Usk Open Gardens

Usk Open Gardens

Usk town, nestled on the river banks, has become quite a byword in the world of flowers.
Since 1981, it has earned an enviable reputation for floral displays and visitors won’t be disappointed during the summer when the town is a riot of colour.

Winner of Wales in Bloom for over thirty years, Usk has also won Britain in Bloom five times, and represented the UK in the European Entente Florale. Last year the town crowned this, winning the International Communities in Bloom, beating off competition from Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy and Hungary. 

Success internationally was secured with the help of what is a fixture on many gardeners’ calendars and a must in the run-up to the RHS at Hampton Court – Usk Open Gardens Weekend. 

On 29th and 30th June, over twenty gardens will open their gates to thousands of visitors. It’s a great chance to visit other people’s gardens, chat to owners, have lunch in a pub or by the river, take afternoon tea, and maybe buy a plant or two (or three or four…) from markets stalls or the two garden centres. 

This year it’s their Silver Anniversary, so they are working really hard to make 2019 even more special. 

It all started in 1994 when, as Cathy Davies, who opens her own child-friendly garden complete with tree house, explained: ‘We asked people if they’d like to open their gardens. Now it’s grown to over 20 gardens and lasts the whole weekend. There is something for everyone, no matter what their gardening interest.’ 

Jan Mundy, Chair of Usk Open Gardens, praised the community groups who volunteer during the weekend: ‘They help with ticket sales, parking, directing visitors to the free buses around town, signposting walking routes between gardens and providing homemade teas.’ 

Usk Open Gardens

All this, plus huge support from local businesses, enabled the group last year to donate £19,500 to organisations like Ty Hafan, St David’s Hospice and North Gwent Cardiac Rehabilitation. Local groups benefitted too, such as Usk Brass Band, Gwent Wildlife Trust and Usk Cat Rescue. Since 1994, over £250,000 has been raised. 

Perhaps the weekend’s highlights are the herbaceous borders at Usk Castle, in itself worth a visit. ‘It’s like a secret castle no-one’s ever found!’ exclaimed one visitor, seeing the peaceful setting, ancient creeper-covered walls and stone towers inviting exploration. Although the castle’s always open, the gardens are best viewed from within the grounds of Castle House, where custodians Rosie and Henry Humphreys live. Usk Open Gardens is one of the few times these gardens are open. 

‘It’s the highlight of our summer,’ commented Rosie, ‘when the weekend attracts the curious, the brave and the active of all ages to walk up the hill to Usk Castle. The gardens date from 1908, so many trees and shrubs are of a good age, contributing something in every season. Rudge Humphreys, who created the gardens, kept a diary, now presented as a leaflet to encourage exploration – did you find the palm tree? Did you recognise the Medlar, taste the Mulberries? Where is the Hydrangea Petiolaris, and the Magnolia Grandiflora?’ 

The herb garden reflects the plants grown when the castle was last occupied 500 years ago. Topiary animals and hedges abound, as well as wonderful 3D wood carvings of animals and birds. The view over the Vale of Usk also tempts visitors to linger. 

One very special garden is owned by Marian Powell, who’s been taking part in the weekend for over 15 years. Renowned for her artistic ability, Marian find gardening therapeutic. Her colourful garden features topiarised shrubs, mature trees, a pond and water feature, hanging baskets and a quirky side passage. 

‘Every year I try to add that wow factor. Alan Titchmarsh described it as a little world of wonder when we featured on Britain’s Best Gardens.’ More fame came when the Duchess of Cornwall visited the garden in 2014 and it also featured in Good Morning Britain. 

Usk Open Gardens

Several gardens feature refreshments, one even providing a pop-up Prosecco and Ice Cream stall. Not that Usk is short of places to refresh the weary visitor. Coffee shops and pubs, restaurants and wine bars, abound so you’re spoiled for choice as you rest from admiring all those flowers. 

People travel from all over Europe, as well as the UK, to enjoy the weekend, with many opting to stay. There are several hotels and pubs with rooms, as well as b&bs within easy distance. 

One returning group comprises 34 keen Canadian gardeners, plus the head of the Canadian National Botanical Gardens. 

‘We just had to include Usk Open Gardens,’ organiser Marjorie Mason enthused. ‘Voted unanimously the best day of our 2013 tour, it’s so special to be invited into private gardens and we so loved Usk.’ 

The whole town is spectacular, particularly Twyn Square, as Usk also gears up for the In Bloom competitions whose volunteers receive enthusiastic support from pubs and shops – even Usk Prison! 

Car parks are free and there’s a free mini bus service around Usk.
Admission is £7.50 for a day or £10 for the weekend. Children aged 14 and under go free. 

For more information, visit www.uskopengardens.com,
phone 01291 672713, or email uskopengardens@gmail.com.