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Open Gardens will keep on giving

Jane Hanks talks to the scheme’s creator and finds out how the charities use the money 

vedThe Open Gardens/Jardins Ouverts scheme has once again broken its previous records by raising over €28,000 in 2017, a figure which could be slightly higher as the final accounts were not in when we went to press. After administration costs this leaves €23,500 to be divided between 11 chosen charities. Last year the association, which raises money when people open their gardens to the public, raised €23,000 of which €16,000 was shared between 8 charities.

Mick Moat is President of the association, which 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. He says he is delighted the scheme is continuing to grow, five years on: “The amount we can give to charities this year is almost 50% up on last year. The statistics speak for themselves to show that we are expanding with no glitches. We now have 150 gardens in 28 departments and I am thrilled that 40% of our gardens are French owned so that it does not remain a purely British initiative. There is plenty more room to grow, however. In 2018 we aim to have 200 gardens in 35 departments.”

Mr Moat says they would love anyone who thinks they may have a suitable garden to get in touch: “We say that you need 30 minutes of interest to be able to participate. However, if you have a very small garden you could still take part if there are other gardens nearby to visit and I am keen to introduce community events where people can go to several gardens in one village on the same day. Many people think their garden is not good enough but even though the owner has said this to us, we often find they are superb when we go along. Gardeners are modest people and tend to understate some of their beautiful creations. The real pleasure in owning and working on a garden is to share it and if you are also raising money for good causes there isn’t any better thing you could do with your garden.”

“We are also keen to take on anyone who is prepared to be a co-ordinator,” says Mr Moat. “Someone who will help organise the opening and finding of local gardens. You can cover as small or as large an area as you can manage. Then if you see an attractive garden when you are out and about you can slip our details through the door and see if that person might be interested in joining. It is also a good way of meeting new people.”

Open Gardens/Jardins Ouverts is particularly keen to find gardens in the east of the country where there are very few at present. The association would also like to hear about Plant Fairs where they could have a stand. “We were at Nantes recently where there were 40,000 visitors, nearly all French, and our stand attracted a great deal of interest. We have very few gardens in the region but we were able to find a co-ordinator for the Loire-Atlantique and I hope some more gardens for next year.”

Recently the association had a stand at the prestigious Journées des Plantes de Chantilly event in the Oise, where it is now a regular fixture. There cheques were handed out in public to two of its beneficiary charities, A Chacun son Everest and Quelque Chose en Plus.

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, received €15,000. It has been the main beneficiary since day one.

Quelque Chose en Plus, which is a centre for young people who suffer from a variety of disabilities, received a cheque for €1,500. It provided the opportunity for some of the families who benefit from the work of the charity to enjoy a day out.

Quelque Chose en Plus has two centres at Vaucresson, in the western suburbs of Paris, Hauts-de-Seine; one is a day centre for fifteen young people aged 5 to 20 and the second, only open since last year, is a residential centre for 32 adults aged 20 and upwards. The association was created in 1992 by a group of parents of children with multiple disabilities who could not find a suitable place for them to be looked after.

Now the original children are older they have opened the second centre for adults. The aim is to have a place where the parents could be involved and work closely with the professionals: “The idea is not to put our loved ones somewhere so that we can get on with the rest of our lives,” explains the President Ludovic Salaün, “but to create a centre where they can flourish.”

Mr Salaün’s son, Thibault, is 15 and has been going to the centre since he was five. “He started by going to a crèche but we needed something for him when he was older so we were very pleased to find a place which concentrates on his social skills, education and well-being.”

Money from Open Gardens was used, appropriately, for a new garden which has been created around the new centre for adults and which can also be used by the children as their centre is only 300 metres away.

Parent and association member, Annick Nguyen says the garden is vital: “Our whole philosophy is to make sure that our children are not shut inside, which is a danger with care centres when the outside areas are not adapted for people with disabilities. This has been designed so that wheelchair access is possible.

We have already been able to use Open Gardens money to create paths and buy plants, for a scented walk with rosemary and lavender.”

There are nine other charities benefitting from the Open Gardens proceeds:
Le Dauphin Corse (€1,000), which was created to help handicapped people rediscover their joie de vivre; Réseau Bulle (€1,000), a network of assistance and mutual support for families and individuals affected by autism; Costello Syndrome Family Network (€1,000), gives help to those with a rare disease which manifests itself in the first months of life and results in growth and mental impairment.

Bouée d’Espoir (€1,000), eases the difficulties and despair of those at increasing risk of marginalisation by helping to set them back on a positive path in life; A Bras Ouverts (€1,000), organises holidays for young people and children with disabilities; Chiens Guides (€500), trains and allocates guide dogs for blind and partially sighted people; The Marfan Trust (€500), helps those with a genetic disorder which affects heart, lungs, skin, blood vessels, bones, joints and eyes and can be life-threatening; Rigolopito (€500) clowns who put a smile on the faces of children in hospital; and Languedoc Solidarité avec les Refugiés (€500), provides humanitarian help to children and families while their asylum applications are being processed.

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