18 July 2013 By Billy Hawkins
“The School of Horticulture at Kew has been described on many occasions as a ‘centre of excellence’ and as such is at the very heart of world-wide horticultural and botanical education. As a result, close links are maintained with many institutions around the globe helping to ensure Kew Diploma students are at the forefront of academic and practical botanical education.”
Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
Kew Diploma students are at the very highest point of their field and after three years of hard work, both practical and theoretical, Alitex host a tour of three great gardens - all with major Alitex greenhouses. This year the tour took place on one of the wonderful hot days we have been enjoying in the north Oxfordshire area.
Jane Tocher and John Lawson from Alitex joined fifteen Kew students and Greg Redwood, Head of Great Glasshouses at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for the tour which began at Broughton Grange, a privately owned estate. The owner is very involved with the garden and the passion shines through with opportunities throughout the year to visit with the National Gardens Scheme.
The walled gardens at Broughton Grange were designed by Tom Stuart Smith. Other areas of the garden bring the natural background into the overall design, providing views and links to the landscape beyond. The gardens include a stumpery which has been favourably compared with that at Highgrove. Whilst the Alitex greenhouse is sufficiently high profile within the gardens to appear on their website’s front page, this was not a day for shouting about our product (of which we are proud), but an opportunity to mix with like minded people and the head gardeners of tomorrow – one of the students goes on to Gibraltar to take up a position as Curator at the Botanical Gardens there. As Tom Hall (owner of Alitex) comments “It’s great to know the future of gardens around the world – not just the UK – are in good hands. The students’ knowledge, passion and commitment is world class and admirable. Ultimately it demonstrates the longevity of our market and the fact that gardening remains a huge passion for the British and Anglophiles.”
The tour went on to Thenford House, again privately owned and occasionally available to view through the year, with a larger albeit older, Alitex greenhouse as part of an impressive large estate. Areas of the garden are set into “green rooms”, like an art gallery with high hedges creating dramatic backdrops for predominantly modern sculptures. The owners of the estate are clearly great supporters of the arts.
One of the main features of the garden is the water feature which is a series of rectangular lakes almost, which flow downhill, a number of fountains within each water area keeping the water from being still. It is almost Versaille – like in its’ scale.
Lunch was taken in Waddeston before moving on to Eythrope gardens, privately owned but not available to the public and set within a huge 60 acres of amazingly landscaped working gardens; designed by Mary Keene. Nine full time gardeners keep the gardens looking immaculate, with Sue Dickinson heading up the team. Her tour of the gardens illustrated her knowledgeable, experienced dedication and her “light touch”, illustrated the humour and charm which visitors take from the garden. Fruit, vegetables and flowers are grown in huge quantities for the owners and wider family with any surplus going on to the hotel and café – one of the gardens' charms is that it is run like an old Victorian garden, with a real garden to table ethos.
Watering within the garden is such a skilled task that each gardener is given a particular set of trees to care for – such is the innate knowledge which is built up over the years that when one gardener went on holiday, the head gardener, Sue took over the watering tasks and managed to misjudge one tree and overwater it. A wooden hammer is used three times a day to check for watering requirements; by hammering the side of the pots it is possible to determine by the noise, how much each pot needs.
Another top tip from this garden which would work well with our gable ended greenhouses for maximising growing space is to grow tomatoes on the benches and tilt their struts under the roof incline. In this way you can increase your crop and still have room to grow other things.
The tour left Jane from Alitex with a spring in her step – a great new generation of gardeners coming through and a sunny day in splendid gardens that are being maintained for now and for the future.
Alitex are pleased to support the key gardeners of the future by sponsoring one of the final year prizes on the Kew Diploma.