The Queen’s Nursing Institute has always relied upon donated income in order to carry out its work in supporting community nurses. The charity was originally founded with the money donated by the women of Britain for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, hence it’s original name, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Institute for Nurses. A second collection was made ten years later on her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. However neither donation was sufficient to endow the charity in perpetuity and fundraising had to continue for the charity to survive.
In 1926 at a meeting of the Institute, Ms Elsie Wagg came up with the novel idea to raise funds by opening private gardens to the public and charging admission. Thus the National Garden Scheme was born, originally as a fundraising committee of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, in which role it continued until it became an independent charity in 1980.
In June of 1927, 349 gardens opened, including Sandringham in Norfolk and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Members of the public paid one shilling each to enter. The scheme was so successful it was continued into September by which time over six hundred gardens had opened and over £8000 raised. In following years a network of county organisers was established in order to encourage garden owners to re-open their gardens annually. As well as the royal family, the RHS, Country Life magazine, the BBC and the AA were all early supporters. By 1930 the number of gardens opened reached 900 and Sir Winston Churchill and Vita Sackville-West were among those who opened famous private gardens to the public.
The Second World War severely curtailed the scheme as gardeners downed tools, ornamental gardens were sacrificed to the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign and estates were requisitioned. The royal family led the way in subsequently rebuilding support for the scheme and opening more royal gardens including Sandringham, Frogmore, Harewood and Coppins. From 1947 the National Trust also played an increasing role, opening estates that had been surrendered to the Exchequer by their former owners in lieu of tax and death duties.
In 1948 the National Health Service came into being but fundraising continued, particularly to support working and retired nurses in financial need. Today nearly 3700 gardens open each year and £3m is raised annually. As well as supporting the Queen’s Nursing Institute, many other charities including Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Help the Hospices, Crossroads and The National Trust all benefit. To find out more about how you can become involved, visit www.ngs.org.uk .