The National Gardens Scheme was founded in 1927 to raise money for the nurses of the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) by opening gardens of quality and interest to the public.
The simple, but radical idea was to ask individuals to open up private gardens for ‘a shilling a head’. At that time garden visiting was already a well established pastime (as seen in Pride and Prejudice), but only for a privileged few. In the first year 609 gardens raised over £8,000. A network of volunteer County Organisers was set up and by 1931 over 1,000 private gardens were open and Country Life magazine produced a handbook, known as “The Yellow Book” because of its bright cover.
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 so the NGS continued as before. In 1948 the NGS offered joined forces with the National Trust to restore and preserve important gardens. In return, the National Trust opened many of its most prestigious gardens for the NGS. Despite massive inflation in the post-war years, the entrance fee was held at one shilling. After a great deal of persuasion, more realistic entrance fees were introduced in the 1970’s and the gardens began to raise significant donations.
In 1980 The National Gardens Scheme Charitable Trust was established as an independent charity, with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother as Patron and Her Royal Highness Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester as President. In 1984 Macmillan Cancer Relief joined the list of beneficiary charities. In the years that followed other charities joined including Marie Curie Cancer Care, Help the Hospices and Crossroads Caring for Carers.
Over the years the gardens have changed in size and style and NGS now has thousands of smaller gardens. However several ‘Pioneer’ gardens still open for us and each year some rejoin under new ownership.