The Essex National Garden Scheme: 4 beautiful Essex gardens to see this September
PUBLISHED: 14:08 03 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:55 09 September 2020
It may be late summer, but there is still the chance to visit some of our county’s most stunning gardens while they are at their best. Debbie Thomson showcases a selection of the county’s favourites
As an unusual garden visiting season starts to draw to a close, four favourite Essex gardens are embracing an opportunity this September to share their autumn colour, opening to the public with new guidelines in place.
Back in February this year, as the National Garden Scheme (NGS) Snowdrop Festival got underway, few could have predicted how its calendar of garden openings was going to be affected by a global pandemic.
Having to close all gardens for the first time in the charity’s 93-year history was a huge blow and meant that beneficiaries such as Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK and The Queen’s Nursing Institute were likely to face a shortfall in the donations they could hope to receive.
Undaunted, the NGS quickly put together a programme of virtual video garden tours, allowing garden owners to share the results of their wonderful gardens without anyone leaving their home.
Then, from early June, the charity was able to start reopening gardens, adhering to the government guidelines which require that visitors purchase a pre-booked time slot and the number of visitors at any time is suitable for the size of garden.
Four gardens which were scheduled to open in September in Essex decided to open in this way to the delight of their regular visitors, and hopefully to some new to the NGS too.
Feeringbury Manor, Feering/Coggeshall
Feeringbury Manor, found between Feering and Coggeshall towards the north east of the county, continues its Thursday and Friday open days throughout the whole month of September. This is a truly exceptional garden and its peace and large scale has proved particularly popular with visitors since the new opening procedures were put in place. Covering over ten acres, the garden is large enough to accommodate visitors to the extent that it can be enjoyed in almost complete isolation. The borders start to take on their rich autumn colour at this time of the year with an explosion of asters. In addition, sculptures by Ben Coode-Adams are placed creatively around the plot and add an extra and personal dimension to a visit.
Ulting Wick, nr Maldon
Ulting Wick, just three miles outside Maldon, opened on Bank Holiday Monday (August 31) and will open again on Friday, September 4. This is an exciting time to visit as the garden builds in momentum over the summer months, culminating at this time of year in exuberant and bold planting schemes. Garden owner Philippa Burrough grows many of her own plants including the tender perennials which extend the colour right through to the first frosts, and tries new plants and combinations every year. Visitors can expect lush tropical plants such as hedychiums, plectranthus and colocasia as well as more traditional dahlia and salvia. Another favourite area is the display in containers around the front door which pays homage to Great Dixter garden in East Sussex. Some plants propagated from the garden are for sale and this year have been an excellent source of extra revenue helping to make up the shortfall created by lockdown.
‘I wasn’t expecting to operate a mail order enterprise,’ says Philippa. ‘But when the gardens were closed I had literally hundreds of plants which I was preparing to sell at my open days. Not wishing to see them go to waste, I was able to find buyers for many of them through Twitter and, reusing the packaging which I always keep when I receive plants mail order, send them around the country including some auricula to a specialist grower in Wales. Others were picked up from our garden gate.’
A favourite group of gardens in Waltham Abbey is opening on Sunday, September 6. Waltham Abbey offers a good mix of town gardens including the award-winning 62 Eastbrook Road which has amassed a league of fans over the last few years. This year garden owner Caroline Cassell has included more vegetables to her container planting, which she has managed without compromising on layout and aesthetics. The new ticketed system works well for those lucky enough to purchase a ticket as only five visitors are allowed in the garden in a half-hour slot, meaning more time and space to see the many plants that fill the space.
Silver Birches, also in the Waltham Abbey group, is full of colour at this time of year. Those who visit will find beautiful mixed borders of dahlia and fuchsia and a second flush of roses. A delightful summerhouse provides a focus surrounded by mature shrubs and specimen trees, a pond and a hidden woodland walk.
Furzelea in Danbury can be visited on Sunday, September 13 and again on Wednesday, September 16. This is another garden that has been opening for the NGS for many years and over this time has collected a large number of admirers who return every year. In September the highlights include a good display of late season, North American prairie grasses and tender perennials such as banana, canna, dahlia and salvia. Sales of homemade plants are also a big draw and there are usually plants for sale which have been propagated from material within the garden.
‘I am amazed at how we have been able to find so many positives in such a challenging year,’ says Susan Copeland, county organiser for the NGS in Essex. ‘Many of our garden owners embraced the opportunity to film their gardens and share them to make many virtual visits possible. These charming videos not only allowed those of us locked down at home to enjoy the gardens but were also an incentive for the owners of these gardens to make a record of their gardens through the seasons, often learning about some new technologies along the way. Then as we were allowed to reopen, those who were willing, went the extra mile to make sure that visitors would feel safe and welcomed to their gardens, especially enjoying the experience of having more time to enjoy showing them around.’
Although the amount of money raised by the charity this year will inevitably be down on last year, the NGS has committed in excess of £1 million to its beneficiary charities and tripled its support for community garden projects throughout England and Wales this year. The virtual video tours and current selected openings will help make up some of this year’s shortfall.
Time to visit
The dates detailed above were correct at the time of publishing but are subject to change. As all garden visits at the moment need to be pre-booked via the NGS website at ngs.org.uk it will be possible to check dates at this point. Information can also be found online regarding the size of garden and whether it is possible to take a picnic. Video tours of gardens can be found on the Essex NGS YouTube channel and more photographs and information about the gardens on the county’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.