OPEN Gardens Australia is the second-largest scheme of its kind after Britain's National Garden Scheme, which also opens gardens to the public.
Like the NGS, which this year celebrates its 85th anniversary, its Australian contemporary is in celebratory mood, having reached a 25-year milestone.
The 2012-13 season of the Victorian division of Open Gardens Australia will be launched on Tuesday by the scheme's president, Tamie Fraser, at Rippon Lea Estate. The first garden to open tomorrow week will be Dame Elisabeth Murdoch's Cruden Farm, with its magnificent fields of daffodils.
Fraser, who has opened her Merricks garden a number of times and will open it for the last time in February, says owners who share their gardens with the public are very generous.
''It's such a privilege for people to go into someone else's private space and see what they have,'' she says. ''You do bare your soul when you open your garden to the public but you do get tremendous knowledge from people coming in to see your garden.''
The Frasers' hillside garden affords stunning views from the house and includes a section devoted to native trees, rose beds, hedges and perennials, including Malcolm Fraser's pride and joy, the camellia walk, which has been floriferous this year.
Other special events include the opening on September 16 of seven cottages at Bickleigh Vale Village in Mooroolbark, which were created by Edna Walling.
The annual plant fair will be held in March at Sir Roderick Carnegie's Woodend property Flint Hill, which features a large woodland garden with specimen trees underplanted with rhododendrons and azaleas, formal lawns and shrubberies.
Fraser says the plant fair is a popular event on the Open Gardens calendar, attracting 10,000 visitors when it was held at Thurulgoona, her property in Merricks.
In a first for the scheme, two twilight openings will be held on Australia Day: Bagnols, a French-inspired garden designed by Paul Bangay at Shoreham; and Rick Eckersley's Musk Cottage at Flinders, which will include musicians, wine and food.
Usually, the season ends on the Mother's Day weekend but this time it will continue through winter and include Gunyah, a large vegetable garden in Pascoe Vale, and Attila Kapitany's stunning display of architectural agaves, aloes and yuccas.
There will also be an Australian plants workshop and a ''conversation'' on Gardens and Gardening Today: Sustainability, Direction, Design, which will feature eight experts, including Carolyn Blackman, Phillip Johnson, Michael McCoy and Sharon Harris.
A tour of nine significant gardens in the Western District will be hosted by the organisation's chief executive, Richard Barley, and there is an opportunity to learn about palms from Jo Wilkins, a self-confessed ''palm-aholic''.
Open Gardens Australia grew from Victoria's open-garden scheme, established in 1987, to a national scheme in 2000. It was renamed last year to better reflect its role for the public.
Garden owners charge nominal fees to visit their gardens (the standard fee is $6), with 35 per cent returned to them or to a charity of their choice and 65 per cent to Open Gardens Australia, which receives no government money.
Each season, surplus funds are distributed to community garden projects under its Community Garden Grants Awards scheme. The recipients in the 2011-12 season were Buda house and garden at Castlemaine, to help with its garden restoration, and renewal works at the late Margot Knox's mosaic garden in Hawthorn.
■The new guide lists 500 gardens across the country and is available for $19 from opengarden.org.au.
DIG IT: OUT AND ABOUT
Greenlink indigenous plant nursery is holding its open day today from 9am-noon. 41 Wimmera Street, Box Hill North.
Camellias Victoria is holding a display of camellias, including plant sales, today (1-5pm) and tomorrow (10am-4.30pm). Mount Waverley Community Centre, 47 Miller Crescent. $5. Also this weekend at the centre is the Waverley Garden Club's 50th anniversary of its floral art group.
The 56th annual Leongatha Daffodil and Floral Show runs from Thursday to Saturday at Leongatha Memorial Hall, McCartin Street, with flowers, plants and refreshments. $5. Phone 5668 6334.
Thousands of orchids will be on display from Friday to Sunday at Springers Leisure Centre, 400 Cheltenham Road, Keysborough. 9am-5pm (Sunday until 4pm). Adults $6, concession $4. Phone 9786 1938.
On Tuesday, the Friends of Burnley Gardens will present a talk by Professor Mark Elgar about the sex lives of spiders and other interesting arachnid facts. Members $3, non-members $10. Quad 6, Burnley Gardens, 500 Yarra Boulevard, Richmond. 7pm for 7.30pm. Bookings essential, phone 9035 6861.
Japanese floral art (ikebana) will be exhibited from Wednesday to Saturday (10am-5pm) at Kazari Collector, 450 Malvern Road, Prahran.
Events to firstname.lastname@example.org two weeks in advance.