How time flies when you’re having fun! My twelve month contract as a Heritage Gardening Trainee at Gressenhall has gone in the blink of an eye. It seems barely credible that it’s a year since I started going through the formal induction process, learning how to fill in my hours sheet, file an expenses claim and keep a weekly diary, not to mention the joys of the onsite walkie-talkies and learning everyone’s names. And this is before I even got near a hand-trowel.
The gardening was what it was all about though, not least getting to know the volunteer gardening team. Working mainly in Cherry Tree Cottage garden, I quickly came to learn what a lovely space this garden is to work in, something I could only conclude was down to the effort put in by the volunteers over many years. I’ve always thought this garden space, more than any other, best demonstrates that elusive balance of productivity and beauty. This is really only achieved through hard work and patience. A garden like that takes time to mature. You can’t rush it, and perhaps this is one of the things that most appeals to me about gardening. It slows you down, gives you time to think and plan, helps you see things from a broader perspective. It puts you more in touch with the changing seasons and the seemingly ever more fluctuating climate. When it’s all too easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of daily chores and admin, time spent in a garden – whether working or just vegetating – keeps you sane. In this respect, it has become ever more evident to me just how crucial the gardens at Gressenhall are in making it a place that people want to come to and keep coming back to. I hope that continues to be the case in the years ahead.
My placement throughout my year at Gressenhall has been at the National Trust’s Peckover House in Wisbech. To those unfamiliar with the place, I would urge everyone to pay a visit. The gardens only extend to two acres, but they pack a lot in. The garden team there, under the inspirational leadership of Head Gardener Allison Napier, is a great team to be a part of, if only for a day a week. There’s a great vibe there – an elusive state of affairs at many workplaces in my experience. I guess it’s all to do with balance, much like that balance achieved in Cherry Tree Cottage garden. Cake at Peckover helps too!
Just as they pack a lot in at Peckover, I’ve managed to pack a lot in to my twelve months. At times it’s been intense, but that’s just how I like it. I think it’s the diversity of experience and the variety of people I’ve met that most sticks in my mind. From traditional hedge laying to Christmas wreath making, from using a scythe to woad dyeing, I’ve been able to experience things I would have been unlikely to do otherwise. I’ve been able to visit gardens at Anglesey Abbey, Beth Chatto’s place in Essex, The Old Vicarage at East Ruston, Houghton Hall and the Bishop’s Garden in Norwich. I’ve met James Wong, Chris Beardshaw, leading environmentalist Simon Fairlie and dug over a new strawberry bed whilst organic guru Bob Flowerdew poured forth his years of knowledge from a pile of old tyres in his garden near Diss. It’s been a blast and I’d like to pass on my thanks to everyone who’s made it possible.
This has also been my first experience of contributing to a blog, so that’s been good too. But now I’m blogged out and a future – I hope – where I can incorporate gardening and outdoor learning into primary education lies ahead. Fingers crossed!
Michael Jordan, Skills for the Future Heritage Gardening Trainee