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5 Amazing NGS Gardens Everyone Should Visit

GemmaKH
Published on July 24th 2021
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Cascades Gardens
Please visit the NGS website for further details about each garden.
Over 3,600 – this is the huge number of gardens that will open for the National Garden Scheme (NGS) during 2021, including 657 new additions.
The NGS is a non-profit organisation that gives visitors unique access to exceptional private gardens in England and Wales to raise funds to support nursing and health charities. They are also extremely passionate about the physical and mental health benefits associated with gardens.

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Despite significant garden closures in 2020, the NGS were still able to donate an impressive £2.88 million to their beneficiaries, largely driven by their collection of virtual garden visits, which rocketed. At the beginning of last year, the NGS’ YouTube subscribers were practically non-existent, but now they have over 8,400 subscribers and over 1.9 million views.
To give you a taste of what the scheme has to offer, here are five of the most amazing NGS gardens which you can visit right now, virtually or otherwise.
Commenting on the range of gardens, the NGS’s CEO, George Plumptre said: ‘From the glorious countryside of the Derbyshire Dales where you will discover Cascades Gardens, to 56 St Agnes Road in the metropolis of Birmingham, no two garden settings are the same.
Old Camps
Image credit: Old Camps
‘Gardens like Old Camps are as memorable for their views as for what you find in the garden, others like Music Maze and Garden in Cambridgeshire make sure they cater to children.
‘There are endless surprises, like the Buddhist meditation garden at Cascades, the striking ornaments at 56 St Agnes Road, the Roman history at Old Camps or the exotic cannas and banana plants at Rookwood Farm House. There is so much to explore in every garden beyond the beautiful planting.’

Cascades House and Gardens

Cascades Gardens
Image credit: Cascades Gardens
A path surrounded by trees

Cascade Gardens

Cascades Gardens is a fascinating and spectacular 4 acre public garden, with a ruined corn mill, canal, stream, cliff and many waterfalls. Every season brings new surprises with hosts of snowdrops, hellebores, daffodils and unusual perennial flowers, trees, shrubs and conifers. Many of the plants are available in the plant nursery.

We have probably all experienced the mental and physical benefits of being among greenery, and recognise that being in nature can be therapeutic. However, this fascinating four acres of peace, set in the spectacular natural landscape of Derbyshire, takes this to a whole new level as a specially designed ‘garden for meditation and wellbeing.’
Cascades Gardens
Image credit: Cascades Gardens
Following a tragic family bereavement 30 years ago, Alan Clements went on a spiritual journey and turned his life around. He travelled to India where he met the Dalai Lama and was taught about Buddhist philosophy by the Tibetan people, before travelling to Japan and learning Zen meditation in many natural Japanese gardens. Feeling inspired by his discoveries and the ‘idea of sitting peacefully by water and rocks in a natural spot,’ Alan has been creating the celebration of nature that is now Cascades Gardens over the past 25 years.

