The National Garden Scheme has supported the QNI since 1927 and is our single biggest funder.

To find out about open gardens near you, visit the National Garden Scheme website.

We are enormously grateful to the National Garden Scheme, which funds the Queen’s Nurse programme and a wide range of other activities of our charity, helping to improve patient care for people of all ages in their own homes and communities, when they need it most.


The QNI was originally founded with money donated by the women of Britain for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, hence it’s original name: Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Institute for Nurses. A second collection was made ten years later on her Diamond Jubilee in 1897. However, money was always short and fundraising had to continue for the charity to survive.

In 1926 at a meeting of the Institute’s Council, Ms Elsie Wagg came up with the idea to raise funds by opening private gardens to the public and charging admission. The proceeds would go to support the QNI and the district nursing services that were affiliated with it. The National Garden Scheme was born.

The first gardens open

In June 1927, 349 private gardens opened, including Sandringham in Norfolk and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Members of the public paid one shilling each to enter. The scheme was so successful it was continued into September by which time over six hundred gardens had opened and over £8000 was raised. In following years a network of county organisers was established to encourage and support garden owners to re-open their gardens annually. As well as the Royal Family, the Royal Horticultural Society, Country Life magazine, the BBC and the Automobile Association were all early supporters. By 1930 the number of gardens opened reached 900 and Sir Winston Churchill and Vita Sackville-West were among those who opened famous private gardens to the public.

The Second World War

The Second World War severely curtailed the scheme as gardeners downed tools, ornamental gardens were sacrificed to the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign and estates were requisitioned. With the end of the war, the Royal Family led the way in rebuilding support for the scheme and opening gardens including Sandringham, Frogmore, Harewood and Coppins. From 1947, the National Trust also played an increasing role, opening estates that had been surrendered to the Exchequer by their former owners in lieu of tax and death duties.

A growing role

In 1948 the NHS came into being but fundraising continued, particularly to support nurses in financial need. In 1980 the National Garden Scheme became an independent charity and now funds a whole range of nursing and caring charities. Nearly 3700 gardens now open each year and some £3.5m is raised by garden owners. As well as the QNI, other beneficiary charities include Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Carers Trust – a full list of the beneficiaries is here.

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