We are not out of the pandemic woods yet, but what a breath of fresh air it was to make our first garden visit for months.

It came the last Sunday in June with a group of Craster gardens open under the NGS (yellow book) scheme. Just a short journey along the coast from home but one filled with apprehension after so long in lockdown. Emboldened by this positive experience, we are cautiously planning to embark on more similar adventures.

Booking a time slot online is the current norm for anyone wishing to visit a National Gardening Scheme (NGS) event. You can`t just turn up as in previous years. So, we typed read the instructions and opted for Craster. It offered four village gardens near the harbour in Chapel Row. A five-minute walk from the car park and we were there. With a maximum of twenty bookings allocated to each hour slot, there was adequate time and space to relax and enjoy the experience.

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These gardens were former allotments attached to the fishermen`s cottages, but now converted into four colourful attractions of differing style. The first two, being linear in layout, ran in an uphill direction, offering increasing sea views as we advanced. One had an enviable Rosa rugosa hedge, in bloom, and an accompanying lawn area running the whole length of it`s southern border. Opposite this ornamental hedge were glorious mixed flower borders filled with herbaceous perennials, annual flowers, and roses.

The adjoining garden appeared to go on forever, with crossing pathways permeating the journey to its summit and surprises all the way. Thriving vegetables and soft fruits, a pond, and woodland area with shade-loving plants, plus borders with colourful and offbeat perennials. Something caught the eye at every turn. This was a creation full of interest, wildlife friendly too I`d guess.

What the next two gardens lacked in size they made up for through innovation and determination. First the neat `bug hotel` small but effective at the entrance, and stacked piles of logs, both of which are insect friendly. Next the pond so beautifully constructed and allowing close access. Then the distant outdoor dining area, surrounded by colourful ornamental plants on the approach.

Next, a garden that epitomised the will to transform a wilderness. Greeted by an image of this previously overgrown, wild plot, taken in 2017, we stepped into an interesting work-in-progress. A pathway now exists in what was

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a no-go area, vegetables and flowers grow, offering a reason to visit. And best of all in my book, the creation of an outdoor dining area undertaken as a special feature and all-consuming project when lockdown came. Gill and Dave, Sue, June, and Mike, you did Craster and the NGS scheme proud in opening your lovely gardens for charity and gave us the appetite for more visits.

Thankfully, all our local garden attractions are now open to the public but it`s not quite business as usual yet. Pre-contact with a chosen venue is necessary and social distancing must be observed. We looked up some of our favourites online last week and can report on the state of play then, but do check for any more recent changes before a planned visit.

Advanced booking, online only ( is necessary for entry to The Alnwick Garden. A one-way system is in operation and additional outdoor seating is available. The toilets are open, there are bakery take-aways and the main lawn is currently designated a picnic area. Hand sanitiser is available throughout the garden.

For Howick Hall Gardens and Arboretum ( entry we are advised to check the numbers status at the office on 01665 577191 before an intended visit. Car park, gardens, arboretum, and toilets are open but not the tea rooms or visitor centre. Picnics are advised. Entry payment at office is via card/contactless or season ticket.

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Cragside ( visits should be booked and paid for by 3pm the day before, and it`s a timed entry. Toilets are open but the house, catering, formal garden and shop are currently closed.

Wallington ( Booking in advance with payment is required. The tickets are released every Friday. The car park, walled garden, woodland, and courtyard toilets are open, but house, café and shop are closed.

Belsay Hall, Castle and Gardens ( Advance booking of a timed slot is necessary for entry. The shop is open, and the café offers take away food.

Safety procedures are in place at each of these garden venues.

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