Old and new Swanage gardens opening for charity in 2022

An 88 year old gardener is celebrating nearly thirty years of opening her historic gardens, while another garden in Swanage is opening to the public for the very first time.

Rachel Helfer, who lives at Old Knitson Farmhouse near Swanage, is a veteran of the National Garden Scheme, while James Sinclair Taylor is opening his garden at White Cliff Manor in Swanage to visitors for the first time in 2022. There’s also a third garden to view this year – The Hollow in Swanage owned by Suzanne Nutbeem.

Rachel Helfer
Rachel Helfer

Rachel Helfer in her garden at Old Knitson Farmhouse

“Good food and hard work”

As well as celebrating nearly 30 years of opening her garden for charity, Rachel Helfer is also marking 60 years of living and gardening at the Old Knitson Farmhouse.

Rachel said:

“I’m still here and I’m still gardening. I put it down to good food and hard work. I dread to think how many thousands of pounds we’ve raised!”

These days the mother of five, who has grandchildren and great grandchildren, relies on a little assistance with the gardening.

Knitson Old Farmhouse
Louise Jolley

The garden at Old Knitson Farmhouse is open throughout the year

“They stay for tea”

Rachel added:

“I’ve got three lovely helpers. They come and help in the garden and then they stay for tea.

“It’s been very warm this year and the way things have come on is ridiculous and then they got hit by the frost.”

Knitson Old Farmhouse
Rachel Helfer

Early flowers at Old Knitson Farmhouse

“For me it meant my mother”

Evacuated to Canada at the start of the Second World War, Rachel has been gardening since an early age.

She was born at Oldfield School, now better known as Harrow House in Swanage, which was established by her grandmother.

She said:

“After the war, when we came back to England, we had no money at all, and we did everything on the farm and only had a spring for water. I love gardening because for me it meant my mother – seeing her out in the garden is the earliest memory I have.”

Knitson Old Farmhouse
Rachel Helfer

View across the garden

“I’m very sociable”

The family started by renting some fields from the farmer and then bought some of the land and eventually bought the farm.

The garden is open on the first two Wednesdays of each month. The next day is Wednesday 4th May 2022. Rachel says opening the gardens to the public gives her great pleasure.

She said:

“I adore it. I’m very sociable. It’s an absolute delight to see people in the garden, which we were able to do all through lockdown because it’s out in the fresh air.”

Old Knitson Farmouse
Rachel Helfer

Two visitors at Old Knitson Farmhouse

“The old ways”

Rachel still rides a horse and says she has been learning about home healing using plants.

She added:

“We are going back to the old ways because we are going to have to.”

White Cliff Manor

The house and garden at White Cliff Manor in Swanage

“Completely new to me”

Meanwhile, James Sinclair Taylor, at White Cliff Manor in Swanage, is opening his garden to the public for the first time.

He is vice chair of the Swanage and Purbeck Development Trust, an umbrella organisation for 17 social care, arts and health projects in the town. The open garden scheme gives him a chance to raise funds for the trust.

He said:

“This is completely new to me and a bit overwhelming frankly, organising all sorts of things like parking spaces and toilets. I guess if you’ve done it a couple of times it becomes second nature.

“The garden is a work in progress, but I thought people would find it interesting to visit because of the old manor which dates back to Saxon times, before it got taken over by a Norman knight after the conquest. It’s a wonderful site above the town with good views.”

Semra and James Sinclair Taylor
James Sinclair Taylor

James and Semra Sinclair Taylor

“Wonderful concept”

He and his wife Semra have been living in Swanage for 16 years. He is a solicitor and former partner with London firm Russell-Cooke and is also chair of the trustees for the aid charity Shelterbox which provides shelter and other emergency supplies for disasters including Ukraine.

He said:

“The open garden scheme is a wonderful concept, and the garden is a very nice place to be.”

White Cliff Manor garden will be open on Saturday 30th April and Sunday May 1st, then Saturday 4th June and Sunday 5th June 2022.

The Hollow, Swanage

The Hollow in Swanage will be open in the summer

“A simple feeling of happiness”

Also opening to the public is The Hollow in Newton Road in Swanage, on Wednesdays throughout July and August. Suzanne Nutbeem has been opening her garden for nine years and gets up to 500 visitors each year.

She said:

“My father loved gardening and he used to let me water the garden! I still love the scent of water on hot dry earth. And I find mixing foliage and colours in the garden really absorbing. Many people say it’s like painting a picture – if you like the result then that’s all that matters.  

“The best thing is that you can change things that you don’t like and if a plant dies it’s an opportunity to make a change.

“But the best thing of all is that there is a simple feeling of happiness just being in a garden on a warm day with bees and birds twittering around you.”  

The Hollow, Swanage

Flowers at The Hollow in Swanage

More than £3 million raised across the UK in 2021

National Garden Scheme chief executive George Plumptre said:

“The loyalty and support from the garden owners who voluntarily open their gardens for the National Garden Scheme is the lifeblood of our charity.

“It’s thanks to the generosity of garden owners like Rachel Helfer at Knitson Old Farmhouse, who has opened her gates for almost 30 years, that we are able to donate so much – more than £3 million in 2021 – to some of the UK’s best-loved nursing and health charities.”  

Further information

Knitson Old Farmhouse, Corfe Castle, Wareham, Dorset BH20 5JB

  • Open on the first two Wednesdays of each month in 2022 from 12 noon to 4.30 pm with the next opportunity on Wednesday 4th May 2022.

White Cliff Manor, Whitecliff Road, Swanage, Dorset BH19 1RL

  • Saturday 30th April, 2 pm to 5 pm
  • Sunday 1st May, 11.30 am to 2.30 pm
  • Saturday 4th June, 2 pm to 5.30 pm
  • Sunday 5th June 2022, 2 pm to 5.30 pm

The Hollow, 25 Newton Road, Swanage, Dorset BH19 2EA

  • Open every Wednesday 2 pm to 5.30 pm from 13th July to 31st August 2022

More details about the Swanage gardens and many others open to the public across Dorset can be found on the National Garden Scheme website

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