Last summer some brave owners did open their gardens to the public through the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), but few in London had the space to make social distancing work.

So garden visits, and the teas vital to them, were mostly put on hold. Now the London ‘Yellow Book’ is offering the chance to go visiting again, with the proviso that it is essential to check the website in case of cancellations and, in some cases, to book a timed slot.

Ham & High: Joan Arnold's NGS open gardenJoan Arnold's NGS open garden (Image: © Nigel Sutton)

I spoke to Susan Bennett, Sue Whittington and Joan Arnold, all veteran garden openers who are inviting visitors in May, to see how they were feeling about it all. Glad to be able share their beautiful spaces again, but slightly hesitant about the necessary restrictions seemed the general tone. As Susan Bennett, of 5 St Regis Close says: "It’s been so difficult for the NGS staff to sort all the requirements out, especially with small gardens, it’s as though you are driving but can’t get into the next gear".

Ham & High: Joan Arnold's garden is open through the NGSJoan Arnold's garden is open through the NGS (Image: © Nigel Sutton)

The ‘requirements’ include things visitors would hardly think about, like the methods they can use to pay for entry/teas/plants (cash, via a card reader, direct into a bank account?) how to avoid a crush around the cakes, should cups be disposable?

Sue Whittington, of Southwood Lodge thinks of serving teas through her kitchen window, where there is more outside space than around her previous tea station, but is still undecided about the disposable cups.

Despite being an old hand with the NGS, Joan Arnold is opening her present garden in Deansway, for the first time, having only moved back to her native London quite recently. They chose the house for the garden, but it needed a lot doing. Last year was to have been its debut, now it will be early this May. You can detect the voice of experience in: "I like to open before the plants start falling over."

There are three different ‘rooms’ in the back garden, with a shady, woodland-planted bit at the end. Expect tulips, clematis, hyacinths, lily of the valley and maybe roses beginning to flower. (check website and book in advance or chance just paying on arrival) May 2, 5 St Regis Close, N10 2DE, 2.00 – 6.30. May 7, Deansway, N2 0NF, 12.30 – 6.00. Deferred until May 23, Southwood Lodge, N6 5EA, 2.00 – 5.30


Don’t miss the renowned Plant Heritage Plant Sale, returning (all being well) to St Michael’s School, Highgate on Saturday May 1, 10.00 – 3.30. Always a treat, but especially important this year, to support the independent nurseries who grow and bring their wonderful plants. Wear masks, and pay by contactless cards as much as possible. If it’s too busy you may have to wait to get in.

Sow bee-friendly flowers, bees need all the help we can give.