Help Needed. Apply Within.

A couple of years ago, I visited the garden at Clinton Lodge.

Clinton Lodge
It is a beautiful garden and if you are able, I would recommend that you pay it a visit,
Clinton Lodge
especially as there is also a brilliant pub, The Griffin,  in the same village.  (I ought to be on commission).
Anyway, beautiful garden, worth the trip.  Make a note.  But the reason I’m telling you about it is the number of gardening days that go into making Clinton so lovely.  I found out that to tend and maintain the gardens takes seventeen work days per week.  The equivalent then of three full-time gardeners plus another one working two days a week.  The actual mix is more complicated with various part-timers and volunteers but my point is just how much work goes into maintaining a large beautiful garden.
The largest weeping willow – East Lawn
I used to do some volunteer gardening at Batemans, a National Trust garden.  Here there were two (I think) permanent gardeners as well as a team of volunteers. And when attending a course at Great Dixter, I was a little surprised at how many voluntary staff there were.
Meanwhile, down at the Priory there’s lil ol’ me working four days per week.  Whilst nowhere near as intricate in the execution of its planning or planting, the Priory is a bigger garden than Clinton Lodge and a similar size to Batemans and Dixter.  Slowly, over the past two or three years as more of the gardens have been brought back under control and beds cleared and planted up, I’ve begun to realise that perhaps the vision of the Priory garden that I hold in my head is beyond my reach.  Maybe.  Maintaining a garden of this size is an awful lot of work.  (Duh – quick on the uptake, me)!
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and I adore the Priory – I couldn’t wish for a better job, truly.  The day I’m told to leave they’ll be prising my fingers off the gate posts.  But I have started to wonder about the future; about what is achievable, realistic.
Recently I have added another three beds to the garden and there’s at least one more small one to do.  More maintenance, more weeding, more anxiety.  And then there are the vague plans I have floating about my head of a woodland garden and a woodland walk, of a coppiced sweet chestnut plantation and a pleached hornbeam or lime avenue.  Of two more very long semicircular beds that I’ll tell you about in due course.  Of more vegetable beds.  Good grief – so much.
Thinking.  Nosebleed imminent
Then I fell to thinking (a foolish pastime, I know).  Horticultural student!  There’s a college not so very faraway.  Perhaps I could arrange for a student to come one or two days a week and get some work experience.  Or maybe I could interest someone in the village to come and do some voluntary work.  It is, after all a lovely place to spend some time – with scintillating (if challenging) company.  I would be in charge, of course.  Have a clipboard and an armband.  Issue directives. Do talking.
Anybody out there had experience of working with students and/or volunteers in their garden?  More trouble than they’re worth?  Or should I pin a notice on the Priory gates without further delay?

“Help Needed.  Apply Within.  No Riff-Raff.”

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17 thoughts on “Help Needed. Apply Within.

  1. Janet, there is now some talk about opening the gardens to Joe Public – Eeeeek. So I'm going to spend the winter worrying, I mean thinking about what help I may need.

    D

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  2. Hi Janet, your word is my command! (As you asked so nicely). Email thingy (that's a technical term) added. I suspect it's a mix of solitude and teams of dozens of dedicated workers hanging on my every word that I'm after. Ahem.

    Hi Sara, absolutely. THAT is the person I want. Gonna hunt them down! GLAD you like that border – yeah, it's one of the Priory's.

    Dave

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  3. I think it would be sad, for you and the owners, to have to reign yourself in with your plans for the Priory. A horticultural student sounds like just the thing you need, especially if you can pick one who will happily get on and work by themselves in peaceful silence when required, and natter over a cup of tea in the potting shed. The best of both worlds then, if you manage some days to yourself, and some to share…

    I love the border with the crocosmia Lucifer, verbena, persicaria et al … one of your Priory beds I think?
    Sara

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  4. Hi David, one glance at that first image and I can see how hard it would be to maintain without a small army. I am amazed at what you have achieved at the Priory just four days a week, and hope you get your army of volunteers, I'd love to see that woodland garden take shape. It would really change the feeling of being there though, I find I relish the times I am up at the allotment by myself, and need them as well as the times I enjoy being up there with TNG and FIL. Good luck with it all!

    Oh, and the image of the poppy heads is stunning.

    PS Sorry I've not been around much recently, I have missed keeping up with your blog. Any chance you could make it easy on a would-be faithful follower and add a “subscribe by email” option to your blog?! Pretty please?!

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  5. Hi GITD, yes I can see that that would give you a lift. I've been working fulltime as a gardener now for two and a half years and the loneliness has got easier. The first year (having come from a job with a large team) was really quite difficult. Obviously, I'm getting set in my ways!

