Fiona Grant reflects on how she became involved with the National Garden Scheme and what first inspired her to open her South Woodford garden to the public in aid of charity
I moved into my house on Cowslip Road over 40 years ago, and initially, the back garden was just my kids’ playground. Then, later on, it became my sanctuary; in the garden, I could be calm, creative and nurturing. The beds started to fill up with a hotchpotch of plants; I’ve always liked watching how plants evolve, self-seed and jostle beside one another. There’s always so much to learn.
The garden now contains a large number of plants, including foxgloves, salvias, hollyhocks and verbascum for height, and geums, erigeron, candytuft and heucheras for the front of the border, plus numerous pots on the patio. Last year, my husband built a raised container bed for the front garden and we’ve recently been enjoying spinach, rocket and lettuce from it. I’m trying a hanging basket with tumbling tomatoes for the first time this year, too.
I started to feed the lawn and use our own compost, which has definitely made a difference. The pond is now filled with frogs and goldfish; the dragonflies like flitting over it, too. This spring, we have tried ‘No Mow May’ to encourage wild flowers to grow, thus attracting more insects. I love the lush grass, daisies and buttercups, as do the bees and butterflies. There are also bird feeders, a ‘bug hotel’ and nesting boxes. It’s so important to encourage dwindling wildlife.
What originally motivated me to open the garden for charity dates back to when, tragically, my youngest brother died from cancer in 2015 and our baby grandson in 2020; all money raised by the National Garden Scheme (NGS) goes to various nursing charities and opening my garden seems the ideal way to say thank you.
For many years, I’ve enjoyed visiting some wonderful NGS gardens in London. (I shall never forget waiting nervously for the NGS representative to come to initially assess my garden and wondering if she might scoff at my delusions of grandeur.) However, she was eager to promote suburban gardens and encouraged me to open mine a few summers ago. Most garden owners in the area do not have vast acres and it’s a myth that the NGS is only interested in those types of gardens.
It’s undeniably hard work preparing for an open day, but seeing total strangers, neighbours and friends coming down the alley and enjoying a cup of tea and slice of home-baked cake makes it all worthwhile.
If you are considering opening your own garden, I would recommend visiting as many NGS gardens as you can, chatting to owners for inspiration, then contacting the local NGS rep. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience – and an extremely worthy charity.
Fiona’s garden at 83 Cowslip Road will be open on 17 July from 2pm to 6pm (entry: £5). For more information and a list of local gardens taking part, visit swvg.co.uk/ngs