Ticknall Garden Club enjoyed a most interesting talk on the working life of a head gardener at its January meeting. After gaining qualifications in horticulture and landscape design, Pip Smith worked as Head Gardener at three different prestigious locations before now branching out into his own garden design business. He first worked at Winterbourne House and Garden which is Birmingham University’s underrated botanic garden. He then moved on to Ragley Hall and then finally to the lovely Wollerton Old Hall at Market Drayton.
Every day is different was the recurring theme and his was a job that can never be done from home! The routine jobs of propagation, pruning, pleaching, bedding out and mulching must go on regardless, but unexpected events often intervene. Polytunnels need renovation, walls fall down, bonfires get out of hand and trees blow down in gales.
The need for publicity and a high public profile was an essential element at all three houses. His varied activities included dressing up as an Edwardian, producing brochures, leading garden tours, hosting events such as weddings and liaising with community groups. He was particularly proud of his work with an Islamic group from Leicester who learned to grow vegetables from plant to plate.
Dealing with visitors could be fraught especially when brazen acts such as removal of whole plants happened. But highlights were the adulation received from Chinese and Dutch groups. But there were quiet moments when a garden could be appreciated in all its beauty. He captured rainbows, dappled shade, blankets of snow and sunsets in inspiring photographs.
His own personal highlights were the opportunities to meet famous gardeners. A televised meeting with Carol Klein for Great Britain Gardens had been particularly memorable.
It was a refreshing change for the audience to be spared endless photographs of seductive flowers. Instead, the focus had been on the reality of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes in the life of a professional gardener and its rewards.