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Our first 'Gardening for Good' event for Open Gardens

  • Our first 'Gardening for Good' event for Open Gardens

On Friday, working with Thrive, we held our first special event for Open Gardens event organisers. We wanted to see if there would be benefit in Open Gardens idea sharing and giving people the chance to learn a bit more about what Thrive does. We also wanted to test some new ideas for how gardening can be developed in the community to help those living with disabilities or who may be isolated living alone.

'Gardening for Good' event

Well what a day! We have come away totally inspired by the positive energy and insights shared. So much so that we are now thinking how we can develop the discussion and stage future events.

One suggestion was that we use this GreenPlantSwap forum to share and 'test' Open Gardens ideas. Hundreds of town and village open gardens events use the service, so anything you want an opinion on should get feedback from people who know.

Another thought is to make the 'Gardening for Good' day an annual event. There is much more we could have discussed and next time we could have towns or villages presenting who have done particular things. We also need to think how we serve those further North; I had many people contact me ahead of the event to say that sadly Trunkwell, near Reading, was too far to come.

A third subject is how we can help people thinking of staging an Open Gardens event for the first time. We already have a marketing pack for organisers to use (online and offline), but there is also practical advice around organisation, signing up the gardens, raising money, volunteers, wider promotion etc. We could have smaller events or online seminars around the year for people interested in that, if there is sufficient appetite.

Do let us know what you think and, hopefully, comments from attendees below will give you a sense of what this, our first 'Gardening for Good' day, was like and the ideas they found useful.

Photo: Thrive's Jan Broady, Senior Horticultural Therapist, leading one of the tours of the Trunkwell Gardens on Friday

Comments (23)

  1. Grower

    Frimley Green Village Open Gardens

    This was a very good and interesting day. We came away with lots of food for thought. Meeting fellow Open Gardens organisers provided the opportunity to swap stories and experiences and gave us some good ideas for increasing publicity and maximising fund raising that we with try to put into practice next year.
    Thrive itself was a fascinating experience. I was very impressed with the way they are able to assist people with a wide range of disabilities to carry on gardening- which as we all know is a very rewarding and therapeutic activity!

  2. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Thanks Janice. Glad it was useful. Here's a quick summary of some of the promotional ideas discussed:

    National press is very tough to make work, but regional and local press are much more obliging. Recommend feeding press at any level several bits of news in the build up as sometimes they will publish during a quiet news period. Regional articles and photos are well received – the easier you make the job for them, the more likely you are to get coverage!

    Small flyers (A5 max) taken around personally to community venues worked well. Include the parish magazines. Be aware some council noticeboards have a size limit and posters may just be removed without warning.

    Create a village website and provide links with additional detail of events.

    Blitz social media to reach a wider age range, particularly Twitter and Facebook. Use the reach of all the garden owners social networks.

    Roadside signs are apt to be taken down by the local council, but if you have a local farmer or landowner, ask if signage can be put up in a roadside field. Advance notice of the event as well as on the day is a good idea.

    Estate agents can provide large, free roadside signage and have permissions to put them up.

    More ideas welcome!

  3. Grower

    Judith A Soames

    North Stoke (Oxfordshire)Open Gardens
    What a fabulous day ! – Just had to say a very special thank you to you and The Thrive Team – Kathryn, Paul & Neil. You gave us a most interesting day, opportunity to meet and learn from other gardening event organisers, and I came home with plenty of food for thought. Please pass on my sincere thanks to them for making the day special.
    We had a Village Hall Management Committee Meeting last night and I fedback to the Committee on Gardening for Good and talked about Thrive and how they use gardening to change lives. Very interesting discussion followed. The Committee have already agreed to the planning of another Open Gardens event in North Stoke on Sunday 17th June 2018 – we now have plenty of fresh thinking to help us increase the number of visitors and exceed our past profit .

  4. Grower

    Edwina Brash

    Chelsworth Village Open Gardens

    Many thanks to Jeremy and the team at Thrive for hosting ‘The Gardening for Good ‘ event last week – such a great day and a fantastic opportunity to meet fellow open gardens organisers who came from all over the country to share thoughts. I went back to the Village with a long list of excellent fundraising ideas.

    At Chelsworth Village Open Gardens Day this year, we celebrated our 50th Anniversary. As well as again raising funds for our beautiful Grade I listed parish church, we wanted to help the needs of a wider community. To raise funds also for Thrive’s gardening therapeutic work seemed to us, the perfect fit.

    The garden tour on Friday, and a chance to see and hear how the garden design and therapy provide support to client specific needs such as Autism, Downs Syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, was so interesting.

    Something so share with you – We think it is never too early to flag to special interest groups your Open Gardens event date. We mail horticultural societies in the dark November days for the following June event. It seems to work.

  5. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Thank you Judith and Edwina. If one thing is evident to anyone thinking of starting (or continuing) an Open Gardens event it is how early the previous year the planning needs to start.

    The first step of course is finding other local people willing to open their gardens with you. How many do you need to make a town or village event work? At least 5 or 6 I would say in the first year ... and preferably more. Our research showed the most common number to be 10-15, but many of these are more established events.