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Once an old quarry dating back to the 19th century, Cascades is now a tranquil sanctuary, open for visitors to relax and find inner peace. It boasts magnificent vistas from a 100ft cliff and is made up of 15 secluded “garden rooms” each featuring a different seat, theme, planting and view. Yet one thing remains constant – ‘wherever you sit, you can hear water running,’ says Alan.
The Bonsall brook runs through the gardens, flows over a ruined corn mill and supplies two large waterfalls, and many smaller ones, which give the accompanying house its name.
Wander past one of the meditation seats and you will come across a large Buddha statue perched upon the rocks, surrounded by Japanese plants.
Cascades Gardens
Image credit: Cascades Gardens
And, with a wide collection of rare perennials, conifers, shrubs and trees, this won’t be the only thing to catch your eye.
‘I’ve gone out of my way to choose interesting, unusual plants, shrubs and trees,’ explains Alan, ‘there’s a conifer border featuring 80 different conifers, some of which are now 10ft or 15ft tall. The first one I ever planted was a Dawn Redwood and it’s now 50ft high.’
While Cascades Gardens changes with the seasons and there’s something to see all year round, it has been listed as one of Britain’s most inspiring spring gardens by the Daily Mail. The extensive collection of more than 1,000 Hellebores steals the show in early March during the Gardens’ dedicated ‘Hellebore Fortnight.’
Cascades Gardens
Image credit: Cascades Gardens
‘There’s a profusion of Daffodils, Tulips, lots of different types of blossom on Prunus trees and Forsythia,’ continues Alan, ‘and the waterfalls are usually at full force.’
A range of plants from the garden are available for purchase at the on-site nursery.
An exciting addition for 2021 stems from a new pastime that kept Alan busy during lockdown. He learnt about Bonsai as a way of meditation and connecting with nature, resulting in the introduction of the garden’s very own Bonsai Centre. Here, you can buy Bonsai trees as well as pots and tools to create your own.
Alan claims: ‘Bonsai is a very peaceful, reflective hobby and it links with the garden’s theme. Looking after these little trees is just a different form of meditation.’
Cascades Gardens
Image credit: Cascades Gardens
‘If you’re a beginner and you’d like to learn more and buy trees that have nice shapes already suitable for Bonsai, this is the place.’
Explore the Garden map to see what else you can find.
Like many of us, Alan experienced the feeling of confinement that lockdown brought – him more than most after breaking his neck just before the first UK lockdown. However, Alan believes this reiterates the healing power of nature, and how areas like Cascades Gardens hold therapeutic properties that can help us to recover.
‘We’ve all had a hell of a time, been very lonely and fed up,’ he says, ‘this is the ideal spot to come and relax and enjoy nature because it’s all about harmony and balance. That’s exactly what people need now.
Cascades Gardens
Image credit: Cascades Gardens
‘It’s a very special place to sit in nature, particularly for people who only have backyards or very tiny or suburban gardens. It’s a really natural environment with rocks, woodland, trees and waterfalls; it’s the perfect place to escape to and find peace of mind.’
If one day at this haven of tranquillity simply isn’t enough, you can book a retreat at the charming Cascades House B&B. Alan also offers exclusive garden tours and workshops. Find out more via Alan’s garden for wellbeing blog.
Cascades Gardens
Image credit: Cascades Gardens
  • Location: Clatterway, Bonsall, Matlock, Derbyshire, DE4 2AH
  • Opening for the NGS: 12pm-4pm Sunday 15th August
  • Opening to the public: 10am-5pm, daily, 1st March - 30th September
  • Price: adult £7, children under 15 £3, under 5 free
  • Facebook: Cascades House and Gardens Derbyshire

Rookwood Farm House

Rookwood Farm House
Image credit: Rookwood Farm House
As you step foot on these luscious green lawns, be prepared to uncover lots of hidden gems. Wander past vibrant colour-themed herbaceous planting to the awe-inspiring parterre kitchen garden, before a stunning woven willow walkway carries you toward a pergola covered with striking roses. Then, go on an adventure through the exotic jungle garden, dotted with Cannas, Bananas and Echiums. This eclectic and innovative mix is Rookwood Farm House, ‘a plant-lover’s paradise.’
Rookwood Farm House
Image credit: Rookwood Farm House
The exciting three-acre valley garden is situated in the small village of Stockcross and forms part of the Northwest Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Over the past 32 years, owners Rupert and Charlotte Digby have worked to sculpt the garden into the delight that it is today. Keen to share their creative ideas with others, they opened the garden for the NGS for the first time 10 years ago.
Rookwood Farm House
Image credit: Rookwood Farm House
The garden has since been influenced by multiple generations. Charlotte’s father, who was a keen gardener, inspired her novel ideas while Barnsley House Gardens’ parterre became the inspiration for the vegetable garden.
Charlotte claims the jungle garden is her favourite area due to her love for exotic plants.
Rookwood Farm House
Image credit: Rookwood Farm House
‘We are all mad about Echiums,’ she adds, ‘they are quite difficult to grow here because it’s cold and they need a temperate climate; they are normally found in Cornwall where there aren’t hard frosts.’
Other stand out plants include white Clematis in the spring, Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, Peonies situated on the top lawn and an unusual variegated Tulip tree.
‘Around the pond, we have lots of Tulips; it’s a really good show in May,’ continues Charlotte.
Rookwood Farm House
Image credit: Rookwood Farm House
She admits the garden is forever-changing and there’s always something new to see.
As the NGS puts it, ’Rookwood has plenty to offer the plant enthusiast and kitchen gardener alike.’

