An interview with Stephen Herrington


What is your current role?

I’m head gardener at Leonardslee Lakes and Garden in West Sussex – with 17 gardeners, 240 acres and a Grade 1 landscape. There are lots of projects taking place which continue the restoration of this garden although I have only been in post since last September.

What type of projects are you working on?

The garden was derelict for 10 years so we are battling Rhododendron ponticum (R. luteum is staying!) and brambles as well as regenerating the planting. We’re also putting in a winter garden, planting lots of bulbs, adding a sub-tropical border and so much more! There will be a ten year management plan to see the development over the next few years.

How did you come to be at Leonardslee?

I went to horticultural college after school, did a foundation in horticulture before going to Tresco Abbey Gardens which was amazing. Then completed the National Diploma in Horticulture before moving to RHS Garden Wisley as a student. From there, I went to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh looking after the glasshouses as well as doing a horticulture degree part-time. I went to Glasgow Botanic Gardens as curator before moving back south to become head gardener at the National Trust’s Nymans. I then managed a National Trust garden project which looked at visitors, gardener training, use of social media – and gave me the opportunity to visit lots of gardens!

What do you enjoy most about your current role?

My role is very varied and different to the usual head gardener role. I’ve a really good team, and there is so much taking place that there is no time to stand still. There is a goal of putting the garden back on the map. I’m involved in interpretation, social media, and so much else.

Do you have a favourite garden?

Definitely Tresco Abbey Garden – a truely inspirational place. I really like Hanbury Botanical Gardens in Le Mortola, Italy. Closer to home, I like Parham Gardens in Sussex with its potager. It is important to visit gardens to get new ideas,

Although you are new to Leaonardslee, do you have a favourite area of the garden?

I’m still finding new paths and there is so much to see. The hotspots are the Rock Garden which is beautiful and the Dell – one of the oldest parts of the garden – which opens out to views of the lakes.

What three plants would you take to a deserted island?

I would take asparagus, I’m a great fan and have a great recipe. I would take ginger too for curries and I’d take hori hori for weeding and other gardening activities.

What or who has inspired you horticulturally?

I’ve been on a number of collecting trips and I’ve been collecting with Martin Gardner who really inspired me from a conservation point of view.

Is there anywhere you would like to visit?

There are lots of places. I led the first collection trip for the National Trust to Tasmania to follow in Harold Comber’s footsteps: he also visited the Andes so I would like to go there and write a book about his travels. I’d also like to go the Himalayas to look at rhododendrons.

WIs there anything about you that might surprise people?

I discovered a new species of plant in 2008…..

With thanks to Bruce Langridge and Will Ritchie of National Botanic Garden of Wales for question format and original podcast idea