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Why you should explore Essex's gorgeous gardens this summer

PUBLISHED: 11:05 16 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:05 16 April 2019

Encouraging wildlife at Hilldrop, Horndon-on-the-Hill.copyright Caroline Cassell

Encouraging wildlife at Hilldrop, Horndon-on-the-Hill.copyright Caroline Cassell

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With a record number of gardens opening for the Essex National Garden Scheme this year, Susan Copeland, the NGS County Organiser for Essex, picks out some highlights as she reveals how you can visit some of the county's most lavish gardens

Summer is on the way and what better reason to get out and about in the warmer weather than to take a trip to see what lies behind the many walls, fences and gates of the county's most individual and inspiring outdoor spaces.

Gardens of all sizes open for the NGS, from multiple acres in the countryside to small town gardens, and most of them are privately owned, meaning these are exclusive opportunities to see these fine gardens at their peak. What links them is the dedication of their owners who devote time, energy and considerable expertise to show them at their absolute best.

In addition, you will be assured of a warm welcome and delicious refreshments, all while knowing that you are helping the charity raise funds for its beneficiaries. Last year Essex gardens which opened for the NGS raised more than £145,000 for charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK and Carers Trust.

If you are a NGS newcomer, you will find it hard to enjoy a better initiation or a warmer welcome than that at Elwy Lodge in Woodham Walter (which is featured on the front cover of the local NGS booklet this year). It opens many times during the season, each month providing new and exciting areas of interest in the tranquillity of the Essex countryside.

Dragons, the 3/4-acre garden in Boyton Cross, is another which opens at regular intervals through the season and draws huge admiration for its owner's original use of colour combinations and sheer gardening skill.

Or step back in time at Peacocks in Margaretting where the mature and traditional 5-acre gardens sit among restored agricultural buildings – this year open on Sunday, June 9. Meanwhile, plant collectors shouldn't miss Long House Plants in Romford for the owner's unique collections of home-produced plants and skilfully-planted borders. Long House Plants is open on dates in June, July and September.

18 Pettits Boulevard, Romford. Copyright Caroline Cassell18 Pettits Boulevard, Romford. Copyright Caroline Cassell

New gardens for 2019

There are new gardens opening across the whole of the county this year. In the north east, a new group in the pretty old town of Harwich makes its debut. Five gardens are opening on Sunday, July 28, making the perfect excuse for a day trip and a pub lunch in this charming seaside town.

Also in the north of the county, on the Essex/Suffolk border, is the delightful professionally-designed garden, Woodburn Cottage in Borley, which opens on Sunday, September 8.

Two groups of gardens near Saffron Walden are benefitting from new gardens joining their fold too. 1 Sparrows, a garden with a focus on fruit and vegetables, joins the Langley Village Gardens opening on Sunday, May 26 and the newly-created Old Wenden Grange joins the Wendens Ambo group opening on Sunday, June 16.

West End Cottage in Ridgewell, a beautiful space comprising a knot, gravel and alpine garden as well as stunning herbaceous borders, is another new treat which opens on Saturday, May 4 and Sunday, June 9.

62 Eastbrook Road part of Waltham Abbey Group copyright Caroline Cassell62 Eastbrook Road part of Waltham Abbey Group copyright Caroline Cassell

Spring into Spring

There's no need to wait until summer to explore as there are many NGS gardens opening as early as this month. The eagerly anticipated tulip openings at Ulting Wick in Maldon take place on Sunday, April 28 and Friday, May 3 this year, with the promise of new and exciting varieties and even more daring planting schemes.

Tudor Roost in Fingringhoe opens on Sunday, April 21 and Monday, April 22 when its densely-packed spring bulbs will be in full glory. Furzelea in Danbury, open on Wednesday, May 1 and Sunday, May 5, is a must-visit for spring bulbs while South Shoebury Hall, tucked away in Shoeburyness, has a well-deserved reputation for its display of tulips, opening this year on Sunday, April 28.

I am opening my own garden, Wickets in Langley Upper Green, on Monday, May 6 and am already looking forward to seeing it full of spring colour again – and sharing that with visitors.

April also sees the start of open days at two long-time supporters of the Essex NGS scheme, Feeringbury Manor and Barnards Farm. The owners of these well-loved and long-established gardens generously open them regularly through the season, so check details for a date to suit you.

Borders at Long House Plants Romford.copyright Caroline CassellBorders at Long House Plants Romford.copyright Caroline Cassell

Capital Entertainment

A redrawing of the Essex NGS catchment area this year has resulted in seven gardens formerly part of the London NGS now joining Essex. These include 18 Pettits Boulevard in Romford – a completely delightful study in what can be fitted into an 80ft x 23ft town garden – which opens in June and September, and 16

Maida Way in Chingford which bucks the trend by inviting visitors to an evening opening with wine and nibbles on Saturday, July 6. Also in Chingford is 79 Royston Avenue with its notable collections of Hostas, Acers and Sempervivums, which opens on Monday, May 27.

23 New Road in Dagenham is a new garden which promises an exotic experience themed on the foothills of the Himalayas and opens on four dates during August.

Old Wenden Grange, Wendens AmboOld Wenden Grange, Wendens Ambo

Luxury in Numbers

Increasingly, NGS gardens are grouping together to open on the same day, making your trip out all the more rewarding. The Boreham group opens over the weekend of June 1 and 2 while the Waltham Abbey group opens on Sunday, June 2 and Sunday, September 1.

Both are groups of four gardens, one being the award-winning 62 Eastbrook Road in Waltham Abbey which packs a punch way out of proportion to its size.

A number of the new gardens for Essex this year are opening as part of a new or established group and it is with this thought that you may think about opening your own garden. The NGS Essex team is always delighted to hear from gardeners who are interested in joining the fun.

Spring at Ulting Wick. Copyright Nicola StockenSpring at Ulting Wick. Copyright Nicola Stocken

Family fun in the garden

Gardens across the county offer much more than just plants for entertainment, making them the perfect destination for a day out during the summer holidays. The 20 hectares at Barnards Farm near Brentwood, open every Thursday, manages to include sculptures, woodland, a car museum and a miniature railway as well as stunning summer borders.

Moverons in Brightlingsea, a 4-acre garden including a wood and farmland with exquisite estuary views, opens on Sunday, June 9 and also by arrangement for groups. Hilldrop in Stanford le Hope was an immediate success when it opened for the first-time last year.

It opens again on Sunday, July 7 and has plenty to amaze and amuse in its 4-acre garden, which is a journey of discovery for gardeners interested in creating beautiful and biodiverse habitats for plants and insects.

Tulips at Ulting Wick in AprilTulips at Ulting Wick in April

Gardens open by arrangement

A largely unknown benefit of exploring the NGS is its list of gardens that are open by arrangement only, giving you a very exclusive look at some of the county's most lavish and stunning gardens.

These gardens accept groups of visitors (usually a minimum of 10 people) for a more personalised visit on a pre-agreed date. 45 gardens in Essex offer this option – some of them in addition to their advertised open days, but for some this really is the only way to visit these stunning gardens.

For example, it seems the perfect way to experience the mature and timeless 8-acre garden at Horkesley Hall or the plant-packed borders of 262 Main Road in Hockley.

These gardens are listed in the Essex 2019 booklet and can be found on ngs.org.uk, but it's worth noting that even if you are unable to make up a group, if you get in touch with the garden owner they might be able to add you to another group.

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