All the gardens here are by long standing tradition an ongoing collaboration between the Estate Head Gardener and the Estate Head Cook. So you ask, how does that work out? Quite well actually . . .
Keep in mind that one is not ‘hired’ for either of those positions but ends up in them after decades of working here. I started here as a seasonal worker under the tutelage of a somewhat eccentric Head Gardener who called himself Badger. I worked here nearly a decade during summers weeding and harvesting before he thought I’d proved myself worthy of full-time work. I think it helped that I was truly interested in learning all things botanical so I spent much of my time ‘ere after work (and after cleaning myself up!) either in the Kitchen learning what they did with what we grew or in the Estate Library reading the centuries of journals kept by the Head Gardeners ‘ere.
(Mrs. Ware speaking. The Journal kept by the Head Cook at the time says he also spent a lot of time eating and drinking, flirting with the younger female staff, and being a bloody pain in the ass of Mrs. Hellstrom, the Head Cook at the time, by always asking questions. But he was quite willing to do the hard work of cutting up soup stock, cracking marrow bones, and even cleaning pots.)
I also discovered the area around the Estate (and I did not know this though I grew up not far from where I live and work now, as my Swedish parents moved here from Stockholm when I was quite young) had a long tradition of hedge witches. Don’t laugh: these folk know more about practical botany than you and I have long since forgotten! They know which herbs the midwife needs to ease a difficult birth; they can make a fever go away with a tea made of just the right plant; they know where the ley lines run; and I’m convinced a few knew more than a bit of Wild Magic.
But the best teachers are the plants and their companion creatures: listen carefully and an apple tree will tell you how it’s feeling; knock just so on a pumpkin and you’ll know how ripe it is; listen to the bees in the spring and they’ll tell you what’s coming for weather. Even the bloody ravens are worth listening to. Well, most of the time . .
I worked my way up through the gardening staff ’till the day came that Badger retired to raise bees in Sussex like a friend of his from London did.
So, Mrs. Ware and I (as I did with previous Head Cooks – I’ve been here now as Head Gardener nigh unto fifty years and she’s ‘only’ been Head Cook for a mere twenty years), sit down in December in her Office and plot out what will be new this year.
Will we try those Border berries that start out red and turn white as they ripen? Is it possible to grow those potatoes that a Several Annie remembers from her childhood in Breton? Can we find a way to grow more tomatoes outside as the Greenhouse ones just lack something? Why did the Russian rhubarb bolt so early this year? Questions, debates, and then answers emerge over several months of conversation.
Of course, the collaboration continues during the growing season as we harvest the bounty of the Estate, plant new crops, and look at what is working and what isn’t.
Now you’ll need to excuse me as Iain, our Librarian, has his apprentices scheduled to take a walk with me to the Oberon’s Wood where they’ll get a talk on the history of holly and evergreen boughs as decorative elements for the Winter Holiday season. You can come along if you want . .