Q&A with Luke Bartle, Head Gardener, Trentham Gardens

Tell us about your journey into horticulture? 

My grandad was a big gardener and got me interested in gardening from an early age.   After leaving school at 16, I started studying for my national diploma in horticulture.  But my degree in environment management opened my eyes to the scope of what gardening can be and I became more interested in historic landscapes.  I then worked at various private estates in England and Scotland honing my craft skills. 

What attracted you to Trentham?

I had already moved to the National Trust’s Sudbury Hall where I developed management skills and strategic thinking.  I had visited Trentham numerous times before and was blown away each time by the scale and diversity.  When the opportunity for the Head Gardener came up, it was definitely a dream job to apply for; whilst being very much a step up in my career. I enjoy the huge breadth of the role and the different demands of working with numerous teams. 

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Communication is the most important thing.  I try to keep meetings to a minimum and touch base with all the teams by working alongside them.  My job involves the strategic operation element but the beauty of the role is that when I’ve had enough of desk work, I can grab a spade and join one of my teams.  We all learn from each other by talking and sharing knowledge.

What do you love most about the gardens at Trentham?

It’s all about the scale and the vistas at Trentham with the stunning landscaping by Capability Brown and the formal Italian gardens by Charles Barry.  I’m a keen runner and enjoy an early morning run to check on the gardens, then heading up through the surrounding Kings Wood - the view from the monument looking down on the whole layout is breath taking.  The gardens look wonderful on a bright winter’s day with the seedheads shining, early morning mists and the sun rising over the lake. 

What do you like most about the planting?

The impressive thing about Tom Stuart-Smith and Piet Oudolf’s planting is that it gives you interest from spring to January.  You have the bold drifts of colour in the summer that move into late summer with the statuesque eupatorium, veronicastrum and helenium along-side the grasses such as the transparent Stipa gigantea, which along with the seedheads, stay looking good over the winter.  It’s twenty years since this pioneering contemporary-meets-traditional planted was initially undertaken.