    Interestingly, when we surveyed GreenPlantSwap members (all gardeners, not just event organisers) we found 44% would be prepared to open their garden if there was an Open Gardens event local to them. That's a high percentage! So if you are considering it, do message any GPS members near enough to you. Not only are they quite likely to join you, but they are likely to know other people outside your orbit to join in too.

  6. Grower


    Thanks very much Jeremy and to all at Thrive for hosting such a great event. We are only in the very early stages of planning our open garden event and I feel meeting you all and hearing about your experiences has given us a great and welcome boost. I really hope we can inspire the rest of the villagers with what we have learned and I'm very excited about getting stuck in to organising and raising money for such a great cause.

  7. Grower

    Rachel Summers

    Caldy Open Gardens

    I came down from Wirral, near Liverpool, quite a long way, but well worth it. I found it very reassuring to discover that we’re all in the same boat. It seems most open garden organisers face tricky issues that have to be lived with e.g. traffic/parking congestion; most of the forward planning being left to a tiny handful of people; resistance to changing the chosen charity etc.

    Some key learning for me :-

    • some with gardens spread over a larger area find local clubs willing to let out their minibuses, at minimal cost, so a hop on-hop off service can be laid on for less mobile visitors

    • if looking for sponsorship, approach businesses that are wanting support from the community

    • think about using social media, those that have reported an increased numbers of younger visitors

    • after opening for an afternoon, some organisers had expanded to a whole day or even a weekend. They reported that, catering aside, the extended hours did not result in significantly more work, and over a weekend was some insurance against a wet day

    • Finally, be bold, fortune favours the brave! Approach everyone you need to ask favours of in a positive, enthusiastic mindset, with a can do, will do attitude and hopefully it’ll be infectious. I’ve tried this already, and it works!

    A big thank you to Jeremy and his team at Thrive and GPS for all their help & inspiration. Let’s hope the Open Gardens Organisers Day results in the establishment of a thriving forum for ideas, tips, cautions etc. It is challenging organising a successful event, so we all need all the help we can get

    Caldy Open Gardens 2018 is on Sunday, 27 May, 1pm – 6pm, supporting Hoylake Cottage Specialist Dementia Day Care Centre

  8. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Thanks Coralie and Rachel - that's very kind.

    Opening for one day or two is a key decision ... the more you are open, generally, the more visitors you will get. And two days is of course a safer hedge against the weather!

    The other way to future-proof at least some of the monies you raise is to sell advance tickets, incentivising people to buy them in advance through a discount. Say a pound or two cheaper than on the day. On GreenPlantSwap when you post your event you can specify the advance ticket price and the 'on the day' price for this reason.

    What are people's experience of doing that?

  9. Grower

    Rachel Summers

    We have about 5 retailers spread across the area who sell tickets for us. Next year, tickets will be £6 in advance and £7.50 on the day. We also offer them a float if that suits them. Shops selling cards/gifts seem to do well. Though the most important factor is to find like-minded, enthusiastic, energetic retailers and always make sure you're dealing with the boss when signing them up. The names of the advance ticket sales sites appear on all publicity, a perk for them.
    We made £1,900 in advance sales last year, great if the weather turns out to be awful.

  10. Grower


    Can I please ask a question about themes? Have you ever themed your gardens so made a trail or hunt between the gardens or another method of encouraging a visit to everyone, collecting tokens maybe? Thanks, Coralie

  11. Grower

    Judith A Soames

    From Judith - We have not actually tried a theme but we have used an Open Gardens Quiz with a prize for all correct answers (a plant) . The quiz included a question about each of the gardens hence a visit to each was required. Where the were family visitors - it appeared to be a useful addition for the children.
    The starting point for the visit is the Village Hall, where we sell tickets, display a map with the gardens named and numbered. We give a map to the visitors and the printed tickets list the number of gardens, which can be ticked off as they visit. The garden owners display an A4 poster ouside their house with their garden number - so it gives the visitor a trail round the village.

  12. Grower

    Edwina Brash

    Chelsworth Village Open Gardens

    Hi - because Thrive was one of the charities we supported for our 50th Open Gardens Day last summer, we asked our gardeneers if they would like to grow the pretty sweet pea ‘Eleanore Udall’ created by Thompson and Morgan especially for Thrive.

    It wasn’t really a trail - but did provide an additional talking point in some of the Gardens for our visitors. Gardens Tips shared - on how not prevent mice eating winter seedlings and the sighs of relief of seeing beautiful sweet pea blooms on Open Gardens day.

  13. Grower

    NIna Martin

    Nina Martin - Kings Somborne Nr Stockbridge

    Thank you Jeremy and all the team! What a fabulous day! I left with a full note pad and enthusiasm. As this is my first time organising such an event, it was a real inspiration learning how others overcome some of the issues to make the whole thing run as smoothly as possible.

    The gardens at Thrive were an absolute pleasure to walk around - what an amazing job you all do! I have had a Committee meeting for our Open Gardens next year, and we are discussing the possibility of having Thrive as one of our charities in the future.

