Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Skillful gardening

As you know, the first phase of the English Heritage 20-year restoration project at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire has been opened to the public. I was lucky to be part of a group shown around by an historian involved with the project's research. It was rather like walking through an enjoyable garden history revision lecture.  The de Grey family, who owned Wrest Park from the Middle Ages until the early 20th century, commissioned several 18th century landscape designers and conversed with many others.  Rather than being thrown out, lost at sea, or destroyed in an unfortunate house fire, the papers, letters and diaries detailing much of the garden's development have survived - it's any garden history researcher's dream.  Those of you with a place on the AGT study day in October are in for a treat.

Given the current concern about recruiting and training the horticulturalists of the future, it was good to hear that eight young gardeners have been taken on at Wrest Park under an historic gardens apprenticeship scheme. What a great opportunity to gain skills and qualifications - and on such an exciting project.  No doubt it will provide a wonderful boost to their horticultural careers.

The importance of retaining the valuable horticultural skills most at risk in this economic climate was discussed at a recent GreenLink meeting.  Peter Wilkinson, Chair of GreenSpace National Forum, would like to harness the skills of those leaving the sector, whether through retirement or redundancy, before they disappear.  GreenSpace, in partnership with Horticulture Week, Perennial, and Lantra, plan to set up a pilot scheme to tackle the problem.  It will enable those keen to remain in touch with the industry to act as a coach or mentor, or to support volunteer groups.  I will report back as the scheme develops.

Gardening skills of a highly specialised kind were the subject of the fourth in Buckinghamshire Gardens Trust's series of Hartwell Seminars.  Entitled 'Pineries and Pineapples', the seminar was prompted by Eric Throssell's research into the 1760 pinery at Hartwell.  Speakers focused on both the cultural and the horticultural history of pineapple cultivation. I hadn't realised just how much time, energy, money and prestige was invested in growing a fruit that we walk past on the supermarket shelf without a thought.  The seminar papers will be published in the Bucks GT series of Hartwell seminar booklets.

Did you know that about 17.8% of the UK population are social housing tenants? That's about 8.5 million households.  There's a significant number of gardens and a large amount of green space around these homes.  Nicola Wheeler from Neighbourhoods Green gave a presentation to GreenLink on the work that is being done across the country to enable social landlords, their tenants and residents to improve the quality of the green spaces in their neighbourhoods.  Do have a look at their website.

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