Opening up the gates

The gardens of Hurst House in Woodford GreenThe gardens of Hurst House in Woodford Green

Wanstead resident Teresa Farnham is the local area organiser for the National Garden Scheme, which encourages people across the country to open their gardens to the public for charity.

About 16 years ago, I was approached by the local assistant organiser for the National Garden Scheme (NGS) who asked me if I would like to open my garden to the public. I had worked as a professional gardener and teacher for 12 years and knew about the scheme through visiting other open gardens. Since 1927, the NGS has been operational in opening gardens and was assisted by the active support of the King, who opened the gardens of Sandringham.

I had always loved gardening and was delighted to be able to share my patch with new people. However, nothing prepared me for our open day when we had the heaviest rainfall of the year! I lived in a terrace house – with a 120-foot garden and a white-tiled hall floor – and, to my astonishment, over 100 visitors walked through the house and looked around the garden, sheltering under umbrellas. The next year (two days before the opening), I awoke to see the very large pond (sited in a former air raid shelter) had sprung a leak. I was frantically borrowing buckets to save the fish left gasping at the bottom before we could repair the leak in the butyl liner.

Several years later, when the assistant area organiser moved away, I was asked to take her place. Since then it has been an absolute pleasure to meet so many generous people and see their gardens – all different and looked after by some fascinating individuals. The criteria are that the gardens should be well maintained and of interest to visitors, who sometimes travel for several hours.

All the money raised is for the charities supported by the NGS (Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Carers Trust, Queen's Nursing Institute, Perennial, Horatio's Garden, Parkinson's UK and the MS Society). My job as a volunteer is to help with providing support to the owners who are kind enough to open up their gardens and provide tea and cakes.

Last year, £3.6 million was raised purely through the opening of private gardens to the general public, of which £190,000 came from London gardens, such as the 10 open this year in our area, which covers Wanstead, Woodford, Leytonstone, Forest Gate, Chingford, Barkingside and Romford. This year's open gardens range from the beautiful gardens of Hurst House in Woodford Green (open on 1 May; £5) to a town garden with an amazing mini agricultural museum in Pettits Boulevard, Romford (open 24 and 25 June; £3.50).

Please, please, please consider opening your garden for the NGS. I will gladly visit and advise you. It is a lot of fun and a great way to contribute to charity.

For more information on the gardens open locally this year, pick up the NGS London guide book from Wanstead Library, or visit To contact Teresa, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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