This summer, UK independent schools are opening their gardens to the public as part of the National Garden Scheme, which gives visitors access to over 3,500 private gardens in England and Wales to raise money for nursing and health charities. (The gardens are only open on certain dates and tickets must be pre-booked).
We take a look at some of the UK schools taking part, and what makes their gardens so beautiful, brilliant and beneficial.
This Dorset all-girls day and boarding prep school has a two-acre working kitchen garden and a walled garden within its spacious grounds. The fruit and vegetables grown at Hanford School supply the school kitchen to make soups, salads, puddings for the girls’ lunches and dinners -and the lemons harvested in the greenhouses are used in cakes.
Gardening lessons with the school’s Head Gardener Chi Chi Dunford are on the timetable for all girls, where they learn every stage of the growing process from sowing seeds and to pulling rhubarb and picking flowers. This is a country school that truly believes in the value of an outdoor education. Manure from the school stables is taken to make compost to put on the raised beds; every girl plants her own fruit tree on the school grounds; and there’s a large sign-up for the after-school gardening club.
Located in Wiltshire, this all-through day and boarding school is blessed with a huge amount of space and natural beauty. Westonbirt School is very much an outdoor school, one that believes in the benefits of fresh air and nature. It has 28 acres of grounds, which include the former private garden of Robert Holford, founder of Westonbirt Arboretum, and formal Victorian gardens with a walled Italian garden.
With rare exotic trees and shrubs, the gardens at Westonbirt provide a beautiful setting for lessons across the curriculum, whether students are dressing up as ancient Greeks in the Italian Gardens, conducting science investigations in the meadow, or cooking in the spinney during a Forest School session.
Situated in an idyllic location with a 100-acre campus in the Devon hills, Blundell’s is an all-through co-ed school that offers many advantages of a rural education. The Blundell’s Garden is used as an outdoor classroom where students learn about gardening, can enjoy moments of peace and tranquillity, and study parts of the curriculum from horticulture to improving biodiversity and sustainability. It’s a venue for termly community events and home to the Blundell’s Garden Café, which sells drinks, soups and cakes made using homegrown ingredients.
Students take what they have learnt on campus to volunteer in a local hospice gardens. They have created a vegetable garden to supply the school kitchens, created a wildlife pond, cut flower beds, built a chicken run and planted an area of wildflowers with outdoor seating area.
One of the first things you’ll notice as you arrive at this prep school in Bristol is its sensational gardens and breathtaking grounds, filled with tree houses, climbing frames, tropical plants. There’s also a Pets’ Corner at The Downs Prep with guinea fowl, rabbits and chickens.
The school, which was once part of a wider estate including the well-known Tyntesfield National Trust property, values the connection between nature and student wellbeing. It means that the outdoors plays a huge part of school life, and students can often be seen climbing trees-climbing and playing in the ‘hobbit house’ and wooden castles within the grounds.
Formerly a small Georgian country estate, this co-ed prep school is set within mature parkland in Surrey. Historical features at Hall Grove School include an icehouse, lake, woodland walks, rhododendrons and azaleas. Outdoor learning is seen as essential to a complete education here, and the school has outdoor woodland classrooms, a beautifully restored walled garden where students to learn about horticulture, and a small school farm with a resident flock of sheep.
There’s a community of over 400 boys and girls here, and 40 acres of land to explore. The walled garden is home to apples and pears, a fruit cage, a newly planted vinery (the school hopes to harvest its very own Hall Grove wine in the future!) and flower gardens, as well as vegetable plots where students plant seasonal produce to be used in the school kitchens.