Anna is Bowcliffe Hall’s Head Gardener, responsible for keeping the beautiful grounds and gardens looking immaculate all year round. We chatted to her about her top tips for keeping the estate flourishing, her favourite flower and her advice to budding horticulturists…
What’s your job title?
Head Gardener at Bowcliffe Hall
Tell us a little about how you got into gardening – what inspired you and have you always loved plants / seeing things thrive and grow?
My earliest garden memories consist of playing outside near my parents bedding nursery amongst a field of flowers taller than myself. From a young age I was filled with gardening inspiration from my surroundings and my parents. Looking back to our home garden it clearly changed and developed with our family. The site of the original greenhouses later came a football pitch filled with our group of neighbourhood friends. As we grew older this was re-designed into a series of vegetable, fruit and flower beds. A large character near the front of our home was a commanding Beech tree with a tyre swing and rope ladder. The Beech was later removed due to the close proximity to our house, and that opened up masses of light levels through the windows. Where we once had goats and sheep in the field, we later had an orchard and the vegetable patch increased further for wider production.
Your education and career history in a nutshell please – was there a single moment when you knew that you wanted gardening to be your full time profession?
Whilst at school I had a lot of career paths I was interested in such as teaching and nursing. Following my A levels I discovered the option of garden design which I pursued at degree level in Falmouth, Cornwall.
Have you ever worked on estate gardens before?
As a post-graduate I was seeking further practical gardening experience and I progressed to do a two year RHS diploma at Wisley. My first gardening position took me to a large estate near Thirsk. Here I took responsibility for the walled garden supplying local chefs with seasonal produce. I have also worked on a large garden in East Yorkshire as a sole gardener on a restoration project.
When did you start working on the Bowcliffe grounds?
I began my post at Bowcliffe in early October 2015.
Is there different considerations for looking after such a huge estate space rather than smaller garden spaces? (If so, what are they? What do you have to do more / differently)
On a large estate it’s about balance of managing the macro and micro tasks to achieve high standards. I need to consider the larger scale operations such as the woodland management, lawn care, large planting borders, hard-scapes such as garden structures and paths etc. An eye for detail is a must looking at the finer aspects of smaller scale work such as planters and propagation. Unpredictable weather can completely dictate what jobs can be achieved, so you also have to be good at being flexible for the unexpected. It’s important to be organised and appreciate it takes a good first year to fully get to know the garden, from then you can begin stages of future planning for the garden to evolve. In a smaller garden managing these elements may not need such balancing but you can potter and focus your interests in greater detail. Sometimes it can take some working out how to fulfil your ambitions in a smaller garden fitting your garden requirements and wishes to achieve the best from the size available.
Are there any gardening jobs that require constant attention on the estate?
Keeping the grounds looking at their best is a daily job all year round for example ensuring driveways are free from debris, paths are raked, and straying gravel is removed from outside path edges. Cutting back perennials, mulching and winter pruning is a significant task. Once the weather warms up regular weeding is required, this can be reduced to a manageable amount by applying a layer of mulch on an annual basis. Successional seed sowing, watering, pricking out and transplanting is a regular job once the season has commenced. The lawns also have to receive an annual maintenance programme to keep them looking at their best. Once autumn and winter arrive again leaf clearing is a daily task across the estate.
How big is your team?
Other than myself the garden team is currently made up of excellent contract gardeners and Bowcliffe’s superb maintenance team. Together everyone is working hard as a team to maintain the gardens best potential.
We’re almost into spring, what is the main priority for the estate grounds at the moment?
Seed sowing, weeding (it’s best to keep control of the weeds whilst they are easy to hoe off as they are small and before they flower and disperse more seeds). We are also continuing with mulching the flower borders, weekly garden event preparations, lawn cutting, the last stages of perennial cutting back and the last stages of winter pruning.
What should we look out for, plant wise on the estate this year? (Any favourite, particularly colourful plants, unusual species)
Now spring has arrived it’s a rewarding time to enjoy an amble through the estate to see the Snowdrops, Daffodils, Crocus and Hellebores. Since I have started working in the estate a few people have asked me the name of the majestic trees around the front and back of the Hall known as the Evergreen Oaks (or Holme Oaks). The parkland trees play a significant role in the landscape at Bowcliffe Hall and there are also some impressive Acers and Cedars in the ornamental gardens and mature sweet chestnut trees near the over flow car park. We shall be planting a number of new trees in the next few years for future generations to enjoy.
The new perennial planting will be a continual development across the gardens to see what works well and which are the tougher plants that can with stand the rabbits and other cheeky pests! When the perennials are flourishing I can offer more information on them at the time
Do you tend to draw up schedules and plans for the work / planting / on going maintenance on the Bowcliffe Estate?
I keep organised using a computer outlook calendar that I print off weekly for the tasks ahead as well as keeping a diary and liaise regularly with hospitality and events staff. Plans can alter depending on the weather conditions, but there are always other jobs that can be completed. I write a horticultural diary to record the garden on a regular basis. It’s an invaluable record to compare differences for future years
Do you have a favourite flower?
This depends on the time of year completely, however I do love Hellebore flowers due to their subtle longevity through winter and spring!
Biggest problem when dealing with the Bowcliffe Estate gardens?
There are no such thing as problems, just challenges. After the fiery autumn display the mature parkland trees, and woodland pockets create a significant task for leaf clearance- especially after storms – one of the big challenges this year! I am researching into more effective solutions for next year to reduce the manual labour.
Tell us some facts about the gardens and work that goes into them…
Since I have started we have planted 1000 crocus bulbs. We have spread around 1,560 bags of mulch, and I couldn’t begin to tell you how many areas worth of football pitches of leaves we have cleared! Restoration and maintenance of the lawns are currently taking on average 28 man hours per week. A number of projects are happening this spring in the gardens – watch this space!
What’s your favourite part of working on the Estate grounds?
As it is my first year in the garden it is an exciting discovering what hidden gems lie around the garden through the seasons. As parts of the garden are in their infancy it is also exciting to see them establish and imagine the future possibilities!
One favourite garden fact
One way to identify a horse chestnut in winter is to look closely at its bare stem and you will see a horse shoe shape over the leaf scar.
How can staff and visitors help the establishment of the gardens at Bowcliffe?
One of the new Yew tree hedges by the coach car park and main driveway is extremely temperamental to environmental factors. One way you can help is by avoiding soil compaction- please walk around the hedgerow or across pathways. It would also help if people are aware not to park your car too close to the hedge!
How can you help with any questions staff and visitors might have about the gardens?
For those interested I will be happy to run a few masterclasses or talks during the year. I have recently carried out a seed master class and have had a request for a demonstration on hanging baskets nearer the summertime.