Sarah Pajwani talks about her new venture for the National Garden Scheme

Sarah Pajwani, NGS Volunteer and Garden Opener, is running the first ever winter ‘Talk and Walk’ for the National Garden Scheme on 18th January, she explains how she came up with the idea and gives us some extra details ahead of the event.

What gave you the idea to start a ‘Talk and Walk’ in the winter for the NGS? 

I think there were two reasons: since I’ve become interested in gardening, I’ve really enjoyed visiting other people’s gardens, particularly ones that are smaller and managed almost solely by their owners. It’s been a way of getting inspiration for my own garden.   Throughout the summer, there are lots of these that open to raise money for the National Garden Scheme but I have found it a shame that these smaller gardens are not open in what I call the more difficult times of the year, when inspiration and ideas are even more important.

I also think that over the last few years, many people have become interested in how to keep their garden looking good through the winter. When I grew up, people used to talk about ‘putting their garden to bed’ for the winter, cutting everything back in September and looking out on bare soil until the following year.

But recently, many larger, commercial gardens, like RHS Wisley and The Savill Garden, have created dedicated Winter Gardens or Borders, which can look absolutely amazing.

But… there is still a challenge in thinking about how to translate some of the ideas you see in these very large gardens which have the benefit of lots of staff to your own small patch – and in particular, how to put in things that will look great in Winter but without compromising how your garden looks at other times of the year.

And so that’s why I thought ‘The Winter Garden’ would be a good subject for a talk – and why I felt it would be really useful to do it in a real garden – and one that isn’t just about looking good in Winter but where I try to get a balance of plants that make it look good all through the year.

And how will the event run?

We’re planning to start with the talk which will last around an hour and then follow this with the walk – which will allow people to see many of the plants and combinations that we’ve just talked about.

And before all of that, as with most National Garden Scheme openings, we’ll kickoff with some tea or coffee and homemade cake!

So what are some of the plants that people will be able to see?

It’s very hard to single out specific plants – a lot is about the overall structure of the garden but if I had to pull out just one group of plants that look incredible right from the beginning of September until the end of March, it would be Cornus. There are several different types of Cornus but all are famous for having really bright coloured bare stems. In my garden, I have 4 different types – red, yellow and my favourite, Midwinter Fire, which is a mix of orange, yellow and red. These bring a much needed splash of vivid and warming colour and are easy, cheap plants to buy and grow.

And are there going to be more events happening like this in the ‘Out of Season’ months?

I hope so. I hope other garden openers will feel inspired to do something similar. We’ve done talks and we’ve done visits but not this idea of combining the two. But we keep trying new things…

Only 3 years ago, the National Garden Scheme had the idea of promoting the gardens with snowdrops opening in February /early March to celebrate a ‘Snowdrop Festival’  and this year, 100 gardens, some big and some small, are opening for this. And it’s been fantastically successful which shows how interested people are in visiting gardens outside of the traditional Summer months. In Berkshire this year, Welford Park near Newbury is opening for this on Wednesday February 7th.

And then in March, on both March 17th and 21st, Compton Elms Garden just outside Maidenhead will be running our second ‘Talk and Walk’ event. Compton Elms has a beautiful sunken woodland garden that is really quite magical in the Spring – full of primroses, hellebores, fritillaria, anemones and wonderful combinations of all the plants you associate with Spring. So, as with the Winter Garden Talk and Walk, the plan is to start with a talk about how to create a fantastic Spring garden and then to go and see at first hand how it’s been done there – and again with plenty of tea, coffee and cake to kick things off.

And then after this, we have a whole host of gardens opening in April to celebrate Tulips….So there is plenty to come before the traditional Garden visiting season really gets going in May.

What do you think makes garden owners decide to open their garden?

When I first decided to open my garden, it was because I wanted to share what I’d created with other gardeners. I wanted people to see and love some of the wonderful plants and combinations at St Timothee. I feel really lucky to live and garden there and, just as I’d wanted to visit other gardens, it seemed only fair to put myself on the line a bit and to reciprocate.

But after we raised nearly £2,500 from opening just for 1 day, I realised how really incredible the National Garden Scheme is, in that it benefits and brings joy to so many different people. I had a wonderful day, meeting and welcoming so many lovely people and the people who came also had a wonderful time – I think all of us garden openers work incredibly hard, with the support of our County teams, to make sure that everyone who visits is made to feel very welcome and valued. 

-And then the part that I hadn’t really recognised in the beginning, is that the money we raise by opening our gardens, goes to support incredibly important charities. So in 2017, just by people opening their gardens, the National Garden Scheme was able to donate £3m to nursing charities – the big three being Macmillan, Marie Curie and Hospice UK. These are charities that almost everyone I know has had some contact and need for and so I now feel very proud that my gardening hobby can, in some small way, help.  And this is important for the visitors too who come to our garden open days. They too feel really good knowing that their visit has helped support such important charities.

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