How are Gardens Coping in Lockdown and What Can We do to Support Them?

GemmaKH
Published on January 23rd 2021
snowdrops, The Garden House
It’s no secret that visiting gardens and being in nature has helped us cope and supported us through lockdown, both physically and mentally. But with some gardens having to close, and tight restrictions put in place amid lockdown 3, how have gardens really been affected by lockdown, and how can we support them?
To find out, I spoke to three gardens about the challenges lockdown has brought and reveal the unexpected benefits.
In line with Government guidance, you should minimise the time spent outside your home and only travel to gardens within your local area for exercise. Please check local COVID restrictions and the garden's policy before planning your visit.

The Garden House

The Garden House
Image credit: John Richmond
In January 2020, The Garden House in Dartmoor was bustling with locals, tours and international visitors as they marvelled at the enormous snowdrop varieties in one of the finest gardens in Britain. Fast forward 12 months and it’s barely recognisable. While, thankfully, the world-famous Snowdrop Festival is still going ahead virtually, the team were forced to cancel the physical event. Very few people are now wandering around the glorious gardens and pathways that now allow for social distancing.
These aren’t the only obstacles the team at The Garden House have had to face. Visitor services and commercial manager, Karen Willcocks explains that, during the first lockdown, the most challenging thing was simply staying afloat.
‘We are an independent charity and at the outset, we fell through the funding cracks,’ she explains, ‘our income comes purely from what we raise at the gate and any profits (we make) are put straight back in.’
‘We have a responsibility to our staff and community, so we were worried,’ adds Karen.
snowdrops, The Garden House
Image credit: Petra Hicks
Fortunately, Government support has increased since then and, in October, The Garden House was one of 445 organisations in England to secure funding through the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage. In addition, shortly after the second lockdown in England, The Garden House successfully raised £33,331 through their crowdfunding campaign, helping to save the gardens for future generations.
Karen says: ‘This garden is rooted in community, so knowing that the community care so much means a lot and on difficult days, it makes it worth it.’
However, the English country garden is definitely not out of the woods with the shop and cafe still closed. It isn’t only the funding that has been hugely impacted by the pandemic, but plant sales and the gardens' maintenance. Karen says a small plant centre remains open, but the plant selection process has changed. Whereas previously, herself and the team might’ve taken a chance and ordered higher quantities of plants at the beginning of the month, they are now having to be very selective and do it week-by-week, taking into account what has been sold and current guidelines.
‘I’m having to make judgement calls all the time,’ she says.
The Garden House
Image credit: John Richmond
In terms of garden maintenance, the team would’ve usually undertaken a large amount of pruning by this time of year. However, they have to focus on priorities within the gardens based on their financial circumstances.
‘We’ve had to organise our volunteers and gardening team so that they can socially distance but still garden,’ adds Karen.
Despite these struggles, The Garden House has witnessed some unexpected benefits from lockdown and there’s still plenty to see.
‘We’ve had to let some hedges grow a bit longer and we’ve seen a massive increase in wildlife,’ says Karen.
She claims this is something they are likely to continue to attract more wildlife and to suit the gardens’ naturalistic planting style.
Butterfly
Karen has also noticed an increase in the number of families visiting the gardens, which she and the team have been trying to achieve for a while.
‘It’s been lovely hearing children playing,’ she adds, ‘people are looking for new opportunities to be outside with the family and now they’re discovering us. I really hope that families are a new client base that we retain.’
It’s not only families who are more connected. Despite the coronavirus restrictions forcing us to be more distant than ever, the pandemic has encouraged a new connection between gardens themselves.
‘The Garden House is an RHS partner garden,’ says Karen, ‘and all the partner gardens have come together. We have become a peer group to support each other and that’s been lovely. I work on my own an awful lot, so being able to reach out to my equivalent in another garden has been wonderful. It’s been lifesaving actually.’
Daphnes
Image credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daphne_odora-ja01.jpg
Karen is urging local people to visit for exercise where it is safe to do so.
Even if you live further afield, there are still plenty of ways to support The Garden House.
Become a member, make a donation or join in with their social channels. The Snowdrop Festival has also gone virtual for the first time! Each day, the team is sharing live images of the outstanding collection. They are also planning a Facebook LIVE for you to enjoy the snowdrops in real time.
You can also step into the gardens, virtually, or listen to our audio tour.
Or if you’re looking for an activity to keep the kids entertained, why not get involved with their new ‘Through The Frame Art Trail’ competition? People are being asked to design picture frames to capture the beauty of the Dartmoor gardens. Post-lockdown, these will be displayed in the gardens. Visit the website for all event details.
Like Karen says: ‘gardens need people and people need gardens.’
  • Location: Buckland Monachorum, Yelverton, Devon. PL20 7LQ
  • Opening times: 11 am-3 pm, Friday-Sunday, 15th January – 28th February
  • Price: adult £11.50, child 0-15 free
  • Facebook: @TGardenHouse
  • Instagram: @the.garden.house

