Head Gardener Jamie Harris has been Head Gardener at Polesden Lacey since January 2015. He heads up a team of 5 gardeners and 100 volunteers. Here are his insights into working at this horticultural haven...
How did you come to be at Polesden Lacey? I’ve been here for nearly three years. Before that I was at Nyman’s and prior to that I was at Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s house. I was there for five years including a three-year National Trust apprenticeship. Before that I had been working in film and television production for about 15 years when I decided on a big career change. Gardening was already my hobby and I was fed up of working long hours in a dark little studio, so I thought why not turn my hobby into my career?
How big is your team at Polesden Lacey? We have three full-time gardeners including me and three part-time gardeners. We also have around 100 volunteers that do one day a week. Without them it’d be a complete jungle here! Then we’ve got someone on a two-year apprenticeship and a volunteer intern position which changes every six months. We look after 70 acres of formal gardens, pleasure grounds and surrounding areas. Mrs Greville would have had between 40-50 gardeners, but back then they did a lot more by hand. Of course, they didn’t have 370,000 visitors every year…
What are the main seasonal jobs? Summer is about the regular maintenance – mowing, edging, deadheading, weeding, harvesting and watering in times of drought. Autumn is probably our busiest time with hedge cutting, turf care and bulb planting. We’ve planted 12,000 bulbs this autumn, on top of about 55,000 over the previous two years. We usually try to get any new planting done in autumn when the soil is still warm and wet to allow the roots to bed down before winter.
What jobs are you working on in January? This time of year is all about preparing for the new growing season, so there’s tool sharpening and machinery maintenance. We’ll be pruning wisteria and planting any bareroot trees and shrubs, as long as the ground isn’t frozen. We’ll check on any overwintering dahlia tubers, start sowing early annuals such as sweet peas, force rhubarb in the kitchen garden and start to chit potatoes. And if we’ve had any snow we’ll make sure it isn’t causing any damage to trees and shrubs
Do you have a favourite part of the garden? The dedicated spring borders are probably my current favourite because they’re quite a new scheme that we’ve designed and planted over the last couple of years. They’re a modern take on Edwardian flamboyance.
What’s the best bit about your job? Every day is different, there’s always something new to learn, so it’s never boring.
Are there any new plans for the garden in 2018? There’s a lot of redevelopment and improvements going on in the herbaceous borders and the rose garden. We’ve invested a lot in improving the paths in recent years to help with accessibility, and we’re hoping to spread out from the formal gardens into the pleasure grounds with new projects.
• LOCATION Polesden Lacey, Great Bookham, near Dorking Surrey RH5 6BD
• OPEN Daily except 24 and 25 December. 30 Oct – 4 Feb 10am-4pm; the rest of the year 10am-5pm. House and facilities have different opening times.
• CONTACT 01372 452048; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/polesden-lacey