How to organise a local open gardens event…

February 17th, 2014
Posted In: Garden style & living

You could organise a local open gardens day. It brings neighbours together, and raises money for charity.

On June 26th 2016, our garden will be open to the public – as will 35 others in the town of Faversham. It’s one of the many open garden schemes in Britain’s towns and villages this summer.

Nosing around fellow middle-sizers’  gardens is heaven – you don’t necessarily get the standards of Sissinghurst, but you do get inspiration, plus a very good idea of how others deal with the sort of problems you have.

How to organise a local open gardens event - choose the right time of year for local gardens

I’m hoping the lavender will be out at the end of June for our ‘open garden’.

I’m part of the committee organising the Faversham Open Gardens, or to give it its full name: The Faversham Society Open Gardens and Garden Market Day. So I thought I’d blog about how we set it up.

First we considered the name. The scheme used to be called ‘Secret Gardens’, which is a great name, but it had stopped two years earlier. With a completely new committee, we felt it was important to start entirely from scratch.

Faversham's local open gardens event is one of the biggest in the South East

Most gardens are within walking distance of Faversham’s medieval market place. Sorry this picture is a bit wintry – it’ll be all plants and gorgeousness on June 26th!

For a while we called ourselves ‘Garden Safari’ as all the gardens are within walking distance, but then we added a garden-related market, and we started to worry about people thinking they’d see animals….The upshot is that it is now ‘Open Gardens & Garden Market Day.’

Start with an ‘open gardens’ committee

Of course, the first real challenge is to get together a committee. No-one wants to be first to volunteer in case they end up doing everything on their own.

How to organise an open gardens day

‘If you do it, I’ll do it’ is a good start, and soon we had 6 or 7 volunteers. Fortunately, it is a mix of those who have lived here for a long time and newcomers, so there’s a wide range of experience (and local contacts).

We started having meetings in November 2013 for a June 2014 event. (note:since then we have always had one meeting before Christmas, monthly meetings after Christmas and a ‘wash-up’ meeting immediately after the event).

The roles are:

You can double up on jobs, but the following need to be done:

We’ve found that local companies are generous in their support – taking advertisements in a guide book is a good investment.

We debated how much to charge for advertising, and have kept it very modest. We’ve also linked up with another major local event, Faversham Open House, and many companies take an ad in both guide books for just £60.

Publicity is important

When planning publicity, remember that glossy magazines work about 4-5 months in advance, local newspapers around 10 days in advance and don’t forget local radio (around 3 weeks in advance).

BBC Radio Kent’s popular Sunday Gardening programme has been hugely supportive to Faversham Open Gardens (see how here!)

Get local bloggers involved too – here is my post on the 2015 Open Gardens event. There’s usually a ‘contact me’ page on a blog.

Give flyers out to local gardening clubs and societies, and ask other open gardens schemes if you can give them flyers to put out. People in the gardening world are very helpful to each other.

Local shops, libraries and cafe will usually take or display flyers. We used to print a larger poster for windows, but found that people didn’t want to put anything too big in the window, so we decided the larger size wasn’t worth it.

Supermarkets have local charity noticeboards. Town councils have ‘what’s on’ boards. People with windows near the street will often put flyers up.

Many organisations will only put up flyers for a registered charity – if you’re fund-raising or backed by a charity, don’t forget to have the charity logo and registered charity number on everything you print.

Most importantly, ask people to spread the word. Word of mouth is the most powerful publicity of all.

BBC Radio Kent's outside broadcast van

Andy Garland and BBC Radio Kent Sunday Gardening have been wonderful.

And so are photographs!

Get people involved in photographing the gardens – you’ll need photographs for publicity (try to have some that are high-res).

Over the years, you can add to the collection of photos, but it’s essential to ‘think photo’ on the day itself, and the weeks leading up to it. A talented photographer on the committee would be a dream.

For the first event, you’ll be asking garden owners if they have any photographs or finding photos on the Internet.

But do not ever ‘right-click’ and download a photo without finding out whether it is free or not. Always check who owns the copyright and whether it can be used. The fines for using photos without checking copyright are dreadful!

We found that fairly close-up pictures of flowers – with some ‘garden’ context – worked best for the leaflets and flyers.

Local organisations and friends will also tweet and Facebook the event, which will be much more effective if you can let them have photos. We set up a Facebook page for the event, which we use for local garden news throughout the year.

Hang banners to publicise the open gardens event.

We also had banners made but want to find a way of stopping them look crinkly…they are very useful in the streets, but ask permission of whoever owns the railings. Banners don’t need planning permission if they are for a registered charity and are under a certain size (like ours).

It’s essential to keep track of what money goes out and comes in, or you won’t really know how much money the event makes.

The main outlay is printing the guide books and flyers. The previous open gardens scheme printed them out on the Faversham Society’s printer. As soon as you have larger numbers (eg over 100) using a professional printer is just as good value for money, gives a more professional finish and saves on committee time.

