thank you so much. I 100% agree about village openings. We’ve had some wonderful afternoons touring villages like Stenton or Dirlton in East Lothian clutching a home-made map. It’s like the best scavenger hunt with the prize being marvellous gardens and great baking! That said I still have the list of gardens I made from the smashing presentation you and Liz gave to the Garden Media Guild
My ‘pick of the pops’ to anyone in Scotland this summer is probably: if you ‘re in the Far North – Langwell (31 July). If you’re in the North-west Highlands – Durnamuck (9 July); in Fife look out for Glassmount House (until 30 Sept by arrangement) or Central Belt it’s Broadwoodside (8-9 July), but really there are so many and as you say the village openings are fantastic fun. Well done to everyone who opens their gardens and your brilliant team who promote them at XX

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