Tell us about your journey into horticulture?
I knew I wanted to work outdoors (ironically, as these days I’m more often inside than out) and after working with a local landscaper, I studied for a BSc in Landscape and Amenity Management at Writtle College. Before joining Hidcote as Head Gardener three years ago, I was also Head Gardener at Tyntesfield, near Bristol, Montacute House and on St Michael’s Mount over the years.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I love the variety. I am happiest with a hedge cutter in hand and ear defenders on, helping complete the four-month long hedge cutting task - that’s my thinking time. But I'm also responsible for keeping alive Johnston’s vision of the garden, working with a team of ten staff and around 35 volunteers – all of whom work hard and manage to retain a sense of humour, even in the wet cold months of the Winter!
Do you have any favourite parts of the garden?
One of my favourites is The Beech Allee with its cathedral-like presence drawing your eye to the ‘rafters’. In mid-winter you can see the structure of the trees and how they’ve grown together, then the luminous spring leaves turn greener and create a gloriously shaded tunnel before the brilliant orange glow of Autumn. The Red Borders, including plants such as Lychnis chalcedonica, Hemerocallis fulva ‘Flore Pleno’, and Rosa ‘Frensham’ have weathered the recent drought-like conditions the best – perhaps because they are the garden’s final ‘hooray’ before the frost.
How do you balance heritage and horticulture at Hidcote?
Using written accounts and some photos, the Conservation Management Plan has helped capture the garden as it was in Johnston’s time and we are now reflecting on what changes we can make to meet the new challenges of climate change and limited resourcing. In the last few years, a number of low box hedges have been replaced with Euonymous. And any planting changes will be assessed on the plant’s ability to deal with the changing weather conditions and using Johnston’s method of trialing plants in the productive garden will help with this.
Are there any future plans at Hidcote?
Significant projects will centre around some of Johnston’s ‘big canvases’ – all with pernicious weeds that need to be kept down. In the Old Garden we’ll refresh plantings and introduce more woody structure whilst in the Upper Stream the focus will be on re-introducing a new woody layer to the space and increasing the diversity of groundcover. The Long Borders need to be redefined to address an ageing old rose collection and floral continuity from Spring to Autumn.