As a Heritage Gardening Trainee under the Skills For The Future programme, you have to be prepared for all kinds of weather, and having previously worked as a coppicer in ancient woodlands, I have experienced some pretty harsh conditions in my time. That said this winter has been pretty darn cold! It’s been like the winters I’ve heard so much about from those of a more ‘advanced’ age.
Working one day a week at the National Trust’s Peckover House in Wisbech, I’ve experienced some very chilly early morning drives along the A47 – not my favourite road at the best of times! It’s often been dark and cold, but when you’re greeted by the sight of Peckover’s garden under a fresh blanket of snow or still in the grip of an overnight frost, it somehow seems worth it. Sometimes the cold means you simply can’t do a lot gardening-wise, but that’s when you disappear for the day into the machine shed to service lawn mowers, scarifiers, aerators and chippers. In gardening you quickly realise that there’s always something to be getting on with.
One recent job at Peckover was the annual pruning of some long-established apple trees. Again it was a bitterly cold day, spent halfway up a metal ladder – hard on the fingers – trying to remove all the unwanted top growth and maximise the fruit crop for the coming season. Despite the conditions, it was a lot of fun. Gaining a better understanding of how to grow and care for fruit is one of my key areas of interest during my year, so this was all good experience.
I am now over the halfway point of my traineeship and revelling in the variety of opportunities still coming my way. In the past month alone I have been able to attend a Garden Organic event on unusual vegetables, met many of Gressenhall’s Friends and Passholders, attend a two-day garden design course, carry out some more hedge laying, learn more about orchard management at Oxburgh Hall, do some coppicing at Houghton Hall and attend a course on growing fruit in school grounds at Ormiston Victory Academy. All this, in addition to the regular work at Gressenhall and Peckover and working two days a week at a local primary school, means that my diary is rarely empty! That’s just how I like it. Being busy with a variety of jobs, places and activities becomes addictive.
As I write, the days are getting longer and the gardens are slowly coming back to life. This winter is not quite ready to let go entirely however! One Tuesday I found myself working in shirt sleeves in warm sunshine, the following Tuesday we had intermittent blizzards and biting easterly winds. Such are the conditions in a world with an increasingly unpredictable climate, and something we all may have to get used to in the years ahead. I can’t help but wonder what sort of summer we’re going to have.