Nymans

Nymans
Image credit: National Trust/Andrew Butler
This quintessentially English estate based in West Sussex is 'a garden lovers’ home for all seasons.’ With a 40-acre garden and 275 acres of woodland to explore, it offers an extensive yet intimate feel set around a romantic house and ruins.
Nymans is under the care of the National Trust charity and usually has a gardening team of 11. During the first lockdown in March, this number dropped to five when staff were furloughed and the remaining gardeners had to alter the way they maintained the garden. However, they too realised some surprising benefits.
Nymans
Image credit: National Trust/Nick Delves
Assistant head gardener Nick Delves, who has worked throughout all of the lockdowns, says: ‘The staff were solely doing essential work - watering, weeding and making sure plant collections were surviving.’
Nick is in charge of the substantial double summer borders and explains that traditionally the herbaceous perennials along the back are staked with pea sticks, usually in two tiers, then every year the nursery team propagate annuals and tenders for the front two rows. It would normally take the team around two weeks to stake everything but as they were trying to limit the workload, they “Chelsea chopped” the perennials in May 2020.
The “Chelsea chop” (which got its name because it is usually carried out at the end of May, coinciding with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show) is a pruning method which limits the size and controls the flowering season of plants.
Nymans
Image credit: National Trust/Nick Delves
Partway through sowing the annual seeds, the nursery team was also furloughed meaning many of the plants didn’t survive and weren’t enough to fill the summer borders. Once again, Nick was forced to adapt.
Without the volume and combination of plants he needed, Nick began to experiment with planting Dahlias to create mixed borders. Coincidentally, this replicated the original Edwardian-era planting style of the summer borders.
‘We had to think on our feet and make the best of the plants available,’ he adds.
These are two things Nick and the team are now going to continue.
‘I was apprehensive about changing things, but we didn’t have a choice and as it turns out, it’s been a big success. This year, we’ll be doing the “Chelsea chop” and mixed planting.’
From what was quite a negative situation, with reduced staff and seasonal plants struggling to survive, came a glimmer of hope from Mother Nature.
During the initial lockdown, pay-for-entry gardens closed for a few months during which the Nymans’ team noticed wildlife flooding into the garden.
‘We had pheasants everywhere,’ says Nick, ‘and red-legged partridges visited. The birds weren’t bothered by the few gardeners who were around. The blackbirds and robins were practically under our feet when we were gardening.
‘We also cut the grass less in the informal areas, as there were less staff to do the mowing but as a consequence, we noticed that flowers were appearing. Orchids were growing in certain areas which brought more insect life, which was a great benefit,’ he adds.
‘By letting the grass grow, it really fed into the atmosphere of the garden.’
Nymans
Image credit: National Trust/Andrew Butler
Situated under Gatwick airport's flight path, Nick and the team have recently begun to notice a particularly astonishing benefit that they believe is due to less road traffic last year and the continuation of fewer aeroplanes passing and the reduced air pollution as a result.
‘We’ve noticed lichen on a lot of the trees and shrubs and that’s an indicator of cleaner air,’ he explains.
However, it definitely hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for the esteemed garden.
Home to one of the National Trust’s most rare and unusual plant collections, Nick claims lockdown and the resulting reduction in staff and time to care for the plants has had a major impact on Nymans’ plant sales.
Nymans
Image credit: National Trust/Andrew Butler
The close connection between staff and visitors that Nymans strives for has also been hugely affected.
‘We really enjoy talking to visitors about the garden and visitors like to chat about what we’re up to and our plant collections and because of social distancing, people are understandably wary and so are the staff,’ says Nick.
Despite these difficulties, the Nymans team remain hopeful about the future.
Nick says: ‘Visitors tell us that they really appreciate that we’re working hard to keep the garden open for them. It’s important that as a Trust we stay open so people can enjoy the benefits.
‘We are all looking forward to spring and with the vaccinations, we can see light at the end of the tunnel.’
Nymans
Image credit: National Trust/Andrew Butler
As the garden continues to support us, there are things we can do to give something back. Check out the winter highlights at Nymans, become a National Trust member or donate and remember to follow their social channels to stay up to date.
  • Location: Handcross, near Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH17 6EB
  • Opening times: 10 am-4 pm, daily
  • Price: adult £10, child £5, family £25
  • Facebook: @Nymans.NT
  • Twitter & Instagram: @NymansNT