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  • Location: Stockcross, Newbury, Berkshire, RG20 8JX
  • Opening for the NGS: 11am-5pm Monday 30th August
  • Open by arrangement: April-September
  • Price: adult £5, child free
  • Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @RookWoodHouse

Music Maze and Garden

Music Maze
Image credit: Music Maze at Balsham
If you’re after a fun-filled day out in nature, look no further! At the end of a long gravel Cambridgeshire drive, adorned with beautiful planting, lies a spectacular hidden gem that not many may realise even exists.
What was once a blank green canvas has been transformed into a music-themed maze with yew hedging in the shape of a treble clef and a pond, an alpine garden and unexpected sculptures cocooned inside. Prepare to be amazed!
Planted in 1993 with two variants of yew, green Yew (Taxus baccata) and Golden Yew (Taxus elegantissima), and lots of help from family and friends, it took roughly a year to create and now features over 1,500 trees – equivalent to half a mile of hedging.
Music Maze
Image credit: Music Maze at Balsham
But, where did the music theme stem from? Owner Jim Potter claims mazes are more fun with a theme and explains that it was inspired by himself and his wife, Hilary, being keen amateur musicians. As for the treble clef shape, he says it was a happy coincidence that simply fitted the available space.

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As you find your way around the maze, you will come across two lengths of brick-paved pathways which form the shape of French Horns. Within the middle of the one horn is a tiered alpine garden with the symbolic ‘Joy of Living’ sculpture, designed by sculptor John Robinson, at its centre. Within the other horn sits a spiral water sculpture, designed by international sculpture Giles Rayner, that caught Hilary’s eye at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show one year.
Elsewhere across the two-acre space, you can see a large pond that acts as a haven for wildlife, a fruit rich orchard, delicate cherry blossom and a human sundial. If you’re lucky, you might even get to meet Dizzy and Cracker, Jim and Hilary’s lovely cats.
Music Maze
Image credit: Music Maze at Balsham
The maze may look remarkable, but let’s not forget what mazes are really about – finding your way. Jim and Hilary have also created a range of fun and exciting games for visitors to play within the maze as they find their way. Visit their website to learn more.
  • Location: Balsham, Cambridge
  • Open by arrangement: April-October
  • Price: TBC upon booking

56 St Agnes Road

56 St Agnes Rd
Image credit: Michael Cullen
2020 has probably become a blur of lockdowns and restrictions for many of us, but one thing we did find ourselves doing is taking up new hobbies or exploring existing passions more deeply. Michael and Alison Cullen certainly took advantage of this unexpected extra time at home and used it to reflect upon and perfect their lovely garden at 56 St Agnes Road in readiness for 2021. It has since been recommended by NGS as a must-visit garden this year.
Just a short distance from Moseley – the South Birmingham suburb known for its bustling nightlife scene – is the tranquil retreat that is now referred to as ‘in a lockdown garden’.
56 St Agnes Rd
Image credit: Michael Cullen
Despite opening for the NGS for six consecutive years previously, owners Alison and Michael Cullen were forced to take a break last year when pay-for-entry gardens had to close. Initially, they relished the freedom of being able to maintain the garden without the pressure of opening it to the public.
Michael says: ‘During this time of dislocation and confinement, the garden was a source of enormous solace and joy.’
However, this novelty quickly faded.
‘We began to miss the delight of sharing our garden with others, some of whom have no garden to enjoy,’ he explains.
So, when the local community action group, Moseley in Bloom, invited them to submit a virtual garden tour, Alison and Michael jumped at the opportunity. This video has now had over 800 views.

