“There’s never a dull mo­ment”

Head gar­dener Si­mon Thomp­son shares his love of Walling­ton’s gar­dens

Garden Answers (UK) - - Beautiful Gardens -

Si­mon has been Head Gard­ner at Walling­ton for just over two years but has worked here for more than 19 years. He man­ages a team of six full-time gar­den­ers, a project gar­dener and oc­ca­sional stu­dents as well as about 40 vol­un­teers.

How did you come to be at Walling­ton? I was work­ing in a pri­vate gar­den in Cheshire and fan­cied a change when I saw an ad­vert for a job here at Walling­ton. The orig­i­nal plan was to come here for two years then move on. I get bored very eas­ily, but the gar­den here is so in­ter­est­ing and ex­cit­ing, I haven’t got bored yet!

Which projects are you work­ing on this win­ter? We’re re­gen­er­at­ing var­i­ous dif­fer­ent ar­eas be­cause it’s quite an old gar­den and we need to re­ju­ve­nate the plant­ing in some places. We’re cut­ting down some old trees that have been un­touched for 50-100 years to let in light and to open up plant­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. Win­ter’s a good time to do this work be­cause birds aren’t nest­ing and the gar­den’s less busy. The plan is to in­tro­duce a lower shrub layer un­der­neath the tree canopy, which we’re sadly miss­ing at the mo­ment be­cause it’s too dark. Once these plants are in, we can look to add a ground cover layer as well.

What’s look­ing good in the gar­den in win­ter? The con­ser­va­tory was built in 1908 and the fam­ily used to call it ‘the win­ter gar­den’. It’s a glasshouse heated formerly by coal, but we now burn wood­chip in a biomass boiler. This means we can grow a huge range of plants, many of which flower in win­ter. We have a good col­lec­tion of cy­cla­men in bloom and the pelargo­ni­ums tend to con­tinue flow­er­ing all year round.

Why is the walled gar­den so spe­cial? It was built in a shel­tered val­ley in 1760 and the mi­cro­cli­mate means we can grow plants that might not sur­vive else­where in the north-east. Out­side the con­ser­va­tory is a small south­fac­ing bor­der with gin­ger plant (Zin­giber of­fic­i­nale) grow­ing in the ground and a pineap­ple broom tree (Ar­gy­ro­cytisus bat­tandieri), which needs a de­gree of shel­ter. We’ve also got a cou­ple of abu­tilons. While plants in other parts of the gar­den died in last year’s harsh win­ter, plants in the walled gar­den sur­vived. It’s also un­usual that, even though it was de­signed to pro­duce fruit and veg­eta­bles, it was also cre­ated to be a pic­turesque place with or­na­men­tal plants and fea­tures like the Owl House, a bothy bear­ing the fam­ily’s owl crest.

Any fu­ture plans for the gar­den? The Win­ter Gar­den in the walled area is a rel­a­tively re­cent ad­di­tion, mark­ing the cen­te­nary of the Na­tional Trust’s own­er­ship. It was planted for win­ter in­ter­est, but it’s quite a small site and a lot of the shrubs have be­come too big. The plan is to take ev­ery­thing out and re­plant the wood­land shrubs in East Wood where they can ma­ture. Then we’ll cre­ate a sto­ry­telling area, be­cause it’s a quiet cor­ner of the gar­den. We’re plan­ning to make a cir­cu­lar space in the mid­dle with plant­ing around the edge, con­sist­ing of low­grow­ing plants at the front and taller plants be­hind, bank­ing up steeply to cre­ate a more pri­vate, in­ti­mate space.

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