Better to spend that time spreading the word to get more people through the gates!

Monthly meetings

We meet around once a month from November to June. We started by brain-storming for possible gardens.

We came up with a wide range – from tiny courtyards, jam-packed with plants, to quite large town gardens (what I call ‘middle-sized’), with lots of different approaches: a ‘sculpture’ garden, a lovely waterside garden, a wildlife-friendly garden and so on.

Maybe not everyone will like every garden – but that’s part of the richness of it all.

It’s fascinating to see how different gardens can be, even if they’re in much the same situation. And gardeners love to share and to discover new things, so you need to cater for a variety of tastes.

How much to charge?

And what should the ‘ticket’ be? We charge £6 entry, for which people get the guide book (which is the entry ticket). It lists the gardens, with descriptions, plus everything else that’s going on plus advertisements, maps and a place to eat.

But when two people go round together, they often said ‘why do we need two guide books?’ We have debated endlessly whether to sell the guide books separately from the tickets – but it would be difficult to work out how many to print.

The conclusion? A ticket is £6 to include one guide book. Two people together pay £10 with one guide book and one paper ticket which is only valid to enter gardens when accompanied by a guide book.

Phew. I can’t tell you how many hours were spent discussing it.

Don’t forget insurance

One important point: you need outside access to an ‘open garden’ (ie through a side gate or via a driveway), as the event will need public liability insurance, which won’t necessarily cover entrance through a home.

For more about insuring your open garden event see here.

How to organise a local open gardens – find gardens!

Between us we knew quite alot of people in Faversham, so mostly we were able to ask people we knew, but Fern has been amazing at knocking on doors and simply saying ‘we think you have a lovely garden – will you join us?’ As she points out, it’s a great way for a newcomer to get to know people.

We don’t have a ‘standard’ – we believe that if you love your garden and are generous enough to share it with people, then people will appreciate it. Everybody’s taste is different.

We’ve ended up with 30+ private gardens, plus several ‘community’ open spaces (public gardens that are maintained by volunteers), and an exceptionally pretty set of allotments.

There are also 30+ garden market stalls, selling plants, crafts, foods and vintage garden ware.

Faversham has wonderful markets

The Garden Market will have plants, crafts, local food and vintage collectables.

Tea and cake?

People love home-made cake. Offering garden teas can double or treble your fund-raising. But it’s alot of work – make sure that gardens offering teas have some extra volunteer help.

Not all the teas offered in Faversham Open Gardens benefit the Faversham Society as it’s nice to give people the opportunity to support their own charities.

If you don’t have pubs and cafes nearby, then garden teas are very important. Faversham has a range of cafes and pubs, so people will always be able to sit down for a break.


Faversham has lots of cafes

We mark gardens offering teas on the guide book, so that people can plan.

Some Faversham Open Gardens also offer other things to buy, such as plants, artwork or even car-boot style bric-a-brac. Others have floral demonstrations, hen-keeping demos and other interesting extras.

It all depends on how much space individual gardens have and whether there is anywhere undercover that is not weather dependent.

And a children’s programme

Making garden visiting fun for young children helps parents. And learning about gardens and how things grow is important.

We have a ‘find the golden pebble’ competition. Garden owners (only those that are happy to participate) hide a golden pebble and when a child finds it, they take it back to the Market Place to exchange it for a child gardening prize, such as easy seeds to sow or children’s gardening aprons. We’re always interested in companies that want to sponsor this.

Two years later

It is now over 2 years after this post first went live and Faversham Open Gardens & Garden Market Day is making between £3000-£5000 each year for the Faversham Society.

Around 850-1,000 people pay to go round the gardens, and more shop at the market.

There is a great atmosphere on the day. People walk around town carrying the distinctive guide books, greeting other people they see carrying the books.

The garden owners have said how delightful all the visitors are. And we got an email from one of the market stall-holders saying how friendly the market had been.

Faversham Open Gardens 2016 flyer

This year’s poster!

We have 37 gardens in 2016, and about one third of them have never opened before. So put Sunday June 26th in your diary and pray for some good weather! And for previews of the gardens as they get ready, ‘like’ us on Facebook here. Thank you!

Tickets £6 a head (2 for £10 to include one guide book) available from May onwards from the Fleur de Lis, 15 Preston Street, Faversham, Kent ME13 8JL. Also from Faversham Market Place and the Abbey School on 26th June.

Look out for the Faversham Open Gardens stall in the Market Place on June 18th and 26th.

Look out for the Faversham Open Gardens stall in the Market Place on Saturday June 18th and Sunday 26th.

We have a stall selling tickets in the Market Place on Saturday June 18th, too.

And do please spread the word by sharing this – thank you so much!

2 comments on "How to organise a local open gardens event…"

  1. I’d like to draw attention to the Faversham Society’s new website which includes a page on the Open Gardens


    1. Will do – I’ll do a couple of posts on the Open Gardens Day on 29th June and will mention the website on them. Thanks for getting in touch.

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