A day in the life of a head gardener

Perennial is one of the National Garden Scheme’s beneficiaries – and we have donated more than £1.7 million since our partnership began in 1986. Perennial is the UK’s only charity dedicated to helping everyone who works in or has retired from horticulture, and their families, when times get tough. Our annual donation helps the charity provide free and confidential advice, support and financial assistance to people of all ages.

One of the Perennial’s gardens, Fullers Mill Garden in Suffolk, opens for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday 7th October 2018. Visitors get the chance to explore this beautiful garden and its autumnal colours at a time when it is usually closed for the season to the public.

Here Annie Dellbridge, who has been head gardener of Fullers Mill Garden for eight years, chats about her role and what she loves most about the garden, which is situated on the River Lark, at West Stow in Suffolk.

What does a typical day look like for you? 

I don’t really have one! In an ideal world, I’d come in, chat to the staff and volunteers, read through emails and then get outdoors as quickly as possible. We share a weekly garden task list that we talk through before heading out so everyone should know their jobs for the day. My role requires me to have an overview of it all, while usually tackling some of the least popular tasks myself.

What do you love most about your job?

Being outside and also teaching the two apprentices.

What’s the best part about working with the apprentices and volunteers?

With the apprentices, it’s their enthusiasm, especially with things like cuttings. They’re so pleased when they grow into strong plants and it reminds me that gardening relies on a little magic! With the volunteers, it’s the fact that they’re here because they want to be here. They’re not getting paid they just love the work. They come on wet, miserable days as well as the glorious sunny days all year round. We have 26 volunteers at the moment, six of which solely welcome visitors and manage our popular tea and cake offering. The rest of the team rotates on jobs around the garden depending on the season. It’s wonderful to see how helping in the garden helps some of our volunteers recover from their own life challenges such as poor mental health or loneliness.

If you could change one thing about your role what would it be?

I’d like two of me! One to do the office work and the other to be outside!

How do you decide what plants you’re going to divide/bulk up at this time of year?

You just get to know the garden well and get a feel for it. You need to notice where the gaps are and what plants are getting too big for their neighbours. I’ve been here seven years now so noticing the seasonal changes of the garden is becoming more intuitive, however, I am starting to have to write things down!

Has the garden changed much over the years?

No, not really, there have been a few subtle changes, an increase in volunteers maybe, but it stays true to the ethos of founder and creator, Bernard Tickner, who was a prolific plant collector. We are custodians of his collections and as such try to stay true to his plan and layout. Inevitably we add to the garden little by little and are always keen to hear what visitors think after their visit.

What jobs do you do over the closed winter season?

Oh, the mucky jobs, maintenance, digging new borders, mulching, picking up leaves, redoing new areas we have planned – it’s a chance for us to do the jobs that are sometimes difficult with visitors wandering around.

Has your attitude towards your job changed over the years with the effects of climate change?

Gardeners are an adaptable breed. We have always known that the weather is not something to be relied upon and so have learned to accept changing flowering times, failures and unusual successes. Over my time here at Fullers Mill Garden I have noticed some plants are flowering earlier. I’ve seen crocus’ flower in August in recent years. Leaves will fall sooner and the seasons are merging and changing. Although this might indicate a wider climate issue, as gardeners we can use it to our advantage by growing more tender plants that are more likely to survive the winter.

What’s your favourite plant group?

Ah that’s a cruel question, I couldn’t possibly say. They all have their positives and bring different things to the garden. Colour, scent, structural shape, texture, the list goes on….

Visit Fullers Mill Garden in Suffolk on Sunday 7th October 2018, open from 10am to 5pm. Admission is £4.50 for adults and free for children, and light refreshments will be available. 


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