On Tuesday 11th February, Sutton WI welcomed Kate Gardner who gave a talk entitled ‘Beyond the Garden Gate’. She represented the National Garden Scheme which has been operating for some 93 years. The organisation now supports numerous charities and has raised £58 million. Visitors pay an entry fee to gardens all over the country, large and small. There are 3,500 of them!
The scheme began in Liverpool with William Rathbone. He employed a nurse, Mary Robinson, to care for his wife and on her death continued to employ her. She cared for local people who could not afford to pay for care themselves. William Rathbone knew Florence Nightingale and between them they decided to set up a scheme to train nurses who would go out into the community as ‘district nurses’.
In time, the Queen's Nursing Institute was set up and one of its members, Elsie Wragg, had the idea of charging people 1 shilling to visit the gardens of the rich to fund the training of nurses. Gradually more and more gardens were opened up and the profile of the organisation grew.
In 1984 the organisation became independent and it was then able to choose which charities to donate to, some all the time and some on a rotational basis. Macmillan Cancer Care, Parkinson’s UK and MIND are some of those that benefit.
In 2002 the Prince of Wales became Patron and in 2016, Mary Berry, who opens her own garden, became President.
The nature of the gardens has changed over the years. There are now hospice gardens, allotments, community gardens, contemporary gardens and estates to name but some. Some gardens have a ticketed entry and some offer group visits. Of every pound made, 80 pence goes to charity.
The organisation now also provides bursaries for training gardeners and undertakes large projects in its own right. One of the most notable must be the new cancer treatment centre at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Wales.
Kate gave us a most enjoyable talk which was very informative and engaging. Booklets which show the gardens opening this year in Bedfordshire can be found in libraries and other public places.
The next meeting of Sutton WI will be held in the village hall on Tuesday 10th March at 7.30pm when Ellie Seymour will give a talk entitled 'The Sales Girls 1940s to 1960s', her experiences in a ladies department store in Cambridge. Please come along, everyone is welcome!
Cynthia Brewerton, Press Secretary