Susan Copeland receives MBE from King Charles III

The National Garden Scheme is delighted to share the news that Susan Copeland, who was awarded an MBE in The King’s first Birthday Honours List for her work with the National Garden Scheme, received the honour from The King at her investiture at Buckingham Palace in October.

For Susan and her family, the day was a supremely memorable occasion. Commenting on the experience Susan’s husband and fellow National Garden Scheme volunteer said:

“The palace staff were exemplary; they gave Susan tremendous care and attention on the day, which added to the occasion. It was very special for us all and a fairy-tale experience for Susan.”

Receiving her honour from The King who, as the Prince of Wales, has been patron of the National Garden Scheme since 2002, added hugely to the enjoyment of the event.

Susan stepped down as Trustee and Regional Chair in September after serving 9 years on the Board. She is continuing in her role as Essex County Organiser.

More about Susan

Susan trained as a teacher at Liverpool University in the 1960’s and then pursued a career in education for 30 years. In 1997, she chose to take early retirement and re-trained as a garden designer at Writtle Horticultural College, Essex. This became the foundation for her own garden design business which she ran with her husband, Doug, a chartered surveyor.

Susan first opened her garden in Essex for the National Garden Scheme in 1996. In 2006, she was asked to join the Essex county team as an Assistant County Organiser and became the Essex County Organiser in autumn 2007. Since taking on this role the number of open gardens has increased, quadrupling the net garden income. In 2014, Susan became a Trustee and in November that year was appointed Regional Chairman for the East.

In 2019, Susan also took on a role, previously managed in partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society, of administration of the National Garden Scheme Community Garden Grants. Her first year in the role saw the number of applications increase to over 178 (previous years had averaged 25 applications) and she managed to persuade the Board to increase the funding very substantially to £100,000. In 2023, more than £260,000 in funding was awarded for 86 community garden projects.

One of Susan’s lasting and most innovative achievements will be her success at identifying new types of garden to open to the public. Soon after taking over as County Organiser in 2007, she assessed the strengths of the county of Essex and while there were many large country gardens, she felt that smaller gardens should also be represented. She saw that something that resonated more readily with visitors was important and would attract younger visitors. To that end she found small town gardens and encouraged their owners to open for the charity, initiating the idea of grouping a number in one area together so that they could all open on the same day and provide a more varied visitor experience. It could be said that Susan kick-started the small garden movement for the National Garden Scheme and group openings are now prevalent across many counties. Also, Susan initiated the concept of ‘Pop-Up’ garden openings for the National Garden Scheme in Essex, and these are now popular throughout the country.

“I had no idea that anyone would be interested in my small garden. I had created it using my design skills and not with an extensive plant-based knowledge. Susan encouraged me to open, giving me the confidence and support to go ahead. I trusted her judgement and it paid off. I regularly welcomed 100+ visitors and contributed to the average £2,000 raised at each opening as part of the Waltham Abbey group going on to win a number of awards and be featured in magazines articles. I am currently creating a new garden which I hope to enter into the Scheme as soon as it is ready,” says Caroline Cassell, a Garden Owner who opened her small garden in Waltham Abbey from 2014 to 2020 and is preparing a new garden in Maldon to open in the future.

In his letter of commendation which accompanied Susan’s nomination, National Garden Scheme Chief Executive George Plumptre wrote; “For fifteen years Susan has shown extraordinary commitment in her voluntary work for the National Garden Scheme… The principal qualities needed to be a County Organiser are efficiency, energy and enthusiasm, all of which Susan has in spades. By tirelessly supporting and promoting the voluntary contributions of all her teams and the owners of the gardens that open, Susan has demonstrated that community lies at the heart of the National Garden Scheme and in this she will leave a lasting impact.”

National Garden Scheme Chairman, Rupert Tyler added, “Volunteers are the life blood of our charity and I cannot think of anyone more deserving to receive such distinguished recognition than Susan. It is wonderful that her contribution to the National Garden Scheme has been honoured in this way.”

Commenting on her MBE, Susan said: “I love my roles with the National Garden Scheme and I was overwhelmed when I learnt of my inclusion in the King’s 2023 Birthday Honours List.

“I am honoured to receive this MBE award as I hope it will help to highlight the wonderful work of all the National Garden Scheme volunteers around the country who support our efforts to raise funds for nursing and health charities.”


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