The National Gardens Scheme has a rich and interesting history that is closely connected with nursing in the UK.
William Rathbone, a Liverpool merchant, employed a nurse to care for his wife at home. After his wife’s death, Rathbone kept the nurse on to help poor people in the neighbourhood. Later, Rathbone raised funds for the recruitment, training and employment of nurses to go into the deprived areas of the city.
Late Nineteenth Century
Based on the idea of local nursing set up by Rathbone, `District` nursing spread across the country. With support from Florence Nightingale and Queen Victoria, the movement became a national voluntary organisation setting standards and training nurses.
The organisation decided to raise a special fund in memory of their patron, Queen Alexandra, who had recently died. The fund would pay for training and would also support nurses who were retiring. A council member, Miss Elsie Wagg, came up with the idea of raising money for charity through the nation’s obsession with gardening, by asking people to open their gardens to visitors and charging a modest entry fee that would be donated.
The National Gardens Scheme was founded. Individuals were asked to open up their gardens for 'a shilling a head'. In the first year 609 gardens raised over £8,000. A year later, the district nursing organisation became officially named the Queen’s Nursing Institute.
By now a network of volunteer County Organisers had been set up and over 1,000 private gardens were open. Country Life magazine produced a handbook that would become known as 'The Yellow Book' because of its bright cover.
After the Second World War, the National Health Service took on the District Nursing Service, but money was still needed to care for retired nurses and invest in training. The National Gardens Scheme offered to donate funding to the National Trust to restore and preserve important gardens. In return, the National Trust opened many of its most prestigious gardens for the NGS.
Entrance fees were raised to more realistic and useful levels, having been held at one shilling despite much inflation. The gardens began to raise significant donations.
The National Gardens Scheme Charitable Trust was established as an independent charity.
Macmillan Cancer Support joined the list of beneficiary charities. In 1996 Marie Curie (formerly Marie Curie Cancer Care), Help the Hospices and Crossroads (now Carers Trust) also became beneficiary charities.
Since 2010, a different annual ‘guest’ charity has been chosen from recommendations from NGS volunteers.
The Yellow Book is renamed 'Gardens To Visit'.
Since its foundation, the National Gardens Scheme has donated over £45 million to its beneficiary charities, of which nearly £23 million has been donated within the last ten years. The National Gardens Scheme’s commitment to nursing and caring remains constant, and the charity continues to grow and flourish.