The English Garden

Katy Merrington

The Hepworth Wakefield’s cultural gardener cares for a small garden with impact, for which she’s been awarded a British Empire Medal


After graduating university, a friend and I started helping local people with cleaning and gardening. I met and helped some lovely, knowledgea­ble gardeners who would tell me what to do. I took on an allotment at the same time, which I found creative and rewarding. I did my RHS qualificat­ions and then went on to train with the National Trust for Scotland.

I worked at Tresco Abbey Garden, then RHS Garden Harlow Carr, Longwood Gardens and Logan Botanic Garden before joining The Hepworth Wakefield Garden. It was exciting because there was a chance to be involved in its creation and to be its first custodian. I worked with Tom Stuart-Smith and the builders when constructi­on started, and I’ve been here for four years. My job title is ‘cultural gardener’ and I try to communicat­e that the garden is as much a part of the art gallery as the art inside. The role is not just caring for vegetation: it’s sharing the connection­s between nature, gardening, art and creativity.

It’s important to oˆer an active community presence. The garden is open 24 hours a day, so you get lots of visitor engagement, especially with locals who visit regularly to sit or walk their dog. The first lockdown was when people started to discover the garden. You could really see the need for green space.

The garden is long and thin. It’s only one acre and very flat, which makes it accessible. It’s bordered by the monolithic, pale concrete art gallery, and on the other side are Victorian red-brick mills. The garden is planted with perennials, shrubs, trees and hedges. Big trees bookend the garden for shelter, but in the centre are floating pads of herbaceous perennials that change with the seasons. There’s lots of texture and movement that complement the world-class sculpture in the garden.

I was delighted to be awarded the British Empire Medal by the King, for work that makes a big impact in a short period of time and for services to arts and the community. It recognises the decision of The Hepworth Wakefield to create a garden that’s inspiring, welcoming and beautiful, and the wonderful volunteers who help me care for it too.


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