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This week’s Guest Blogger is Michael Walker:

Michael Walker

Head of Garden & Estate, Trentham Estate

”Gardens have been very special places for me”

I didn’t expect that my stint of working for a property developer, who enthusiastically and proudly own the The Trentham Estate, would be one that would continue to fulfil me after 14 plus years. It is surprising perhaps for someone like myself to be consumed by a single place for longer than I have been at any of the wonderful places I have worked at prior to this. I am someone who has always enjoyed tackling new projects on fresh green grass in gardens in many different parts of the UK – each time I have relocated it has felt like I am on holiday and enjoying the new locations with the eager enthusiasm of a holiday maker. So 14 years at Trentham has been a surprise, I have been hooked by this unusual and amazing place.  But Trentham is not the only garden which has felt so very special to me – my heart warms to my times spent at Mount Stewart, Powis Castle, Beningbrough Hall, Harewood and Waddesdon Manor – each garden so very different, and for me happening at very different stages of my life and in the progression of my career.  I feel that I have grown up in the gardens which I have both worked and lived in – and believe me, I had a lot of growing up to do! My successes have been equally balanced by my mistakes and by so many adventures, and a few misadventures, along the way. It is not just the places but the people whom I have met and the support they have given me which has been so much part of my journey through my continuing career.

Gardens continually present new challenges. They can look entirely different as they change with the season, or even throughout the different aspects of a single day that just may, by chance,  provide the reward of an early mist or haw frost, or a setting sun with long dark shadows, or a special glimpse of nature that is a privilege to witness, and only comes by being in a certain place when the time and opportunity should rarely present itself.

When you think you have delivered a new project and it’s time to move on to the next, your earlier work is still evolving, presenting different opportunities and dilemmas; each needing to be prioritised with a view to what is happening across the whole garden. A good photographer might be able to tease out some of the different perspectives that we as gardeners may take for granted, and for many, their work may provide a record of how special a garden can be when the light or conditions create an ephemeral atmosphere that may not present itself during the busier visiting hours that the garden is open to the public. I am often told how lucky I am to have my role – well I am, but the full understanding of what the role entails is not defined solely by maintaining an image of the garden portrayed in a photograph, the garden is a living, dynamic entity that morphs and readapts its shape around its foundations. Managing this requires consistency, but equally its needs are also ephemeral and delicate.

I find the diversity of gardening and my own broader role of immense interest.  My children, who know me better than anyone, are so harshly critical of my ability to provide a relatively confident answer or solution for most things – just because it’s not the answer they want doesn’t mean it’s not a possible alternative, and there is always more than one answer.  I definitely count my google-like responsiveness  as part of my skill set – certainly as a Dad. There can be no better way than learning by actually doing something – ok – getting it wrong before getting it right. I can think of no other area where I have become an expert, I am not sure I have the ability to focus my concentration on any one aspect for long enough to achieve that; but this is all part of the role that continues to provide me with the most rewarding experiences.

I occasionally return to gardens where I had worked in an earlier stage of my career and am reminded of the special time I had spent there, and how, despite the many seasons that have followed, the places, whilst changed and evolved, continue to have a have a special sense of place which still feels legible and recognisable to me. It certainly helps when one has had the privilege to work in a place before one can truly connect with it – although I haven’t worked at Studley Royal, Castle Howard, or so many other beautiful places which I feel I have had an understanding and appreciation of how very special those places are. There are many special places – but my favourite is not a garden, it’s very much a landscape, just not a designed one. The North Antrim coast – now that’s more than special. I’m on a roll now, the Roaches in Staffordshire’s Peak District – I feel truly moved even thinking about these incredible places. I suspect many others have not had the time, inclination or opportunity to do so.

Michael Walker

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