Glorious gardens opened to the public help raise funds for charity

Mike and Norma Jackson's open garden in Dore:
Mike and Norma Jackson's open garden in Dore:

“People are dying to get into the yellow book,” confided Mike Jackson, relaxing for a moment in his suburban wildlife reserve.

Teams of Abbeydale Rotary Club and Inner Wheel members distributed home made cakes, tea and cuttings to the steady influx of garden tourists last Saturday.

Sue and Roger Thompson's open garden in Dore, with the old pre-war play house in the background:

Sue and Roger Thompson's open garden in Dore, with the old pre-war play house in the background:

The NGS open garden scheme has opened the nation’s ‘yellow book’ gardens to the public since 1927, and raised £22 m for charity over the last ten years. This year nearly 4,000 gardens are open during the year, aiming to raise over £2m for charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, and the Carers Trust.

Garden entrance fees go to NGS, and individual gardeners can raise money for the own favourite charities by selling cakes or plants.

Mike and wife Norma were fundraising for When You Wish Upon a Star for children with life threatening illnesses and Smile Train, which fundraises for £150 operations to repair children’s cleft lips or palettes.

“Every gardener likes to share his or her garden with others, but opening to raise money for charity for the National Garden Scheme gives it a real purpose,” said Mike.

Gardens throughout Sheffield and North Derbyshire have made it into the NGS yellow book, and last weekend’s NGS Festival Weekend saw two contrasting gardens in Dore open their garden gates:

l The Wildlife Garden - Mike and Norma Jackson.

When they moved in 40 years ago, the Jacksons were faced with the traditional “huge lawn and roses,” said Mike.

“But now we have lots of different habitats in a confined space. Rock gardens, pools, a stream, trees, shrubs and a huge variety of plants. That’s what makes it a garden for me.”

Mike is a lifelong bird and wildlife watcher, and he plants (and digs) accordingly.

His garden stream is entirely artificial, recycling water up and down the gentle slope via a pump. The resident frogs, newts and 70 species of bird aren’t to know, exemplified by the visit to Dore a few years ago by a water rail, usually an introverted paddler in the nation’s marshes, who took a holiday by Mike’s stream for a week one winter.

“Normally they skulk in reed beds so I don’t know why it ended up here.”

Mike believes city gardens are very important for wildlife. “Monoculture farming is often like a desert, so the sheer variety of gardens in a city are like corridors for wildlife.”

Mike uses no insecticide, but says the result is that bees and wasps keep pests like greenfly down. His garden attracts voles, foxes and wood mice, but he hasn’t seen a hedgehog for years. “I think they’ve all been killed by the cars.”

His advice for wildlife gardening is simple: provide food, shelter and water (especially in winter when birds need to bathe for insulation), and if you plant a variety of shrubs, trees and flowers, you should get plenty of wildlife too.

l Edwardian Estate - Sue and Roger Thompson.

The garden at Owl End used to belong to Firth Browns, for the resident manager to impress visiting clients. Now it provides a year round job for Sue and Roger Thompson.

“It’s so big you never get everything done,” said Sue. “But that’s good, you have to be content with just doing what you can.”

She has 1.5 acres of garden, and about three acres of woodland and meadow to tend, and Roger grows year round fruit and veg.

Hundreds of visitors attend NGS openings at Owl End, raising money for motor neurone disease charities.

Visitors often comment on the various garden seats around the site. “They say it must be nice to sit there with a book, but we never actually have time to sit in them,” said Roger.

“We’re out every day all year,” said Sue, “but I still get huge satisfaction from seeing seeds coming up. It’s a very magical place and I still appreciate that.”

Sue’s gardening advice: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Just keep trying.”