Chris Neil and the National Gardens Scheme

PUBLISHED: 16:54 15 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:32 20 February 2013

Chris Neil and the National Gardens Scheme

Chris Neil and the National Gardens Scheme

Howard Franklin visits Edge Villa near Yockleton and meets Chris Neil, County Organiser of the National Gardens Scheme

Gardens where everyone is welcome

Howard Franklin visits Edge Villa near Yockleton and meets Chris Neil, County Organiser of the National Gardens Scheme

Pictures by Judy Mainwaring

What could be more delightful than a summers afternoon strolling around a beautiful garden in Shropshire, admiring the results of the owners handiwork and discovering new plants and unusual colour combinations to use in your own garden?

The National Gardens Scheme allows you to do just that. The schemes chairman in Shropshire is the engaging Christine Neil of Edge Villa near Yockleton. Chriss love of gardening began as a child. With nearly an acre of land at her family home in London her parents grew their own vegetables and Chris and her brother and sister were allocated a patch to tend, leading to much sibling competition.

The family moved to Nottingham where Chris was educated at Nottingham Girls High School. She trained as a nurse working in London, Kingston-upon-Thames and Birmingham and met future husband Bill Neil after a classic hospital doctor and nurse romance. Chris served on the General Committee of the League of Friends of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital for 20 years and was Chairman from 2000 until 2003. She was also a long-serving committee member and Chairman of Shrewsbury NADFAS.

Their son James is an anaesthetist and daughter Becky lives in Singapore with her husband and two children.

In Shropshire, where Bill worked as a consultant at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital before his retirement, the couple lived originally at The Red House at Edge, near Yockleton, where they designed a stunning garden which was open to the public for the Friends of the RSH for 20 years and raised many thousands of pounds.

Moving to their present home, just a hundred yards away, they created a new garden from scratch and opened to the public for NGS in 2006. There are two idyllic acres nestling in the South Shropshire hills, with stunning herbaceous borders, chickens in the fruit orchard, a self-sufficient vegetable garden, a dewpond surrounded by purple elder irises and candelabra primulas and my personal favourite a collection of sweet scented roses. It really is the quintessential Good Life but not without effort and expertise, Chris and Bill are both are hands-on gardeners.
Edge Villa will next be open to visitors on Sunday, August 22, between 2pm and 5.30pm, when visitors can enjoy the bliss of the garden, take afternoon tea in the sheltered courtyard and treat themselves to a plant from the comprehensive selection on sale at the plant stall.

The National Chairman Penny Snell suggests we all buy the NGS Yellow Book which costs 8.99 and is the guide to all the gardens in Great Britain which are open this summer.

Penny told me profits from this definitive guide are used to support charities such as Marie Curie Nurses, Crossroads Care, and Help the Hospices. She said nothing would be possible in Shropshire without the enthusiasm and dedication of the voluntary county team headed by Chris Neil and her husband Bill, Melinda Laws, David Brown, Fiona Chancellor and Christine Brown.

The National Gardens Scheme began in 1927 as a way of funding the District Nursing Service in big industrial towns and cities when Liverpool socialite Elsie Wagg, the daughter of a wealthy banker, came up with the idea that the gardens of the grand houses could be opened to the masses to help raise money. His Majesty King George V opened the gardens at Sandringham for the first time to support the cause and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales is a keen supporter of the scheme and has praised the shared enterprise throughout England and Wales which offers inspiration, education and, most importantly, diversion for people who visit the gardens.

National Gardens Scheme
Shropshire gardens open in July

Sunday 4:
The Column Allotments, Dark Lane, Shrewsbury; Poplar Cottage Farm, Morville, near Bridgnorth

Tuesday 6: Brownhill House, Ruyton XI Towns

Wednesday 7: Weston Park, Weston-under-Lizard, Shifnal

Sunday 11: Ancoiren, Romsley View, Alveley; Marchamley House, near Market Drayton; Windy Ridge, Church Lane, Little Wenlock

Saturday 17: Dudmaston Hall, Quatt, near Bridgnorth

Sunday 18: Timber Croft, Pentre Hodre, Chapel Lawn, Bucknell

Tuesday 20: Brownhill House, Ruyton XI Towns; Radnor Cottage, Clun

Thursday 22: Preen Manor, Church Preen

Sunday 25th: Jessamine Cottage, Kenley; Valducci Flower and Vegetable Garden, Vicarage Road, Meole Brace, Shrewsbury

For further details of opening times see
Other gardens are open during August, September and October. Chris Neil, County Organiser, can be contacted on 01743 821651

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