Bedford Park Festival Open Gardens celebrates 40 years

Image above: Vivienne Pringle welcomes people to her garden in Bedford Park

Hollyhocks and ham sandwiches

The Bedford Park Festival finished on Sunday with the annual Open Gardens, this year marking its 40th anniversary. More than 300 people oohed and aahed their way through the shrubbery of eleven gardens open to the public to raise money for the Bedford Park Festival charities.

The first Bedford Park Festival Open Gardens took place on 19 June 1983, organised by Freda Darke and Gemma Best. Freda’s husband Leonard was then chairman of the Bedford Park Society and Gemma’s husband Andrew was a key figure in the first Festival in 1967, organised as a campaign to save the beautiful Arts & Crafts houses of Bedford Park, at that time under threat of demolition.

Image above: A selection of the Open Gardens photographs from its 40 year history

First event boosted by a mention in the Evening Standard

Proving that even then, Chiswick was something of a media village, they had managed to get the event covered by the Evening Standard and as a result the turnout and takings (£282.35) ‘exceeded all dreams’.

Then as now, the event ended with cream teas in the Church garden.

“People said the event had been great fun, partly on account of seeing the variety and delights of the gardens and partly because all the host-gardeners had been so friendly and visitor had a chance to meet people” wrote Gemma to Freda. “So it seems to have engendered a pretty good feeling of ‘community’ too.”

Images above: Fenja Anderson’s book Gardening in Bedford Park and a map of the gardens from a previous year

In keeping with the ideals of the first ‘garden suburb’

The Open Gardens was championed by gardening writer Fenja Anderson (1941 – 2020), who lived in Abinger Rd. She even wrote a slim volume on the subject: Gardening in Bedford Park, published in 1988 in association with the Bedford Park Society.

In it she wrote: ‘Much of Bedford Park was built on land once planted as gardens by a Curator of the Royal Horticultural Society. Its roads were laid out so as to preserve the existing trees. It became the first garden suburb and keen local interest in gardening continues today.”

Originally a fashion artist, gardening became her main passion; she wrote articles for magazines such as Country Life and the Good Gardens Guide, provided the illustrations for The Illustrated Garden Planter by Diana Saville and wrote and illustrated Lost Gardens of Gertrude Jekyll.

The running of Open Gardens was then taken over by Martin Landy and Jenny John, followed by Susan Porter and Louise Grattan and most recently by Carol Douglas, Margaret Kirkham, Justin Morris-Wyatt and Di Coia.

For the Golden Jubilee of the Bedford Park Festival in 2017 a Roll of Honour was drawn up for the gardens shown most often between 1986 and 2017. Louise and Patrick Grattan came top, who had showed their garden 14 times, followed by Tracey and Ian Hall, Louise and David Kaye, Kate and David Bowes, Sarah and Mark Radcliffe, Caroline and Clive Cookson, Ian Renwick and Chris O’Hare, Dottie Irving and Sheila Thompson.

Image above: A selection of the Open Gardens photographs from its 40 year history

A cottage garden vibe

Looking at photographs from the Open Gardens’ 40 year history you can see a lot of the owners tend to stay pretty much within the theme of the English cottage garden, with hollyhocks, roses and lavender much in evidence, but Carol Douglas told The Chiswick Calendar there is quite a bit of variety among the gardens on show. Four gardens were opened this year by owners who had not opened them before, one of which was influenced by Japanese and Scandinavian design.

Carol has been running Open Gardens with Margaret Kirkham for 13 years, joined more recently by Justin Morris-Wyatt and Di Coia, and she says over the past ten years or so it has become much more popular. People are always interested to talk to gardeners who do their garden themselves, as they like to pick up tips.

“We often have a range of small gardens done in different styles” she said.

“I really got into gardening when we had our first little garden and I loved going to see gardens.”

Is it hard to get people to take part?

“No, Margaret and I know a lot of people locally and Justin is a dog walker, so you’ve got that community feeling and you build up contacts.”

Images above: Visitors study the Open Gardens map; Cream teas in the Church garden afterwards; Some of this year’s garden owners attend a welcome drinks; Garden owner Raj Parkash proposes thanks to the Open Gardens organisers Margaret Kirkham, Carol Douglas, Justin Morris Wyatt and (out of shot) Di Coia; Photographs, Torin Douglas. 

“Like stepping into a Virginia Woolf novel”

Visitors to the gardens this year picked up their maps from the parish hall of St Michael & All Angels Church and ended their tour with tea in the Church gardens. Garden owner Raj Parkash  thanked to the current group of organisers publicly for the work they have put in.

One visitor to the gardens, Anne-Marie Fyfe, commented on social media:

“Glorious end to @BedfordParkFestival at Sunday’s Open Gardens: different dozen every time, this year’s ranging from Tuscan to Zen-like stillness, a beach-pebble abacus, a sky-high sequoia, Lady of Shallot rose, & this front path that felt like stepping into a Virginia Woolf novel.”

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Beford Park Festival Open Gardens with Tracey and Ian Hall

See also: WildChiswick – Wildlife photography competition