Tag Archives: National Gardens Scheme


I have made it quite apparent that not only do I enjoy gardening but I am advocating it as an important health benefit both physically and mentally. Many people are not fortunate to have a garden and don’t even have a balcony or chance to grow plants. However, during these summer months there is a chance to be able to not only visit public gardens but also private gardens which open for public viewing and at the same time raise money for a selection of important charities.

I have been aware of The National Gardens Scheme in Britain for many years and enjoyed visiting many private gardens with the  help of ‘The Yellow Book’ which has made its appearance in my home from time to time and contains when and where these gardens are open and is available to purchase from ‘Smiths’ bookshop of you can refer to the website


You may be wondering what this all has to do with District nurses now often named community nurses. Before I reveal that, I must digress to declare my admiration for these nurses who have to be resourceful, broadminded, diplomatic and adaptable to any situation.  They have certainly made a significant  impact on my career as a GP.  It was district nurses in my early career as a GP who enlightened me into the necessity  of holistic care of an ill person at home.

To give just one example, I remember not long after I started at the practice in Ealing being called to see a patient, Tom who was a middle aged man, formerly a ballet dancer. When I arrived the door was ajar and as I tentatively opened the door I was greeted by a swarm of flies and an intense stench of faeces. I called out to give me an idea of where I was to go and Tom summoned me to a large room at the end of the hallway. He was lying semi-naked propped up in a bed covered in newspapers  to absorb his double incontinence and was struggling to eat his meals on wheels accompanied by a can of Lager and joined by a couple of friends . He was in good spirits, somewhat confused as he was suffering Korsakov Syndrome an infliction secondary to long term alcohol abuse and although he did not warrant an acute hospital  admission, clearly he needed sorting out. Following my visit I contacted the district nurses and within 24hrs when I revisited Tom, I arrived at a flat now smelling sweet and a clean,tidy, almost unrecognisable patient sitting in a chair by the bed eating his dinner, listening to some music. The ‘fairies’ had visited and had transformed the scene in a most remarkable way – the district nurses had managed the situation.

It was the National Garden Scheme, which was founded  in 1927 in order to raise money for a national voluntary organisation which would recruit, train, and support  ‘District’ nurses, who would nurse patients in their  homes in deprived areas throughout the country.

The idea of District  nurses had originated in 1859 when William Rathbone, a Liverpool merchant, employed a nurse to care for his wife at home. After his wife’s death, Rathbone kept the nurse on to help poor people in the neighbourhood. Later, Rathbone raised funds for the recruitment, training and employment of nurses to go into the deprived areas of the city. Based on this idea in the latter half of the 19th century ‘District’ nursing spread throughout the country and became  a national voluntary organisation supported by Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale.

In 1926 the organisation decided to raise a special fund in memory of their patron, Queen Alexandra, who had recently died. For much of the 20th Century, district nurses were usually unmarried women who lived in nurses’ homes provided by local nursing associations all over the country.The fund would pay for training and would also support nurses who were retiring. The Institute became known as ‘The Queen’s Institute of District Nursing and  trained district nurses until the 1960s, in a model that was copied across the world. This model of care was instrumental in developing a comprehensive, highly-skilled service in the UK that meets the needs of millions of people every year.


In 1926 a council member, Miss Elsie Wagg, came up with the idea of raising money for charity through the nation’s obsession with gardening, by asking people to open their gardens to visitors and charging a modest entry fee that would be donated. The following year The National Gardens Scheme was founded. Individuals were asked to open up their gardens for ‘a shilling a head’. In the first year 609 gardens raised over £8,000. A year later, the district nursing organisation became officially named  The Queen’s Nursing Institute.

Subsequently, a few years later Countrylife produced the ‘ Yellow Book’ and there were 1,000 gardens listed.

After the Second World War, the National Health Service took on the District Nursing Service, but money was still needed to care for retired nurses and invest in training. The National Gardens Scheme offered to donate funding to the National Trust to restore and preserve important gardens. In return, the National Trust opened many of its most prestigious gardens for the NGS.

The NGS , although it no longer funds District Nurses per se it now acts as a beneficiary for Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Help the Hospices and (now Carers Trust) and also benefits a different annual ‘guest’ charity chosen from recommendations from NGS volunteers.

Since its foundation, the National Gardens Scheme has donated over £45 million to its beneficiary charities, of which nearly £23 million has been donated within the last ten years. The National Gardens Scheme’s commitment to nursing and caring remains constant, and the charity continues to grow and flourish.

Jardins Ouverts 

When I arrived this year in France I was intrigued to hear that the scheme had arrived in this Country starting with 4 gardens in one Departement 3 years ago and is expanding fast by 100 gardens each year. Some enterprising English migrants had decided to start the Jardins Ouverts scheme along similar lines to the NGS. An ex-nurse friend and another friend as well as other people in the area had decided to open their gardens this year and introduce the French in the Perigord to the idea of opening your own garden to raise money for charity.

