For the last 40 years, on the Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday of August 2019 the Suffolk village of Walsham le Willows opens its garden gates to the public as part of the quintessential English summer event, an Open Gardens Weekend.
The weekend is not just about the 30 or so gardens but also live music, art exhibitions, a farmers market, craft stalls and plant stalls and of course, delicious refreshments in two venues, the Memorial Hall and the Priory Room where wonderful light snacks, lunches, teas and cakes, including the famous meringues, are provided by people from the village.
Visitors come not only for the gardens but also the appreciation of the calm and serenity that is created by the event over the two days.
It was with great regret that, owing to the Covid-19 lockdown, the Gardens Weekend Committee had to cancel the 2020 Walsham Gardens Weekend which was to have been the 40th. The event has been cancelled only once before in its history, again due to circumstances beyond the control of the committee.
But a ‘virtual’ substitute was created to keep you going until 2021 when the committee and the village look forward to welcoming visitors again atmosphere and enjoyment of the real event will be back.
“…we had heard about Walsham but never been. We will be back next year…”
Virtual Open Gardens 2020
Click on any title to visit one of the 16 open gardens
A reminder of atmosphere of the real event
“…we go to a lot of open gardens events and this is the best…”
Parking and Facilities
Car parking for the event is well signed and is immediately opposite the church. The main car park often fills up in which case you will be directed to a neighbouring field. Both car parks are well signed and attended. There is also ample parking for coaches on hard standing, although if you are planning a coach party we would welcome call in advance so that we can make suitable arrangements. There is no separate charge for car parking, the only charge being the entry ticket.
Parking for disabled people is available and clearly marked in the car park of the Village Memorial Hall.
Refreshments and toilets are available on arrival at the Priory Room, opposite the Main Car park and the Village Memorial Hall, next to the Bowling Green and in garden 5. There is also a separate toilet outside the Primary School.
The Gardens MiniBus Service travels around the village on both days. The service will run from 10:45 until 18:00 for those who would like a bit of help getting around all the gardens. The bus makes regular circuits of the village. It’s free and available to anyone – just wave it down and get on and then be dropped off at the next garden.
The Entrance charge for the weekend is £7* per person (one day pass) or £10* per person (two day pass). Children under 16 free of charge.
The entrance fee includes copy of our detailed programme of events during the two days and:
• Entrance to all gardens
• Entrance to all other events
• Free parking and free travel on the village bus.
*To enable us to claim GIFT AID the charge includes a voluntary contribution of 10%.
Please make sure you sign a GIFT AID form on arrival.
Visitors can elect to pay the standard entrance fee £6.40 (one day pass) or £9.10 (two day pass) without the donation.
Usual Programme of Events & Attractions
11 am to 6pm both days unless otherwise indicated
Floral Displays on a theme, Bell Ringing Demonstrations, Art Exhibition and Sale
At St Mary’s Church
Music in the Church
12.30pm – 4.30pm – Various Guest Organists
6.30pm – 7.30pm – Songs of Praise
11.30am – 4.30pm – Various Guest Organists
Music in the Village – Memorial Hall Car Park
Sunday 2.00pm – 4.00pm – Breckland Brass Band
Monday 2.00pm – 4.00pm – The Gislingham Silver Band
Both days in Church Barn opposite the church in The Causeway.
Always a variety of stalls and exhibitors, including plant stalls, gift stalls, craft stalls.
Vintage Market – Garden no.3
High quality Vintage clothes, linen, and china as well as a small display of vintage/classic vehicles. Some of the proceeds of sales will be donated to The British Heart Foundation and The Suffolk Accident Rescue Service.
Lunches, Teas and Refreshments
Memorial Hall and Priory Room from 10.30 am
“…the best meringues in Suffolk…“
“…we had a lovely lunch in the village hall and it’s such good value…”
Barbecue and Pizzas
in Garden No.6.
Available on both days along with homemade Fresh Pizza from a wood fired clay Pizza Oven.
Traditional meats from our very own village butcher, Rolfe’s of Walsham.
Come and enjoy the banter of our chefs and bar stewards.
“much credit must go to your entertaining staff. I haven’t enjoyed my lunch so much in years ! It’s lovely to see traditional values with a real ambience of a traditional summer fare!”
Walsham History Group
Info & Publications
Visit the Memorial Hall Garden and Morahill Nursery
The nursery will be selling herbaceous plants on the hall green.
The Suffolk Wildlife Trust and the Stowmarket Beekeepers Association
Selling honey, beeswax furniture polish and cream. They will also have a demonstration beehive to view and beekeeping equipment for you to handle at stalls outside the Memorial Hall.
Allotments Association Pimms and Produce Tent
Garden 19 – Both days between 12:00 and 16:00 Freshly grown produce whilst supplies last.
Vintage Rolls Royce Tour
2017 brought the opportunity to tour the village in style. Trips around the village in a vintage 1933 Rolls Royce 20/25 with Park Ward coachwork.
Tours start and finish in garden No. 6 | £5 per tour for a maximum of four people. All the proceeds will go to the Gardens Weekend.
Photographs in jpg format of activities during Gardens Weekend can be sent to Mike Unitt. A hard copy can be put in the Observer box at Rolfes of Walsham.
Prizes are £40, £20 and £10 for first, second and third places, respectively.
Please be aware that the Gardens Weekend committee reserve the right to use any photographs submitted for promotional purposes.
Open Gardens Sponsors
History of Event
The Walsham-le-Willows Open Gardens Weekend can certainly claim to be one of the best, longest running and most successful Open Gardens events in East Anglia and probably the country.
The idea for the Open Gardens in Walsham was first suggested by the then vicar of St Mary’s Church, the Rev. John Rutherford but credit for the ongoing developments of the Open Gardens event must be given to the late Hilary Russell, a plantswoman whose extraordinary energy and leadership is looked upon as being the reason why so many visitors now come to Walsham-le-Willows on the Sunday and Monday of the August Bank Holiday.
Chairman Robin Newell deserves a special mention for his untiring efforts and organisational ability, as does the late Dr Alec Russell who gave so much help to his wife and who was the original Chairman of the organising committee. The weekend relies on the hard work of lots of people and every year there are over 200 local people involved in one way or another.
Funds raised at the Open Gardens are for village causes and most importantly the maintenance of the fabric of St. Mary’s Church, a magnificent example of a typical 15th Century East Anglian Church and worth a visit in its own right. So far over £120,000 has been raised by Open Gardens for the church.
John Stebbing (Secretary)
2 Vine Cottages
Walsham le Willows
Suffolk IP31 3AZ
01359 259 061 / 07831 325 610
Visit some other open gardens events, find more at opengardens.co.uk