Gardeners in time

As my time at Trinity draws to a close, I have been reminiscing about my horticulture career and my journey to the dizzy heights of Head Gardener at Trinity College. Especially remembering how difficult it was at the beginning.

I have now written a couple of posts about how difficult it is for people entering and working in the world of horticulture. The first post I wrote on this subject  was about my own problems I faced in the eighties, the second being about the problems many are facing in more recent times. So, I thought it would be interesting to see how things were for people starting out in horticulture before the eighties.

I started working at Trinity as an Under Gardener in May 2000, where I met a gentleman called John page, who had worked in the gardens dept since 1984; John still works in the gardens to this day. So the other week I asked him if he didn’t mind writing a few words about, where his interest in gardening came from and how he entered the world of horticulture in the 1870’s (sorry John, typo) 1970’s. To see if anything had changed over the years, or is it or always will be, the same for years to come.

So John in your own words mate and remember, no swearing…… because I never f***ing do!

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I was ten when I decided I wanted to do gardening as my future career. I am sure it was a combination of parental enthusiasm for gardening combined with a fascination with nature. My father was a civil servant following military service and he was keen that I should consider something more secure (and more well paid !).

Careers advice at school was even less enthusiastic about my choice. They considered horticulture as a real last resort only to be taken up by those with a barely detectable intelligence and would put as many alternatives in front of me as they could. I can still remember being told ” are you sure you would not rather go into banking or insurance?” Forty odd years later I feel that the path I chose has been a rich experience if not as financially rich as banking.

I stayed on at school to do ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels inspired by an older friend of mine who after getting the same went to the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute which was not too far from where I lived in Sussex. My parents decided to move, however, and we went to Norfolk just after I left school which coincided with the start of a recession and no- one was keen to take on a young school leaver with no experience other than Saturday gardening jobs. I had a few temporary jobs such as farm work and a grass research project but it was not until I began writing to firms all over the country that I made a breakthrough.
I wrote to Unwins the seed firm in Histon having got their address off the back of a seed packet. I moved to Histon and spent eight years as a Seed Manager’s Assistant which meant doing anything and everything. Most of all I enjoyed working on the trial ground and I was fortunate to be sent on day release to Milton College to do City & Guilds in Horticulture. This facility has sadly closed recently with nowhere local to Cambridge offering the opportunity to get qualifications in this way.

As the years went by I found I was spending more time working indoors and hardly any outdoors on the trials so I applied elsewhwere and was able to get a gardening job at Trinity College in Cambridge and last month we had a little celebration as it was thirty years since I first started there. I have actually been at the College more than twice as long as I have ever lived in any one place!

John Page

So there you have it, very similar problems to what I and many others had a few decades (bloody typo’s) years later! With the closure of many courses/colleges in horticulture, the future is looking very bleak indeed. It’s such a shame, as the world of horticulture has so much to offer and is such a great place to be… more ways than one! This is a subject that I will revisit again in the future.

On a lighter note and as a little thank you to John, I thought I’d leave you with a little music (any excuse) and let you into a little secret.
At the end of the day, John is often the last one to leave and when most have gone, he often whacks on a few tunes to unwind and to have a little bop too and funny enough……he likes his Rock music!

Thanks for the post John and for all the help and advice over the years!!


The Sexy Salvia

Another post from 2012


The wonderful world of the Salvia … from the very blousy to the to the very subtle, this genus has everything.

It is a very large genus that has several hundred species of annuals, biennials, herbaceous perennials and shrubs.

We grow a wide range of Salvias, giving us plenty of colour from early summer, right through until the end of autumn. They are very easy to propagate from softwood or semi ripe cuttings or from seed, some you can also divide. The majority of Salvia’s like to be in full sun or partial shade in a moist but, well-drained soil.

With hundreds to choose from, there is something for everyone and many with aromatic leaves. Here are a few of what we grow.

Salvia involucrata ‘Bethellii’– I love this one. Reaching up to six feet in height and with pink flowers from summer, right through until the autumn, it…

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Wordless Wednesday: Autumnal rays

Picture taken by Andy Mead, gardener at Trinity College


Alien invasion

I was going to post this as a ‘Wordless Wednesday’ but thought it deserved a few words.