The chosen charity for Jardins Ouverts for 2015 is:-

À Chacun son Everest is a French charity, founded by Dr Christine Janin, the first French woman to summit Everest.


  • It recognises the similarity between the supreme test of climbing the world’s highest mountain and the challenge facing young people with cancer or leukaemia:
  • the sense of achievement when the goal has been reached;
  • the confidence that this brings;
  • the opportunity to share their hopes and fears with children in a similar situation
  • the realisation of innate personal qualities such as courage, will-power, hope and determination.

They decided to support A Chacun son Everest for several reasons: there can be few things worse for a child and his/her family than to be told that s/he has cancer or leukaemia. They were also impressed by their very personal responses to their enquiries and ware now building a very positive relationship with this organisation.

We set off on one of those days which looked totally unpredictable – the sort of day that you wear a sun hat with a raincoat . I used to be amused by one of my patients who would come to surgery dressed like this – I now understand why. The blue sky made a  perfect back cloth  to the  soft white fluffy cotton wool clouds creeping high above with the occasional ones showing a tinge grey potentially threatening to open up to rain. In good determined British style,  whatever the weather we were to proceed not to let our friends down and with grim resolve to enjoy the day. We drove through the beautiful Dordogne countryside past woodland glades causing  the sunlight to dazzle and dance and fields bursting with seedlings teasing the eye  by not revealing whether they would become sunflowers or maize; the fields frequently punctuated with majestic walnut trees either in rows or alone registering their supremecy in this countryside. Moreover, along the roadside there was a plethora of wild flowers, Queen Ann’s lace, wild sage, Ox-eye daisies,  greater and lesser stitch work, campions and  outcrops of wild orchids just to name a few. We didn’t need to go to a Jardins Ouverts we were admiring the country garden just by venturing into this wide open space.

We arrived at the entrance of the first garden labelled accordingly by a sign showing the way and drove up a track for almost 1 km through a wooded area until the house and garden were revealed. The man at the desk took our money 5€ for both gardens  and a plant stall selling donated plants and then pointed us in the right direction. By now the sun was shining brilliantly enough to make us feel happy enough to leave our wet weather attire in the car. We strolled around the garden admiring the clematis concealing old sheds and aged trees, hostas, roses, foxgloves, violas, budding peonies and countless familiar shrubs and perennials all had been tended carefully and prepared for this event.


It would not be complete without the inevitable chat with fellow visitors over a cup of tea and cake served by the fascinated French children, who had come along to witness this interesting event.

We then left and after a short drive appeared at our next destination, an old presbytery where the garden had been revived including the nurturing of a herb garden,


There was an aged Medlar tree, which bears the fruit that is eaten just before it  becomes rotten, bletted and is frequently mentioned by Shakespeare and Chaucer when they write about unfaithful women.
The house was in the shadow of the Church and there was an ancient well which was adorned by roses and irises in full bloom.


Moreover,  hidden away an array of various chickens and bantams all individually named strutting around there territory clearly dominated by the new arrival ‘Lady Gaga’

In the ponds, more recently created goldfish  darted” under the Lily pads and the perfect water lily flowers were resplendent as the water sparkled  in the sun as the water glistened as the surrounding shrubs and flowers swayed gently in the soft warm breeze.



My friend had jested the night before that she had sent her husband around with a pair of scissors to deadhead some of the flowers and trim any unwanted buttercups which were found peeping amongst the perennials – he had certainly done a good job. Chelsea Flower Show had arrived in the Dordogne! After another chat with visitors French and English, a cup of tea  under the lime tree and a purchase at the pop up jams and chutney stall  we drove back with a clearer blue sky along twisting country roads past the tapestry of the glorious Dordogne countryside.

We arrived home refreshed, inspired with fresh eggs and homemade spicy mango chutney and having had a delightful day out . These gardens had been revived and  nurtured by people who had seen adversity in their lives but had pluckily exercised their energies into something,  which not only can they be proud of but have shown the generosity of spirit to share with others and raise money for a worthy cause.

I wanted to share this experience  As may be someone reading this might be inspired to share their garden and raise money for these worthwhile caring charities  as well as share their garden or allotment  with others who don’t have one of their own.

If you are in France this summer there may be a ‘Jardins Ouverts’ near where you are going : to find out view

The website

When I referred to the NGS website( there is a garden open in Hanwell this weekend so perhaps you can visit this newly joined garden to be inspired and support Tony and Eddy. Details below:-



Posted by on May 18, 2015 in Training and Advice


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