Virtual Open Gardens Beats The Lockdown

Determined not to let Coronavirus beat them, one Bucks village took its Open Gardens online and raised a fortune for charity

Winchmore Hill’s gardeners are a quiet undemonstrative bunch but, once a year, at the start of summer they open their gates to visitors from far and wide. Their Open Gardens has been a calendar fixture for more than a decade welcoming hundreds of guests and raising thousands for various charities in the process.

When the lockdown was announced in March, gardeners in the village did what gardeners were doing everywhere and retreated outside among the dahlias and delphiniums, the foxgloves and the fuschias. The assumption was the gardens would be a solitary haven this year rather than put on public display, but when Rennie Grove Hospice Care got in touch Winchmore Hill’s horticulturalists answered the call.

The charity was in desperate straits as, with its shops shuttered and fund raisers furloughed, money was just not coming through the door. Was there, they asked, any way that Open Gardens could continue to provide a financial lifeline to support their vital work? The organiser, Phil Savage, saw the need and was determined to do what he and his gardeners could to help.

‘We haven’t been as affected as some communities by Covid 19,’ he said, ‘but our gardens have been an oasis amid the chaos and we really wanted to share that. When Rennie Grove got in touch, we couldn’t let a year go by without at least trying to do our bit.’

Coming up with the idea of a virtual Open Gardens was the easy part: delivering it was something else. Fortunately another Winchmore Hill resident, Tom Howie, is a sports cameraman who was sat at home twiddling his thumbs in frustration with the cancelation of the events he would normally be filming. He was only too willing to have a new project to get stuck into and, armed with an iPhone, a smile and not much else the pair set out to persuade gardeners to take part.

Most of the gardeners had little or no experience with the world of TV and were understandably hesitant to put themselves in front of the camera. It would have been easy to let the gardens do the talking but, as Tom said, ‘everyone likes a story’.

He followed a simple formula: put the gardeners in three or four locations and get them to tell the story to the camera. Then he filled in the picture with cutaways and some judicious editing. The result blew everyone away with ten miniature epic films ranging from quintessential cottage gardens to an African themed space and the manicured lawns of the local manor house.

‘It’s safe to say, the videos went way beyond what we thought we could produce,’ said Phil Savage. ‘Tom really captured the personalities of the gardeners as well as showcasing what their green fingers had achieved.’

‘We built a simple website, uploaded the videos via YouTube and the result was amazing with visitors from right around the world coming to look at what we’d done.’

The gardeners, other villagers and Rennie Grove shared the links and money started pouring in to the justgiving page set up for the purpose. A week after the website first went live, the amount donated was already ten times what Open Gardens would normally raise with two local supporters pledging £1000 each to match donations from family and friends.

‘With those big donations in the bank we set ourselves a target of £3000 but we’ve already gone well past that,’ said Phil. ‘We’re only a small village but the response from locals has been so generous. They’ve also shared the links far and wide so we’ve picked up donations from all as far afield as Indonesia, America and Australia.’

‘Knowing that the money is all going to such a fantastic cause has really touched people but the real stars have been the gardeners. They have all embraced the project and, it’s safe to say, we’re all delighted with the result.’

For Rennie Grove Hospice Care the money is desperately needed at a time when demand for their service is running as high as ever. You can visit Winchmore Hill Open Gardens, view the gardens and donate to this extremely worth cause at https://www.winchmorehillra.com/

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