West Dean Gardens

West Dean Gardens
Image credit: West Dean Gardens
Nestled at the foot of the South Downs, West Dean Gardens near Chichester is one of the most significant restored gardens in England. Creatively inspired by its rich heritage, you can take in the 300-foot Edwardian pergola draped in climbing roses, honeysuckles and clematis or wander into the Walled Kitchen Garden packed with fruit, vegetables and cutting flowers and laid out in a classic Victorian design. Plus, explore beautiful vistas during a refreshing winter walk across more than 100 acres.
Like the other gardens, head gardener Tom Brown has observed the advantages and disadvantages of lockdown at West Dean.
West Dean Gardens
Image credit: West Dean Gardens
‘We cannot deny that lockdown has been challenging, with several team members being furloughed and our wonderful team of almost 50 volunteers not being able to help us,’ he says, ‘it has been a case of prioritising certain tasks and areas until we can go back to firing on all cylinders.
‘However, by leaving some areas to become meadows, we have seen a fascinating and diverse range of wildlife and insects inhabit the Gardens.’
This has received positive feedback from visitors, therefore, Tom intends to incorporate some of these elements into the Gardens going forward and the team plan to create more bird boxes as well as a massive bug hotel in the Walled Garden.
West Dean Gardens
Image credit: West Dean Gardens
‘We are hoping to open our wonderful glasshouses again in the near future, with social distancing and hand sanitising measures in place, as we have been growing tulips, hyacinths and many other spring-flowering bulbs which will look glorious very soon,’ he adds.
Many people believe West Dean Gardens to be ‘a special place’ that provides ‘an enormous amount of pleasure.’ However, as part of a registered charity, upkeep and care of the Gardens are only possible with the support of generous donors, friends and legacy gifts. But, there are numerous ways we can help through this testing time.
West Dean Gardens
Image credit: West Dean Gardens
You can help to save the Victorian Glasshouses and preserve a piece of local heritage.
You can donate to the Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain Trainee Horticulturalist Fund – a fund in honour of the former head gardeners Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain that aims to support someone at the start of their horticulture career, so they can one day manage large gardens like West Dean.
You can also register your interest as a future volunteer and be part of maintaining history and creating a spectacular space. Lastly, you could leave a gift in your will to help ensure the enjoyment of West Dean Gardens for future generations. Visit their website for further details about offering support.
West Dean Gardens
Image credit: West Dean Gardens
If you live too far away to visit, you won’t miss out on the beauty of these award-winning Gardens. Listen to our audio tour of the Gardens or follow West Dean’s social channels to stay up to date with developments around the Gardens. And, you don’t need to worry about veg-patch envy; join Tom in a short video guide on how to “grow your own” just like at West Dean.
  • Location: West Dean, Nr Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 0RX
  • Opening times: 10.30 am-4 pm, daily, January, February, November, December; 10.30 am-4 pm, daily, March-October
  • Price: adult £7.00-£7.70 January, February, November, December; £10 March-October, child under 16 free
  • Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @westdeangardens
Free download for your phone or tablet
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play

Lots to see

Follow and read AlanGardenMaster’s articles as he develops his new one-acre plot. PimlicoDan shows city gardening in a whole new light, or follow DaisyDays on her adventures in the allotment and as a professional gardener. Just a few of the many personalities you’ll meet in our app. Free download for your phone or tablet.
Download on the App StoreGet it on Google Play