February 20, 2008

Gatton Park with the Women's Institute and National Garden Scheme

Glenyce (between Cindy on left and another WI member to right) invited us on an outing to Gatton Park. This gave me first hand exposure to two veritable British Institutions - the Women's Institute and The National Gardens Scheme.

The Women's Institute (WI) has 205,000 members in England, Wales and the Islands. This makes it the largest voluntary women's organisation in the UK. Although originally based in rural areas, the WI is starting to gain popularity among urban and younger women. Glenyce and her friends in the WI enjoy outdoor activities from rambles through the countryside to garden strolls. The gardens in Gatton Park are not often open to the public (usually 1st Sunday of the month) but today they were open as part of the National Garden Scheme (NGS).

Since 1927, the NGS has raised about £30 million per year largely through admission fees charged to visit one of their 3500 (many private) gardens opened on special days. We paid a nominal fee of £3.50 to view the gardens in Gatton Park, knowing these fees would support the gardens in Gatton Park, other gardens and a number of cancer / hospice charities.

We carpooled from Esher to Reigate to visit these gardens designed by "Capability Brown" for the Colman family during the early 20th century. On 250 acres, I thought they looked lovely with snowdrops, heather, daffodils and other spring flowers I could not name. But the Gatton Park supporters say they need significant funding to restore these gardens to their former glory.

We ate lunch in the former manor home, although much of Gatton Hall was destroyed in a fire in 1934. Postcards showed how impressive the main hall was before the fire. I enjoyed the postcard of ice skaters, the women dressed in knee or mid length skirts with no apparent leg coverings. Gatton Park is now home to the Royal Alexandra and Albert School as well as the lovely St Andrew's Church.
When we returned to Esher, Glenyce entertained us with scones and tea in her conservatory overlooking her beautiful garden and a golf course. Country living is a bit more peaceful than frenetic London.

No comments: