The Open Gardens/Jardins Ouverts season 2018 starts in earnest this month with different gardens open every weekend across France. This is the association’s sixth year, encouraging garden owners of all nationalities to open up their gardens, big and small, to the public, to raise funds for charity.
Last year they were able to hand out €23,500 to 11 chosen charities. €15,000 went to their main beneficiary, A Chacun son Everest, which runs courses in the Alps to help children and women who are in remission from cancer. Other charities include Quelque Chose en Plus, a centre for young people with a variety of disabilities, Réseau Bulle, which assists families and individuals affected by autism and Chiens Guides which trains and allocates guide dogs for the blind.
Visitors buy a €10 membership card which gives them access to any of the gardens for one year or pay €5 for a Day Pass which allows access to any of the gardens on the day of purchase. There is also the Anniversary card, which costs €35 and gives access to the privately owned gardens as well as a growing list of prestigious French gardens.
The association started in 2013 when four British gardeners in the Creuse decided to open their gardens to see if they could raise money for charity, and the idea quickly caught on. Now the organisers are thrilled that 40% of the gardens are French owned, meaning it does not remain a purely British initiative. In 2018 Open Garden aims to have 200 gardens in 33 departments.
However, President Mick Moat hopes that eventually there will be gardens all over France and he would love to welcome more gardens into the scheme.
You do not need to have a perfectly maintained, stately home type garden: The minimum requirement is that there should be 30 minutes of interest. It can be a large garden to wander around or a small garden with a great variety of plants.
Are you looking for gardens all over France?
Yes. We cannot have too many gardens. The more we have, the more money we can raise for charities in France. We hope to be a national Association within four years, that is to say to have gardens in every department in France. At present we are particularly under represented in the east of the country with only one at present in Burgundy, for example.
What commitment does it require from a garden owner?
Usually people open just once a year, often on a Sunday. If they want to serve tea and coffee and cakes all the better to raise more money, but that is not a requirement. They do not have to give guided tours.
We find that most visitors are happy to walk round on their own and then maybe ask questions to the gardener later. Often that involves asking how they have managed to grow such and such a plant, when they are having difficulties with it in their own garden, for example.
Does your garden have to be in perfect condition on the day you open?
No. We do not want people worrying that their garden must be pristine and that they have to get rid of every weed before they open the gates. We want our gardeners to be relaxed and enjoy the occasion. Gardens are there to be shared and enjoyed and not to be a study in science.
How do you attract visitors to your garden?
We send every garden a pack with leaflets, posters and direction signs and can help if you want to get in touch with the local press. This works well to attract French visitors as they are very keen to look at gardens.
If you know your local mayor, he or she may be able to help. A good way is to tell your neighbours and friends who can spread the word and who will often be happy to come along and support you, for what is a good cause.
How many visitors are you likely to have?
It can be anything from 25 to 80. They may well have already bought tickets via our website. If not, tickets are included in the pack. Garden owners tell us that at the end of an Open Day they are usually tired, but that it has been great to talk to people, that visitors are very appreciative and that it has been a positive experience.
If anyone is interested in opening their garden please get in touch with Ronnie Ogier at email@example.com. If there is a group of at least six people who want more information, I will go anywhere in France to explain the scheme. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Open in May
Saint-Amans-du-Pech, Tarn-et-Garonne. Owner: Peter Aldous
Mr Aldous says his garden has a lot of colour with sweeping herbaceous borders, with a wide variety of flowering plants and shrubs. There is also a picturesque pond, a summerhouse, chicken run, vegetable garden and an orchard. He says he hopes he will have a lot of visitors despite being the first one to open in the Tarn-et-Garonne. There will be tea and cakes on sale. Open: May 27 and June 3, 14.00-19.00
Château de Mongenan, Portets, Gironde; Owner: Florence Mothe.
For one weekend, this garden, classified a Jardin Remarquable and open all year round for paid visits, welcomes Open Garden visitors. It is set in the grounds of an 18th century chateau. There is an ornamental garden with 200 different roses, an iris collection and vegetable garden plus fruit trees and medicinal herbs. Open May 12 and 13, 10-11.30; 14-18.00.
75, Rue de la Vieille Poste, Montpellier, Hérault.
Owner Chantal Guiraud has been a passionate gardener for 38 years and has created a green oasis in an urban setting. She has designed it so the view from her house gives few indications she is surrounded by buildings. The garden is bursting with Mediterranean plants, many of them rare, as she loves to collect and experiment with new varieties. She has several flower beds, mostly with Mediterranean plants. Open Saturday May 5, 14-18.00.