The National Garden Scheme began in 1927; conceived as a living memorial to Queen Alexandra who had been patron of the Jubilee Congress of District Nursing.
Just over 600 private gardens opened their garden gates to the public. George V agreed to open Sandringham House, which had been his mother’s favourite residence and her home for the last few years of her life. Most gardens opened for just one day and charged a shilling; Sandringham opened regularly and charged just 6d.
The garden gate was firmly closed when I visited last Friday but I was fortunate to be able to accompany the head gardener on his tour of inspection before opening for the season the very next day.
Flowering gaily at the entrance was a new breed of hyacinth named Sandringham. Not yet on the market it has been grown by a local breeder, who thought Her Majesty should be the first to trial it.
Interplanted and just showing through are the leaves of white agapanthus, left over from a previous show garden at the annual Sandringham Flower Show held in July.
Nearby and sheltering next to the wall was an Azara microphylla with tiny yellow vanilla scented flowers, an evergreen shrub from Chile and Argentina.
As you walk in there is a plaque mounted on a wooden post celebrating 85 years of supporting the National Garden Scheme. I wondered what head office might be planning five years on. After all, Sandringham has supported the NGS for every year of the ninety years, without exception.
There are some 60 acres of beautifully maintained gardens at Sandringham, and a team of 8 gardeners to manage them. Martin is not a local boy but from Lincolnshire; he originally came here for a year, wishing to work in forestry. He ended up staying and has now been here for over 30 years.
Through this semi-wild glade there is a fantastic variety of trees including 12 species of beech and over 20 kinds of oak.
The white magnolia glows through the pines and birches,
and the camellias are looking good having not suffered rain damage as in some previous years.
Much emphasis is made on winter flowering plants for the Her Majesty’s visit around Christmas. We encounter shrubs of sweet smelling Box Sarcoccoca, and Witch Hazel Hamamelis mollis, now over. Snowdrops are much in evidence, they too have now completed their flowering duties.
The bright and translucent Viburnum betulifolium has held on to its red berries all through the winter.
We move along the paths in Martin’s buggy, his secateurs tucked into the glove compartment. The road that we can hear runs to our right. In the early days it was so close to the house that the press were able to take photographs of the Royal Family through the gates. Understandably the road was moved away and the solid carrstone wall was built.
We pause to glimpse the house beyond the old sycamore. Daffodils are grown to be picked for the house, and then planted out in drifts in the more informal areas.
Allium triquetrum, the three-cornered leek, named after its three-cornered shape of the flower stalk, grows under the wooded canopy.
Another type of tree providing interest on this rather grey day is Acer Nikoense, the flowers caught by the cold March wind. The tree labels are clear and helpfully give the date of planting. This was planted in November 1975
We ease away from the woodland area onto the mown lawns towards the house. This masterful statue, recently installed has pride of place watching those visitors fortunate to be invited to the house.
Behind ‘Estimate’ the winner of the Ascot Gold Cup in 2013, is a splendid Oak planted by Queen Victoria.
The paths taking us around are smooth, easy for buggies and wheelchairs. It all appears immaculate but there is still much activity today and Martin is much in demand.
The entire team of gardeners takes over a week to prune these limes Tilia platyphillos Rubra. Work begins immediately after the Her Majesty’s departure in February.
There are several lines of them; this one stretches forward to the bronze-gilded buddha, originally covered by a wooden pagoda.
The Victorian formal bedding, pictured in the NGS booklet A Nurturing Nature, was ploughed up and planted with vegetables during the war. The garden however, remained open throughout.
Now it is neatly mown lawns, grazed in the distance by geese.
Further along Martin has carefully mown an intricate labyrinth,
echoing the shape of the parterre reproduced in an early postcard.
Water plays a large part in the garden. Here it gently meanders down from the lake. The summerhouse, The Nest seen in the distance was built for Queen Alexandra in 1913.
The Pelican was restored a few years ago. When the much anticipated time came to turn on the water everyone was rather dismayed by the dribble that came out from the beak. The Pelican was given to Queen Alexandra by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild of Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire. A letter in the archives shows that Queen Alexandra too had found the water velocity disappointing.
This photograph of the lake appeared in an NGS booklet in the early 1930s
I tried to take capture the same view as it looks today;
The lake appeared on the front cover of the 2002 ‘yellow book’, the NGS guide to open gardens.
This ancient oak which stands by the lake is over 800 years old.
I am grateful to Martin for his time and it has been such an interesting tour which we finish at the museum and tea shop. Here the display board announces the Plant of the Week as Hyacinthus ‘Sandringham’ , which we saw at the entrance.
There wasn’t enough time to visit the Walled garden which is open only by appointment. Martin suggested I returned later in the year around September when it looks at its best.
We can all be grateful to Her Majesty for continuing to open her private garden, ensuring it is so disabled-friendly, and for maintaining her support of the NGS.