John and Judy McNeil Wilson have been opening their garden, and supporting charity in the process, for the past 20 years. And what makes it all the more remarkable is that the house had been been unoccupied for seven years – and the garden totally neglected – when they moved in back in the ’60s!
Judy McNeil Wilson has always been interested in gardening, having completed a three-year course in horticulture after leaving school. And that interest is showing no signs of abating, as she and her husband John have just celebrated 20 years of opening their garden in support of the National Garden Scheme in Norfolk. As a thank you, the county organiser for Norfolk delivered a new garden hand fork to them, in their beautiful garden at Chestnut Farm, West Beckham, near Holt.
Judy explains how they got involved in the scheme: ‘I was first asked all these years ago if I would open our garden by Tessa McCosh who was involved with the Norfolk Group of the NGS. At the time I was quite flattered to think that it might be worthwhile and after a little thought I said yes.’
Opening twice a year, the mature three-acre garden has a collection of many rare and unusual plants and trees. But it hasn’t always looked the way it does now. ‘When we moved here in 1963 the house had been unoccupied for seven years. The garden had been totally neglected and was an interesting challenge! I have always enjoyed sharing the garden and especially when able to raise money for so many worthwhile charities.’
Chestnut Farm annually supports the Snowdrop Festival, showing their 100-plus varieties of snowdrops, as well as drifts of crocus and seasonal flowering shrubs.
A later opening in May sees the appearance of wood anemones and fritillary, a wildflower walk, pond, small arboretum, croquet lawn and colourful herbaceous borders. A May highlight in the garden is the flowering of the Handkerchief tree, Cercis and Camassias.
The garden also opens on a ‘by arrangement’ basis between February and October, which means they are happy to show small groups around the garden on a pre-agreed date.
Julia Stafford Allen is the County Organiser who presented the couple with their celebration garden fork on behalf of the National Garden Scheme. She says: ‘It is an honour to thank John and Judy for their sustained support of our scheme. Gardening is a rewarding but physical past time, and getting a garden ready for visitors, year after year, and twice a year, is a fantastic achievement, and has raised significant funds for our health charities.’
Since its foundation in 1927, The National Garden Scheme has donated over £63 million to its beneficiaries, with current annual donations reaching £3m.
Charities supported by the National Garden Scheme in 2021 include: Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Queen’s Nursing Institute, Carers Trust, Horatios Gardens, ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, Maggie’s, Parkinson’s UK, Treloar’s project, and Perennial.
Judy concludes: ‘It is hard work to maintain a reasonable standard but worth the effort if one is able to give pleasure to others and at the same time raise a reasonable sum of money. Unfortunately, so much depends on the weather and we do pray for a fine day!’
Groups can book a visit by contacting John or Judy by phone or email. Details can be found on the National Garden Scheme website.