A week in the life of Darren Venables

A week in the life of Darren Venables


It's sunrise and although I'm still on holiday, I return to Chewton Glen tomorrow after two weeks off and I know I need to get back to speed quickly and out of holiday mode. 

After a cup of coffee, it's time to get on my bike for my daily ride which gives me a chance to clear my head and de-stress. 

After breakfast I take my eldest to her last pre-season friendly before football season starts, over the years I have spent so much time doing paperwork in the car and today is no exception. The hour before the match is spent writing down job lists for the week and answering emails. 


I always feel like it's the first day at school all over again after a long holiday. My day starts at 6am with a stop by my office to catch up.

Once the daily work briefing with my gardeners is over, my Head Gardener and I spend a couple of hours walking the estate giving me an opportunity to catch up on urgent tasks. As Chewton Glen is such a large and complex estate with so many guests and events, there is always a lot of planning required to ensure the guests are not affected. 

The afternoon is spent organising meetings and work for the gardeners for the rest of the week. I also have a quick chat to all of the gardeners individually and make sure they are happy with no issues. This is especially important for my four apprentices, although there is ten of us making it a fairly large department, I feel it is important that I am approachable and available to them. 

At home, after a visit to the gym, I spend the rest of the evening organising a trip for the end of the month to Kew Gardens for the gardeners. We are desperate to see the new greenhouse and herbaceous border, I am hoping it will be inspirational, but tonight all I can see is emails requesting quotes for mini bus hire...


Tuesday begins with a bright red sky and the promise of heavy rain, fingers crossed, as we have not had rain for weeks. 

Before the gardeners arrive, I check the crops I have growing in the nursery and the kitchen garden. I begin to plan a new display in our Alitex greenhouse, the reason for this is we are starting to supply a new Rocket Micro salad crop to the cookery school today. Our micro salad crops are displayed in the Alitex greenhouse amongst other herbs and crops we grow for the cookery school chefs and pupils to come and pick when they need them.

After the gardener's daily meeting, I visit Steve our Cookery School Chef and Adam our Cookery School Restaurant Chef to get some feedback on the new rocket crop. Both love it and think it's perfect, so I order a full batch of seeds to ensure there is a constant supply for successional sowing. 

My next step is to look at the beginnings of our mushroom growing project. I have wanted to grow mushrooms on a large scale at Chewton Glen for years and have recently set one of my gardeners this task. He shows me the first baby mushroom spores growing and we talk about the next steps for the following months. 

The afternoon is spent with my amazing vegetable gardener discussing crops for the next summer, we need to work out a planting plan in order to allow us to sort out the crops for this winter. We don't get as much of this done as I would have liked before I am due at my next meeting with the hotel's financial controller to look at my budget for the next few years. 

It's now 4pm and this gives me a few minutes to catch up with my gardeners before they head home. 


After a quick walk around the grounds this morning and with the daily gardeners meeting over, my day begins in earnest. 

The first part of my day is spent with our tree consultant Dave Cashman, having just completed the first part of this year's tree survey, he wants to feed back his findings. We spend the majority of our time looking at some damage on one of the oldest Oak trees on the Estate and how best to tidy up a large section of branches at the top which have broken off. Dave tells me all about how larger trees can be particularly susceptible in times of severe drought.

Next I meet with Steve the fitter from KGM, we recently entered into a partnership with KGM to maintain all 65 of our garden maintenance machines. Today, Steve greases all the priority machines and carries out safety inspections. 

More and more of my job is taken up with health and safety, but it is important and although not the most exciting part of my job, I have a duty of care to the gardeners and guests who use and work in the grounds. 

This evening is really windy and warm, so my wife and I go for a long walk along the beach, the wind is so refreshing and watching the kite surfers at Calshot makes for good entertainment. 


It's 4.30 and the air smells fresh, it rained lightly last night, which gives me indication that I can start to make some plans for repairing the damage done to the grounds by the long dry summer. 

Every month I have to check the entire estate for potential health and safety issues, this is time consuming however, I always try to combine it with my daily routine to break it up. This morning I want to look at our boundary with the main Lymington road and see if the trees in this area are in need of cutting back. It's a bit of a walk, but worth it, as I discover there is tree work that needs doing. 

With the temperatures now dropping and some rain on the way I spent time assessing the grounds that have been worst hit by the drought. We are certainly going to have to do some re-landscaping in places; I start by working out which areas we can use plants grown in the nursery and what we need to buy in. 

Towards the end of the day I visit our golf course and greens, with the current water restrictions we have to let it fend for itself and turn the irrigation off. Once back in my office I sit down to write out a reinstatement plan, which I can schedule into the next few weeks of work. 

Tonight it's windy, cloudy and drizzly on my bike ride through the forest, but the many rainbows and beautiful sun set make it worthwhile. 


With the morning meeting done and the daily work given out, it's time to get on with today's tasks. 

I hate mentioning the C word in August, but sadly I have to, finding a potential Christmas tree supplier is first on the list. At the hotel, we buy 300 Christmas trees each year of various sizes from the small rooted trees we give as room gifts, to the huge 20 foot cut centre piece in the main hallway. I currently buy trees from a variety of suppliers but I have wanted to buy them more locally for years. Luckily, this year I have been put in touch with a potential grower in Hampshire. 

The rest of the morning is taken up with little jobs that will make a difference; the first of these is to find some wicker baskets we can present the harvested crops in for taking them to the Cookery School. My friend Jennifer Williams, who owns Naked Jam, forages the grounds every day and uses the fruit to make the hotel jams, jellies, syrups and chutneys. She puts me onto a great supplier, the order is placed for 16 trugs and my first job is done. 

The next job is to find some more plants for the hotels winter bedding displays, the displays are already designed and the main plants are ordered but I need some heathers and trailing ivies for winter baskets. All my usual suppliers cannot help, so I put out a post on Twitter and within a few minutes several suggestions come through, after a couple of phone calls to several helpful nurseries I have found what I want. 

Time to go home get a beer, a book and sit down. 


Saturday is nice and laidback. In the morning my wife and I go for coffee and cake at the New Forest Lavender Farm. I have never been before but instantly love it, the smell is amazing and the coffee shop and gardens are beautiful. This is definitely a place I want to come back to, especially because the lavender and lemon curd cake is delicious. 

The afternoon is spent drawing garden designs. I studied garden design as one of the modules from college many years ago and really enjoyed it; I have regretted for years never continuing when I left college. I am now re-teaching myself how to put these ideas on paper to present to others. 

Saturday evening is a great family night, the entire family (there is lots of us) gather at my parents for a family BBQ, we are a close family and it's really nice when we all get together - what better way to end a challenging but rewarding week!