Q&A with Greg Oven, Head Gardener at Pashley Manor

How did your love of plants came about?
My love of plants came from spending a lot of time with my grandparents as a child.  They were keen vegetable growers and would regularly take me to visit local horticultural shows.
What does a typical day at Pashley involve?
Anything from building hazel plant supports to planting thousands of bulbs for our annual Tulip Festival.  I make time to walk round the gardens to see what needs doing and what’s coming into flower, and enjoy the opportunity of looking at areas where I can introduce new ideas.  Recently we livened up a bed, that had Acer palmatum underplanted with heucheras, ferns and brunnera, by adding Astelia ‘Red Devil’ and Imperata ‘Red Baron’ and an Acer griseum and Acer davidii ‘Viper’ nearby, for their interesting bark.  I love tropical plants and have introduced them into some of our beds and pot displays as a contrast to the more classical English planting.
What are some of the highlights for you at Pashley Manor?
A highlight for me is when we open at the start of April.  After a long winter of hard work and preparation it’s always rewarding speaking with regular visitors, who comment on improvements we’ve made.  I also enjoy the mornings during peak season, before we open up for the day – Pashley is such an idyllic setting surrounded by English countryside … it’s a pretty good office!
Tell us about the tulip festival?
It’s one of the best times to see Pashley - open every Wednesday from 20th April to 4th May.  The planning starts in September when we walk round with the owners Mr and Mrs Sellick and bulb supplier Chris Blom discussing new planting combinations, then the team plants from November to mid-January, adding temporary fencing to protect the beds from pheasants and deer – even the pots get chicken wire hats to stop squirrels eating the bulbs.  We planted over 48,000 bulbs in 105 varieties for this year’s display – my top three are ‘Mount Tacoma’, ‘Slawa’ and ‘Queen of Night’.  We also add bedding such as forget-me-nots and violas and this year we’re trialling carex grass.  We donate the bulbs to local charities and then get all of the dahlias and summer bedding plants in for our Dahlia Days in September.
Which gardens or gardeners inspire you?
One of my favourite gardeners is the late Christopher Lloyd – I visit Great Dixter regularly and did some work experience there while at college and was fortunate to meet him.  I like the fact he was never afraid of clashing colours, but also how he merged the old formal style plants and planting with new more striking choices.  More recently I have visited Abbotsbury Gardens in Dorset and fell in love with their tropical jungle-style planting.
What are your future plans for the garden?
I hope to continue developing the gardens at Pashley whilst maintaining this English Country Garden tradition.  Each year we carry out a winter project, which means there is always something new and exciting to see – recently we started a native wildflower area around our orchard and I’m looking forward to seeing it progress.