A volunteer’s story; it couldn’t be more fun!
Over 550 volunteers support the opening of the gardens in the National Garden Scheme. From making delicious cakes and serving teas to promoting the gardens and manning the gate, there are lots of ways to get involved. And, as Naman Chaudhary explains, it couldn’t be more fun.
When I was growing up in Delhi, the gardener who came every Sunday would find me following him around our garden, assisting one moment, meddling the next. While he worked, he would tell me about the medicinal properties of the plants, their folktales and legends, in which I found great interest and joy. So, when in 2018 I left India for university, more than the culture shock, it was the unfamiliarity of the English flora and fauna that unsettled me the most.
I decided to acquaint myself with the nature that now surrounded me with the help of my friend Peter Parker (not Spiderman but an avid gardener). He told me about the National Garden Scheme and introduced me to his friend Thomas Blaikie, a writer on royalty and etiquette, who for more than a decade had been opening his garden for a small fee which was then donated to charity.
Thrilled by this simple, brilliant idea, I too, stepped forward to volunteer that summer at Thomas’s garden in Islington. I had no idea what to expect, my friends having forgotten to give me a brief amid their preparations to make the garden ready for imminent visitors. When the first person knocked on the door, Peter was charged with taking the money and handing out the tickets while I was to escort them through the house into the garden. Easy peasy, I thought, but soon the number of visitors grew, and I had to learn on the spot how best to manage the numbers in the garden while keeping up a lively conversation with those waiting in the queue. Peter suggested a few topics, the most effective of which was, ‘Do you like to garden?’
The highlight of that day was meeting Nell Brown and Gill Evansky, the Assistant County Organisers, who since 2010 have heroically managed around 65 gardens (both now retired). They welcomed me with warm hugs, their enthusiasm for the Scheme infectious.
My second year as a volunteer was a walk in the garden (pun intended), for I had familiarised myself with the 150 species of plants that Thomas grew, answered every question and told anecdotes, my favourite being how Thomas, when short of space in the garden, simply digs up one of the bricks in the path and plants something in the gap.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, the Scheme, like everything else, was paused. As things eased a little in 2021, the group garden openings started once more. However, they were scheduled later than usual in the year, by which time some of the plants would have passed their peak. Gill and Nell proposed that Thomas and Michael Foley, both in the Arlington Square group, could host an evening opening to show their remarkable roses and offer visitors a glass of wine. Once again, our small group of volunteers came together and I made sure to promote it widely on my social media accounts. After the long isolation of lockdown, it was immensely moving to see so many people queuing on the pavement that evening, where the air was full of laughter, chatter about gardens and the scent of roses.
My garden in Delhi mostly has fruiting trees – mango, tamarind, guava and papaya – but more than me it is the giant fruit bats and macaques that get to savour them. I love night-flowering plants and the pots on my roof garden are filled with them. In London, I often help Peter in his garden, a large rectangular plot in the heart of the East End where there is a wildflower roof meadow and where he grows rambling roses, large clumps of phlox, many types of asters and salvia and giant pots of agapanthus.
Being a volunteer for the National Garden Scheme couldn’t be more fun. It is gratifying to think how your one day’s contribution can make at least some difference in the world. You get to meet and talk to people from different walks of life who share a common love for gardening, hear what they think about the plants and their own gardens. I would not have otherwise been able to form the lifelong friendships that I did by volunteering for the National Garden Scheme. It enables me to learn about and appreciate the flora that I was both geographically and culturally unfamiliar with.
There are lots of ways to get involved with the National Garden Scheme from opening your garden to volunteering. You can find out more by clicking here
For more about the gardens that open in Arlington Square click here