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A year of growth for Open Gardens

Jane Hanks reflects on a great 2017 for the scheme and gets tips for new members

There is just one garden open in October as the season comes to a close for the Jardins Ouverts /Open Gardens scheme (see below).

The scheme encourages garden owners of all nationalities to open up their gardens, big and small to the public, to raise funds for charity.

This is the association’s fifth year and 170 gardens in 28 departments have joined and there are hopes to have 200 gardens signed up by the end of this year in 33 departments across France. It 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 caught on.

Visitors buy a €10 membership card which gives them access to any of the gardens for one year or pay €5 for a one-off visit. You can also buy an Anniversary card for €50 which gives access to the private gardens as well as seven prestigious French gardens, nearly all labelled Jardin Remarquable, which usually charge an entrance fee, but are offering Open Garden members with the new-style card, free entrance.

Last year Open Gardens raised a record €23,000 with €12,000 going to A Chacun son Everest which runs courses in the Alps to help children and women who are in remission from cancer but need help restoring their confidence after treatment. The remainder was split between 7 other charities.

President Mick Moat says the signs are that this will be another record year, as by half way through the season they had already raised €20,000. He is still hoping more people will enrol as more gardens means more money for more good causes. The scheme would particularly like to see more gardens open in the east of France where there is the lowest number.

Connexion is pleased to be a partner of Jardins Ouverts/Open Gardens scheme.

Creating village or community Jardins Ouverts/Open Gardens days is one development planned for 2018. Mr Moat says it would be a fantastic move, which would benefit local areas and mean more money for charity: “There have been three such events this summer and they were so successful, I think there is huge potential for this all over France.”

The three events all took place in Deux-Sèvres. Janet Greenwood, who organised two of them, told Connexion: “It seems to me to be a logical step to turn Open Gardens into a local event. It is a lot of work but it means that visitors are more likely to come and see several gardens in one area, rather than just one, and you can work with the support of other gardeners.”

Mrs Greenwood has tips for anyone who would like to do it next year: “I think around five or six gardens is a good number. Ten is perhaps too many to visit in one day. First, you need to find your gardens and choose a variety of different types to make it more interesting. I think it is also important to have a mix of French and English owned gardens.

“If you see a local garden you think could be interesting, take some information with you to explain the scheme, and don’t be afraid to go and knock on the door, even if you don’t know the owner.”

“Publicity is very important,” says Mrs Greenwood. “Getting in touch with the local French newspaper is a good way. Find the name of the journalist responsible for your area then contact them directly – they are more than likely to come and see your garden and write an article.”

She says you need to choose one garden as the starting point so that you can give visitors a map to find their way round.

If visitors are not already Open Garden membership holders you need to have the paperwork, available from the association, to sign them up either for a €5 day ticket which gives access to all the gardens open that day or for a €10 annual membership, which gives access to all gardens open throughout the year.

Mrs Greenwood also helped Patricia Goode, who lives about an hour away to set up her own event in and around the village of Marnes. Mrs Goode said it was a very positive experience: “It is hard work but it is important because you are making money for a good cause. We opened my garden, which is in a mill surrounded by water, a wonderful vegetable garden and two chateaux.

“I had people to help me on the day – you need someone to greet the visitors and check their membership cards, or do the paperwork to give them one on the spot. You need to be able to be free to talk to the people who want to know about your garden. One person in the village opened his garden spontaneously on the day, when he saw what we were doing, which I hope shows that people are keen to get involved, and I hope he will join us next year.”

Mrs Goode had many enthusiastic thank you notes from people who enjoyed the visit. One was from Sally Pearson: “My husband, David and I drove about an hour to get to Marnes, and we appreciated having more than one garden to see and what delighted us was the variety on offer. It was amazing and inspiring to see the way one gentleman had created his delight of an organic vegetable garden which could feed an army, and we learnt a lot from talking to him.

“We loved the square beds in the chateau where there was a mixture of fruit and vegetables. In each garden, we could sit and enjoy our surroundings and see what a difference a beautiful garden makes to a house. It was wonderful to do that and know that the money we paid goes to charity, so that others were benefitting from the pleasure we had.”

16, Voie de la Rémarde,
Le Val-Saint-Germain, Essonne
Owner : Christian Chauvet

There are around 370 different plants in this garden and October is the season for the 15 varieties of aster to show their colours. There are two parts. One to the south with a pond complete with water lilies and flower beds. The other is cooler and with more shade, and borders a river.

Christian Chauvet says he has built up his collection over the past twenty years: “When I bought the house there were just a few plants, some of which are still here.

"I have chosen plants so that there is something in flower all year round, even in December with jasmine and Christmas roses and then bulbs in January and February. In the autumn there are the asters which are in a wide range of colours followed by the flamboyant leaf colours of the azaleas, ornamental pear and dogwood.”

Open: Sunday October 8 14-18.00

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