You’ll find none of my usual horticultural nonsense in this post, or any excuse to include a music video well; maybe one!

After bumping into my uncle a couple of weeks back at the seaside, he said he was very keen for me to put a few pictures of his little moped on my blog, just to show it off a bit!


Two years in the making after being imported from the United States,this Harley Davidson is certainly an eye


As you can see my uncle is a fan of the ‘Alien’ films and all the custom work was based on the films.











So there you are, a pretty impressive machine. He did let me sit on it and I can tell you, my heart was pounding with nerves, just in case I dropped the bloody thing!

The Harlequin Glorybower.

One from autumn 2012


When the rest of the college is looking like this…..

And this……..

There is one particular shrub that is not alway’s commonly known, that is looking rather spectacular ….. Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii (Harlequin Glorybower).

A true gem of the garden, that is perfect in every way especially at this time of year.

I was originally going to use this as a ‘Wordless Wednesday’ but then thought, this deserved a few words to go with it …. even in my very strange and incoherent way.

I’m not one for doing a plant of the month thing (not yet anyway) but this for me is the plant of the season. This time of year I could of gone for one with spectacular autumn foliage, that one would have been too easy, as there are literally hundreds to choose from.

Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii is from western China, a deciduous shrub or…

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One canvas…..many artists

Since deciding that gardening was the job for me, I have been extremely lucky to have worked in some the most beautiful gardens in the country.IMG_5609-1

Now, for those of you who have read my other posts will know that my love of gardening came from knowing and spending some time at Hemingford Grey Manor….Green Knowe to some of you. A place where my Grandad was a gardener there for many years and my Nan cleaned the house.
As a child, I would go with them on occasions to the manor, entering into this magical garden and manor house where I would sometimes see Mrs Lucy Boston.

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Now, did my love of gardening come from the fact that this was/is such a special place? A house and garden that had been there since the 1100’s? Or Mrs Boston herself, who wrote several books about the house and garden? I think it was all of the above. Although, it was the garden itself that drew most of my attention. Mrs Boston bought the house in the 1930’s and both house and garden was in need of renovation. It was Mrs Boston’s ideas and work with a lot of help from others, that has shaped the garden to how we know it to this day. The garden that has shaped my working life.

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As with most historical gardens, Mrs Boston was only one of many to add her ideas to the garden that has been there for hundreds of years. The garden evolves over the years with some of the larger trees surviving disease, floods, fire and the Gardeners axe, with new plantings being added by the ever changing owners/Gardeners. The main shape and size may stay the same over the years but with the new guardians coming in and adding there own ideas. Even if it is just adding new borders, or removing borders, changing the shape of the lawn or planting new trees and shrubs. Some may only survive for a few years, where others will be around for many years to come, shaping what others may do in the years to come.

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As the title says ‘One canvas…. many artists’, some see the garden as an art form, others do not. Whatever your view is, it is still an area that uses: colour, texture, scent, sound and often emotion/feeling into all areas of the garden.
Now when I started working at Trinity College in 2000 as a Under gardener, I never thought I would make it to the position of Head Gardener. Very few get to have this wonderful opportunity not just to work in these wonderful gardens but to be involved with the future planning of the college gardens. To be able to add some of my ideas to the many that have been added before mine. Hopefully to be enjoyed by many in the future and to be part of the evolution of the garden.
Many a private/public garden goes through all these changes, different Gardeners and or owners change over the years, along with some the plantings and layout but the main canvass stays the same.
So before I went to Ireland earlier this year and after a lot of thought, I decided it was time for me to move on and tackle a fresh new challenge. Not an easy decision to leave such a wonderful place like Trinity but I felt the time is now right for me to move on. I will be staying in the world of horticulture but I feel the need to cause more havoc elsewhere…’ve been warned! So, I will leave Trinity this autumn with a lot of happy memories and with the hope I have helped maintain the gardens and made improvements for future Head Gardeners to be able to move forward with.

Oh by the way, I will be blogging about my new adventure in the near future.