Great Lywood Farmhouse

What’s Behind The Garden Gate?

by Jane Baker

Behind the garden gate there is a history of charitable giving but also a quality garden, a great welcome and tea and cake!

How does the death of the wife of William Rathbone in Liverpool in 1859 relate to your being able to sit in a beautiful private garden, enjoying a cup of tea and a piece of homemade cake in 2017?

Stonehealed Farm

Liverpool merchant William Rathbone 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. Subsequently he raised funds to employ more district nurses.

Following the death in 1925 of Queen Alexandra, who was the patron of the district nursing organisation, fund raising in her memory began. This would raise funds, which would pay for training and help retiring nurses. Miss Elsie Wagg had a bright idea, why not raise the money through the nation’s obsession with gardening? People were asked to open their gardens to visitors for a modest entry fee.

In 1927 The National Garden Scheme was founded. Individuals opened their gardens for ‘a shilling a head’. In the first year 609 gardens raised over £8,000. Now the district nursing organisation is the Queen’s Nursing Institute, QNI.

Great Lywood

Once the NHS was introduced it removed the need to fund district nurses; however the Scheme continued to support nursing charities.

By 2016 the number of gardens opening had grown to around 3700; a record £3 million was raised for the nursing beneficiaries with Sussex gardens alone raising £270,000. Over the years, Macmillan Cancer Support has received £15.7 million and Marie Curie has been given nearly £8 million. The other beneficiaries are Hospice UK, Carers Trust, QNI, Perennial and Parkinson’s UK. Few people realise that the Scheme is the most substantial charitable funder of nursing in the country.

This year The National Garden Scheme celebrates 90 years of supporting nursing charities with an Anniversary Weekend: 27th, 28th, 29th May. In Sussex we are lucky that we have two 1927 gardens that will be opening for the Anniversary Weekend.

Stonehealed Farm

The Scheme rejuvenates itself in many ways; a legacy has paid for major re-branding and this August sees the first ‘Gardens and Health’ week. However the addition of new gardens is vital. Ninety years ago the gardens open were large and prestigious, whereas now all sorts, styles and sizes of garden open for the Scheme. We need gardens of quality, character and interest. One new garden opener wrote after enjoying an event for garden owners, “I feel that I belong to a very special organisation.”

Would you like to be considered to open your garden gate and be part of the long tradition? If so, contact Jane Baker on 01273 842805 or Find out more about the open gardens and what makes us tick by visiting our fun website:

All photos by Leigh Clapp