    Also the discussion about using volunteers in the community to help people manage their garden was very thought provoking. I also agreed with others that the term "community" gardening would probably give the wrong impression, that it would be a community space instead of an individual garden in need. Lots to think about but worth exploring.

    Open Garden - 17th June 2018

  14. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Hi Nina - that's very kind. The inspiring thing about Open Gardens is the pleasure and community spirit they create and the local causes they support. Wouldn't it be great if they could do more to power gardening itself to help those locally in need. I am sure Thrive will keep working at it.

  15. Grower

    Penny Weston-Webb (Mrs)

    It would be good to have meetings in the Midlands. I work full time so can not have a lot of time off. We organise our event every two years - next on 27th and 28th May. Usually there are twenty gardens open mainly down Main Street, Cossington. Last year we raised just over £13,000.00 after expenses. If anyone would like to contact me 07754892842 . I do not know how to go on Twitter or Facebook so would be grateful if anyone could help me.!!! Penny

  16. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Hi Penny - I will give you a call.

  17. Grower

    Rachel Summers

    Hi Coralie, regarding your question about themes. I'm not sure you can or even should dictate how many gardens someone visits.

    In my experience, visitors differ hugely in what they want out of an open gardens event. Keen gardeners head straight for plant sales, then visit every garden not known to them or just their favourites if they do know theml. At the other extreme, others make a beeline for the tea and home-made cakes, happily sitting, soaking up the scenery all afternoon, tricky if you need them to vacate their seats for others. I think people see as many gardens as suits them.

    Having said that, next year we're planning a programme with a couple of lines on each garden, helping visitors plan their route. We hope this will help the less mobile who struggle to get round all the gardens.

    I can see a trail could appeal to children for whom open gardens, ice cream aside, can be pretty tedious. Having an I-spy style quiz to encourage them to really look at each garden, and/or collect tokens, perhaps acorns, might engage them more than a mixed border. In fact, I like the idea so much, I'm going to suggest we do something like that, so I'm really glad you asked the question!

  18. Grower

    Frimley Green Village Open Gardens

    Hi, Rachel,
    From the start of our Open Gardens in 2000 we have put a brief description of each garden on our ticket/programme. I ask the garden owners to do that, though with the caveat that if it's too long I might have to prune it! All of the descriptions need to fit on one side of A4 as the other has a general bit about our open gardens and a map with the participating gardens clearly marked.
    I agree completely with your comments about every visitor having their own agenda - and would add that the number who are unable to read a map is legion!

  19. Grower


    That's really interesting, thank you. And a description is a great idea, defo going to use that one too. I wonder if it's better to encourage each gardener to let their imagination run wild in their own garden and then everyone on the trail will find something that really appeals. Mmm many thoughts!!

  20. Grower

    Robert Lawrence

    Robert & Sue

    Our late response to Our first Gardening for Good"

    We have opened our garden as part of the Wherwell Open Gardens, as well as independently for local and national charities, since 2009. From 2017 we have become fundraising coordinators for the Olive Ridley Project engaging in fund raising activities for the care of Olive Ridley turtles that become entangled in ghost nets in our oceans. We are also seeking like-minded people to assist us throughout the UK.

    Initially being a bit sceptical regarding the underlying purpose of the open gardens meeting we attended with an open mind. I am pleased to say it was nothing like we envisaged it might be! We had a great day, and Jeremy was a skilled facilitator allowing the floor to be very much part of the meeting. It was good to have the opportunity to share open garden experiences and ideas and learn from others. Without doubt we benefited from attending this constructive meeting.

    For your diaries, our next open gardens are: 3 June 2018 for the Olive Ridley Project and 24 June 2018 for the Wherwell Open Gardens.

  21. Grower

    Frimley Green Village Open Gardens

    Hi, Coralie,
    We also use the ticket/programme as the basis of our website.

  22. Grower

    Jeremy Wright

    Thank you Robert for your kind comments. The big driver behind the day was to enable people to share their knowledge and experience of Open Gardens and how best to manage them. Yes, we support Thrive, and we wanted those who came to have the opportunity to learn what they do. But Open Gardens, whatever cause they support, are a wonderful thing, using gardening and gardens to strengthen their communities. Oh, if only they can grow from the tiny 1.3% of towns and villages in the UK who hold them, to a more sizeable share. Much more good would be done. And if awareness grows of how gardening itself can help those in need, then that would be a better thing still.

  23. Grower

    Robert Lawrence

    This would be truly wonderful Jeremy. We try our best to engage in to conversations with every visitor we have to our gardens and usually ask where they are from also if they hold open gardens themselves? I never knew the percentage was so small, but it makes sense as we rarely find a visitor mention that they open their garden!
    Quite frequently we have heard visitors comment that they would be concerned about damage, plant theft etc. Honestly in all the years I’ve either been involved with opening gardens, opening our own or assisting others to do so I’ve never known of anything negative.
    If anyone is reading this who would like to open their garden, please do so as it is a notoriously safe pastime, you will meet so many like minded people and have a great time helping others.
    I am sure Jeremy would not mind me including him, if I say please feel free to contact either of us if you are thinking of opening your garden, happy to help.

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