“There’s a sur­prise around each cor­ner”

Gar­den Man­ager Paul Wal­ton shares his in­sights into Bid­dulph

Garden Answers (UK) - - Beautiful Gardens -

Paul has been at Bid­dulph for 26 years, work­ing his way up from As­sis­tant Gar­dener to Gar­den Man­ager, a role he’s held for seven years. He man­ages a gar­den­ing team of four per­ma­nent gar­den­ers and 40 hands-on gar­den vol­un­teers.

How did you come to be at Bid­dulph? I left school and wasn’t sure what to do. I’d been mow­ing lawns for a bit of pocket money and my sis­ter worked in the café at Bid­dulph so I went along to see the Head Gar­dener. I was of­fered a two-year ap­pren­tice­ship and have been here ever since.

What chal­lenges do you face in the gar­dens at Bid­dulph? The lay­out of the gar­den and over 400 steps means there are cer­tain ar­eas where you can’t use ma­chin­ery. For in­stance, if a tree came down in the Chi­nese gar­den, ev­ery piece would have to be split into man­age­able sec­tions so they could be car­ried out, which could take a whole week.

Which part of the restora­tion are you most proud of? It’s dif­fi­cult to say – each part has given me a real sense of sat­is­fac­tion. But I think it would prob­a­bly be the stumpery. It’s a hid­den val­ley of up­turned oak stumps, but when I started here it was only a few stumps. We spent three months re­in­stat­ing part of the stumpery and visi­tors were fas­ci­nated. It’s a con­tin­u­ing restora­tion project as we keep adding more – we have plans to do more this win­ter. Some stumps have come from lo­cal farm­ers and there’s a coun­try es­tate in Wales that had quite a lot of oak trees felled a cou­ple of years ago. They save the stumps for us, clean them up and sell them to us, as and when we need them.

Are there more plans in the pipe­line? We’re look­ing at a re­ally big drainage project. As the win­ters seem to be get­ting wet­ter, some of the plants are strug­gling and a lot of the drains in the gar­den are very old. It might not be a vis­i­ble part of the gar­den, but the bits you can’t see are some­times just as im­por­tant. New drains are vi­tal for the sur­vival of the plants here at Bid­dulph.

There’s a lot of hedg­ing at Bid­dulph; how long does it take to keep it in shape? There are nearly two miles of hedges and it takes three gar­den­ers about 10 weeks to trim it all. We nor­mally start at the end of July, try­ing to get the hedges of the Dahlia Walk done first, so when the dahlias are at their peak in Septem­ber the hedges that sur­round them look crisp and sharp.

What makes Bid­dulph such a spe­cial place in your eyes? The gar­den team has been work­ing to­gether for quite some time now and they’re like fam­ily. The gar­den is also unique. The com­part­ments it’s di­vided into make it dif­fer­ent from other gar­dens of the pe­riod, and it means there’s a sur­prise around ev­ery cor­ner, hid­den from view. You can have a gar­den map but you’re best not us­ing it and get­ting a bit lost in­stead, which is a good way to dis­cover new ar­eas. It’s that el­e­ment of sur­prise I love so much.

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