Bedfordshire Head Gardeners Network

By Corinne Price, Swiss Garden & Grounds Manager

The Bedfordshire Head Gardeners Network is a Bedfordshire Gardens Trust initiative bringing together gardeners across the county on a regular basis to offer a collaborative approach to caring for Bedfordshire’s green spaces.  The overall objective is to provide a supportive forum to share experiences, ideas and challenges which affect the head gardeners in their local environments – and to address wider issues affecting the horticultural industry as a whole, such as climate change, skills and training.  With access to up-to-date information and new thinking, our head gardeners are better able to help their sites to thrive. 

The network celebrated its first anniversary in February 2019, with several outcomes already addressing the needs of head gardeners working within different environments, with varying levels of support.  The network facilitates regular contact between the head gardeners, and enables assistance to be provided where it is most needed.  It also allows for conversations to develop between Bedfordshire Gardens Trust committee members, whose mission it is to protect landscapes and green spaces across the county, historic and otherwise, and the head gardeners who are at the very heart of their custodianship.

The network launched at the Swiss Garden in February 2018 and so far, ten local green spaces are being represented regularly at the thrice-yearly meetings:  The Swiss Garden, Woburn Abbey, Ampthill Park, Luton Hoo Walled Garden, Moggerhanger Park, RSPB Lodge Sandy, Jordans Mill, Southill Park, Stockwood Park and Houghton Park.  Two new members, from Silsoe Horticultural Centre and Warden Vineyard, are due to attend the next meeting in July, with further interest being demonstrated by other sites across the county.

Two out of the four meetings to date have involved external speakers. Perennial shared a moving presentation about the types of support and advice available to those working in the horticultural industry, and Shuttleworth College and Adrow (Ros Burnley) spoke to the group together about apprenticeship levies and how to go about employing apprentices.  A further speaker, from Central Bedfordshire Council’s social prescribing team, will talk to the group in July about opportunities for Bedfordshire gardens to get involved with the move to use green spaces to improve health and wellbeing within their communities. 

A mutually supportive environment can nurture great things, and the best testimonials come from the head gardeners themselves, further evidenced by their repeated attendance and enthusiastic contributions to the meetings – we all know that gardeners are busy people!  Network member Phil Nicholson, Park and Amenities Manager at Ampthill Park, provided this summary of the network’s benefits:

It seems to be increasingly important that those working in gardens and parks work collaboratively not only to share knowledge and information but to also help promote your site and gain inspiration.  As many of us work in small teams and don’t have professional colleagues to turn to for advice, having a network of head gardeners at hand is a great asset.’