It’s #NationalGardeningWeek so we sat down with our Head Gardener Trevor Nicholson to chat all things gardens, from top tips to first memories.
What’s your favourite garden at Harewood ?
That’s a difficult one! I love all the gardens at Harewood, the Terrace gardens with the magnificent Italian parterre, stunning flower borders, fountains, and the huge sub-tropical border; the Walled Garden with its fantastic productive kitchen garden, hops, orchard, meadow and lovely herbaceous borders; and of course, the amazing Himalayan Garden with the beautiful waterfall, gorge, rock garden and wonderful drifts of primulas, rhododendrons, trees and shrubs. Restoring and developing each of these gardens has been a huge part of my life over the past 30 years. If I had to pick a favourite then it would have to be the Himalayan Garden, because I love plants, mountains, and wild places, and it reminds me of all the incredible wild places I’ve explored in China and the Himalayas and the wonderful native plants I found there.
What’s your favourite time of year in the gardens ?
Springtime, especially April and May when all the amazing rhododendrons come into flower around the beautiful lakeside, and when so many trees are flowering then. I love the fresh green of young oak leaves and seeing the oak apples starting to blush; and of course, who doesn’t adore the swathes of bluebells in the woods at Harewood? Spring is also when we sow our seeds and get plants in the ground too, so it’s an incredibly busy time for all gardeners.
What’s the best gardening tip you’ve ever received?
Gosh! There are so many. If I hadn’t taken sound advice from so many wonderful people, I wouldn’t be where I am now. We follow ‘no-dig’ practices in the Walled Garden now, but we used to sow vegetable seed directly onto the ground in carefully prepared seed drills. The soil at Harewood contains tiny clay particles, so after it rained the soil would develop a thin crust on top as it dried called a ‘cap’ which can stunt or distort seedlings as they try to push through the crust. To avoid problems from the soil ‘capping’ over the seedlings, my old tutor advised me to lightly cover the seeds in the drills with sieved potting compost mixed with sand. No capping. No distortion. Genius!
What are your first memories of gardening?
My dad was a gardener and so was his. Being from the north, gardening was big in our family, but not the posh, showy kind of gardening, it was allotment gardening, the proper kind where growing food in whatever space you had was the absolute norm throughout my formative years. We cooked and ate all the vegetables we grew and composted all the green waste. All our neighbours did it. We lived in a row of old railway workers’ cottages next to a disused railway, where the embankments had been turned into allotments by the locals for growing food. Weeding – between rows of leeks or onions or carrots – was just what you were expected to do as a kid. In the holidays we used to visit local gardens and parks. I can’t remember a time when gardening wasn’t part of my life.
What advice would you give to a new gardener?
My advice would definitely be to join a network of gardeners, such as the Professional Gardeners’ Guild or the Walled Kitchen Gardens Network, or your regional Gardens Trust etc. You will not only find genuinely kind and helpful people, but you will also have the opportunity of joining organised visits all over the country to some fantastic gardens and behind-the-scenes tours of some amazing projects. You’ll learn from seasoned professionals who are more than willing to share their advice. Follow your interests too, there are some wonderful plant societies out there, which are run by very knowledgeable people.