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Encouraged by this, they decided to open their garden for the NGS again in 2021.
Within this medium-sized, urban garden with curving borders surrounding a formal lawn, you will find plenty of Acer trees complemented by planting in shades of blue, white and pink.
‘The seasonal colour changes of the foliage are spectacular,’ adds Michael.
A key feature is the sizeable Victorian-style pond at the far end of the garden, edged with a wrought iron fence. It is home to over 40 goldfish and a central fountain as well as Lilies and Irises.
56 St Agnes Rd
Image credit: Michael Cullen
Michael continues: ‘The gentle sound of running water adds to a sense of peacefulness and grace.’
Something which you may not expect to see is Alison and Michael’s impressive collection of contemporary sculptures, made by professional artists from South Africa, Italy and the UK, which adorn the immaculately maintained garden.
Following the lockdowns, Alison and Michael are looking forward to welcoming the public once again and helping them to reap the mental benefits their garden provides.
56 St Agnes Rd
Image credit: Michael Cullen
‘For those without access to a garden, the NGS provides the chance to visit some of the loveliest in the country, including many urban gardens like ours,’ says Michael.
‘Though deep in the West Midlands conurbation, our garden is a very special oasis that evokes a sense of calm in us. Our visitors seem to experience the same response.’
  • Location: 56 St Agnes Road, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 9PN
  • Price: adult £3, children go free

Old Camps

Old Camps
Image credit: Old Camps
If you’d have visited this site in Newbury thousands of centuries ago, you’d have come across a Roman Camp and Bath House. Fast forward to 2021 and it is a breathtaking, magical garden you’ll want to linger in.
As featured on BBC Gardeners' World, Old Camps offers wow-factor from every angle with wonderful prairie planting, an enchanting Knot Garden, exuberant subtropical schemes, panoramic views of Watership Down and much more.

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Despite being set over a single acre, terraces and a variety of garden rooms are cleverly incorporated into the design and give the impression of a far larger space. It’s no wonder it’s termed ‘a designer’s dream.’
Garden owner, landscape designer and NGS volunteer Adam Vetere explains that he first opened Old Camps for the NGS in 2017, with hopes of sharing the garden during the different seasons while also raising money for nursing charities supported by the NGS.
Old Camps
Image credit: Old Camps
Visit in mid-July and the Prairie Border, inspired by Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, is a captivating sight. Measuring just over 26m in length, gorgeous Purple Coneflower, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ and ‘Moerheim Beauty’ are set against majestic Golden Oats and Salvia ‘Amistad’.
The Tropical Border will draw your gaze as it reaches its peak in August with 3m tall bananas (Musa Basjoo), Cannas, Hedychiums, Dahlias and Brugmansia transporting you to the Equatorial regions of our planet.
Old Camps
Image credit: Old Camps
From November onwards, the Winter Garden is a must-see as the leaves turn crimson and eventually fall to reveal the stunning Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ and Rubus cockburnianus. Their colours are accentuated in low winter light by a foreground of dark planting.
Meanwhile, Aloe striatula, Fascicularia bicolor and Dasylirion ‘Wheeleri’ enjoy the sunny and fiercely drained location of the Desert Garden while remaining in the bed all year round, with slight winter protection.
Old Camps
Image credit: Nicola Stocken
Prepare to be blown away by the Knot Garden! Designed and planted by the previous owners, it features a beautifully symmetrical design of four quadrants, covered by a pergola shimmering with the purple haze of a striking Wisteria.
The Ravine Garden which is home to Ferns, Acanthus and Giant echiums and vivid Alliums ‘Purple Sensation’ and runs alongside the property and the Potager are the latest additions to the garden.
Old Camps
Image credit: Old Camps
Adam says: ‘The gardens were designed to be good for the soul and mind in today’s fast-paced life. The design transports you to another place, where your mind can flow and unwind; it is a real tonic, allowing you to recharge your batteries ready for life’s next challenge!’
  • Location: Newbury Road, Headley, Thatcham, Berkshire, RG19 8LG
  • Opening for the NGS: 10am-5pm, Saturday 7th & Sunday 8th August
  • Open by arrangement: June-September
  • Price: adult on NGS open weekend £7.50, group during non-open weekend (including guided tour and refreshments) 12.50, child free
  • Facebook & Instagram: @gardensatoldcamps