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Chelsworth Open Gardens event approaching 50th anniversary

Chelsworth open gardens''l-r: Cliff Marin, Joy Martin, John Maisey, Pat Maisey
Chelsworth open gardens''l-r: Cliff Marin, Joy Martin, John Maisey, Pat Maisey

A Suffolk village first, which has spawned a nationwide enthusiasm, is celebrating its 50th anniversary later this month.

Chelsworth, nestled between Lavenham and Bildeston alongside the River Brett, is widely credited with being the first in the country to stage a village open gardens day.

Half a century later, the event is still going strong and is as popular as ever with regular visitors and those discovering it for the first time.

That popularity has seen hundreds of other communities follow Chelsworth’s lead, raising tens of thousands of pounds annually for charities and local causes.

In 2017 alone, more than 830 village, town and city open garden days are set to take place across England, Scotland and Wales.

The remarkable growth of events from just a single day in Suffolk has been fueled by people’s passion for gardening – both cultivating their own plots and viewing the efforts of others.

It was, as it is still is, the need to gather funds for the upkeep of Chelsworth’s Grade I listed church of All Saints’ which created the idea of opening village gardens to paying visitors.

With a population of just 150, the opening of more than 20 gardens on Sunday, June 25, will mark the culmination of months of planning, planting and weeding.

In 1967, the admission price was half a crown – equivalent to 12.5p in today’s money – helping to raise a total of £150.

While the parish church and numerous ancient houses form a very traditional backdrop for the event, the gardens themselves have continued to evolve over the years.

Chelsworth, the site of a settlement for the last 1,000 years, is this year again raising funds for the church and also the gardening charity Thrive.

Visitors can enjoy teas and listening to the organ playing in the 14th century church.

The 50th anniversary year will also see live music, stalls from specialist nurseries and vendors selling produce, arts and crafts.

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