    Dave

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  6. Hi Dave, on reflection, I know just what you mean about the joy of working alone and the attendant peace there is in not being intruded upon. I suspect that's why alot of people like gardening. I have lately, however, had some company where I work ( they do their thing and I do mine ) and that's given me a surge of energy, perhaps because I'm not the only one battling away.

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  7. Hi M&G, the Priory is a private house and garden with a tiny team of staff. It's not like we're one of the big gardens open to the public, scrabbling to get all looking lovely for the when the gates open and the visitors start pouring in demanding tea and cake. So students are only one possibility that we're looking at but there are other options too, including rethinking what we want and expect from the garden (given the constaints we have) and whether we could take on another part time gardener. The post was really me thinking aloud and hoping to hear about other peoples' experiences. (I had actually been thinking about a student for a while now).

    Ultimately though, it isn't my decision. I'm only the gardener!

    Dave

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  8. I’m a little bit surprised that it took you awhile to consider taking in some students to help in the maintenance of the Priory. Students are a great help to many large gardens, and the help is reciprocal as the students learn from the practical work and develop their own style and methods after learning the basics (and routines).

    Better start coordinating with the nearby college. You might be pleasantly surprised that you’ll have more volunteers willing to help that what you’re intending to take. Perhaps take a few more than what you’re planning? More hands make lighter work 🙂

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  9. Hi Petra, I have to admit that I'd hoped that you would comment and that you would be able to tell me all about your experiences of volunteers and students. Oh well, ho hum. I will speak to the college re students but as to volunteers, the Priory is in a small hamlet rather than a village so I'm not sure that I'd get much of a response to an advert. I might just grab a few passing dogwalkers and conscript them!

    Hi GITD, of course the other option is just to reign in my plans; allow certain parts of the gardens to revert to the wild and maybe lawn over other parts. I think I'd struggle with that option though. I'm also panicking a little at the prospect of having PEOPLE about the place. Despite moaning on about how lonely the Priory can be, I wonder how much I really want to share it with anyone else.

    Dave

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  10. Hi David,

    We are much in the same boat. Big gardens are lovely, but the work required is overwhelming. Lack of time and sheer physical limitations can be super frustrating. So many jobs, so little time to get them all done. Interesting to see what kind of response you get in terms of volunteers. We always dream of a group of very apt, top scoring, horticultural students appearing on our doorstep asking for work experience….. So far none have ever ventured our way, but perhsps a sign like yours may just be the answer.

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  11. Thanks Stacy, I suspect it might be a matter of luck with a student. They will either be really enthusiastic and haring about the place or will speak in grunt and hide behind a shrub smoking and texting how unfair life is.

    Think I'll speak to the college…

    Dave

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  12. I can't offer anything about volunteers in the garden, but having been a student intern in other places, I'd say it could be a good deal all the way around. The places that worked out best (from the intern's perspective) asked for a variety of work, some of it grunt stuff, which was only right and proper, but some of it real hands-on learning. (The least satisfactory places only wanted me to do grunt work and didn't offer any chance to learn.)

    I'd think a student would be thrilled to get his or her hands dirty at a large, varied garden under a Head Gardener with a clipboard and armband. (Well, they might not be as excited about the armband.) But who knows what the modern youth really think these days? If things went well from both your and their perspectives, you could find yourself with students lining up every year to be The Priory Volunteer(s).

    Asking for and checking up on character/work references would probably be important…

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  13. Hi Michael, thanks for that. Plenty to think about. I like the idea of social interaction. How novel! Part of me shrinks at the thought of having other people about though – getting under my feet, spoiling the peace and quiet, intruding. But another part thinks wow, all that help! We could get so much done. And also just to be able to discuss my plans with people and bounce ideas off them.

    Quite exciting actually. I may come back to you.

    Dave

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  14. Dave,
    We use a group of volunteers to help maintain the public gardens here in Peterborough, NH and it has worked really well. Some people do it as community service others do it to learn more about gardening. We meet at a specific time ( 7AM Wednesdays) and whoever can come stays for as long as they want-usually 2-3 hours. We have a bout 8 people that come pretty regularly. The town does the gig work (building walls, paths etc.) but the volunteers do the detailed gardening. It does take a lot of supervision because the gardens are pretty complex.

    The good thing is that once they have done it for a few seasons, they know what to do without much prompting. It is also a nice social way for gardens to get together.

    Hope that helps. Let me know it you have any more questions and good luck!!

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