18 June 2018 By Kitty Yarrow
Martin Towsey's agricultural childhood sparked his ascent into the world of horticulture. At the age of fifteen, he pursued his love of the outdoors with Nottingham City Council's horticultural apprenticeship, and over the years he has taken on a number of job roles; ranging from lecturing students, to designing practical gardening assignments. The extensive knowledge Martin has obtained has led to his position as Estates Garden Manager at Woburn Abbey. After 14 years of working with the 15th Duke and Duchess of Bedford at Woburn, Martin balances a multitude of tasks, including tending to the private gardens and managing 300 acres of Woburn Safari Park, but has taken a central role in the organisation and execution of the Woburn Abbey Garden Show. With the show fast approaching, we spoke to Martin to get an insight into the process behind organising such an event, his daily routine at Woburn, and the history behind the show itself.
A key factor for the trustees at Woburn, when a new Duchess is appointed, is to understand what the gardens themselves will be used for. Orchestrated by Her Grace, Martin Towsey has started a twenty-five-year restoration plan, the Woburn Abbey Garden Show is a demonstration of the Duchess' vision to bring the landscape and the gardens back to life so they can be shared with as many people as possible. The Garden Show itself is a spectacle to behold however, part of the development is to provide an educational purpose which comes as no surprise given Martin's teaching background. For Martin, the show aligns with his philosophic principles, encouraging those who visit the gardens to purchase an interesting plant, seek advice on how to care for it, and watch it grow in the hope that they will enjoy the experience and hopefully return to Woburn for years to come. Although the event itself stretches over a fleeting summer's weekend, 23-24 June, the Woburn Abbey Garden Show is a year in the making. Now in its ninth year, the show requires an all hands on deck approach as Martin and his dedicated team of 16 gardeners rally together to create a truly wonderful display, under the Duchess' direction.
A typical day for Martin starts at 6am; however, these early mornings do not include the hustle and bustle of a normal commute, as Martin lives in a property at Woburn with his family and canine companion, Hemlock. Once on site, he can begin evaluating the tasks in hand. With many items on his to-do list, Martin remains in consistent communication with Her Grace in the form of bi-weekly meetings from the close of the previous show. This is not only to ensure that the show's develop and improve with each year, attracting lead horticulturalists to attend along the way, but also to solidify the Duchess' vision by seeking her approval on nearly every aspect of the event. Martin consults with Her Grace on all manner of things including; colour, design, staging, and the diverse mix of exhibitors and stalls that apply to have their place at this spectacular affair. Once these crucial details are established, the preparation for the show itself can commence. The installation and gardening for the show coexists with the maintenance of every other part of Woburn Abbey such as the village Hotel, the Safari Park and its enclosures, the private residences of the Duke and Duchess, as well as the 42 acres of Woburn itself. It is no wonder Martin enjoys popping home for a well earned cup of tea before carrying on with his busy afternoon.
As the opening of Woburn Abbey Garden Show approaches, the final weeks consist of electrical installations, WiFi for the exhibitors, structural placement of marquees, and lastly, the arrival of the exhibitors themselves. The shuffling and directing of exhibitors to their allotted stalls is the last step Martin and his team take on before the gates open at 10am on Saturday morning, ready for the estimated 5500 green-fingered guests. It is then time for Martin and the rest of the team at Woburn Abbey, including Her Grace, to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
The event has given Woburn the ability to continue with its restoration developments that Martin and the Duchess sought out to achieve, and they hope it will continue to do so for many years to come. If you would like to attend this year's Woburn Abbey Garden Show on 23-24 June, you can purchase tickets here. Please do come and visit our mobile greenhouse to say hello.