I ended up in garden design later in life and in a roundabout way, but really the seeds were sown when I was very young. I can remember my dad working quietly away at his drawing board, Rotring pen in hand, indecipherable circles and lines appearing on the paper with all those obscure latin names. I never imagined I’d be doing the same thing 50 years later.
Dad had trained at art school and spent heady days living the beatnik life before settling down with my mum who told him in no uncertain terms to ‘get a job’. And so he did, starting with the Peabody Trust in 1960’s London as a gardener.
Somehow his artistic muse found an outlet alongside the horticultural work and using his drawing skills, he created architectural plans to convince the powers that be to re-think some of the existing tired planting. Eyebrows were raised by the Works Department, who weren’t too sure about being told what to do by an art school chap. But the gardens were built, and eventually Dad became Head Gardener for the Trust, managing the gardens for over 50 estates which housed upwards of 23,000 people. During his tenure there, Dad upgraded and designed many of the landscapes around the housing blocks, roads and walkways, parkland and communal gardens that surrounded the estates.
Of course time has passed, and many of these schemes have since been upgraded or replaced, but there are still some gardens today that bear his signature. A glance at Google Earth shows the footprint of legacy layouts and trees from his plans.
As a family we left London in the 1980’s to move to Devon, where dad set up his own landscaping practice ‘Greenmantle Landscapes’, and then after retirement, worked as a consultant on a natural filtration system, using reeds for industrial pollutants.
Now that I’m based in the West Country, I find I’m often passing one or other of his old sites. And while looking through his plans recently, I discovered designs for sites ranging from Yorkshire down to Devon, some commissioned over 60 years ago. I imagine that by now they have been upgraded, replaced, enjoyed, demolished or just been allowed to mature. It all puts a perspective on the meaning of patience….
Last year, while helping my dad to move into sheltered housing I came across this small, worn but rather lovely spade. ‘That spade of mine’s over 50 years old!’ he claimed. Apparently it’s blade used to be twice as long, like a fencepost spade. All those years of gardening have simply worn down the metal. And as I found out, it’s perfect for digging small holes for the young plants that make up a new garden.