In the first of a series of interviews, we speak to Estate Gardens Manager Martin Towsey.
What’s your first memory of gardening?
When I was five, I had my own a small patch in the garden. My Dad gave me a pack of Alysumm ‘Lobularia maritima’, which I poured over the ground and they all came up – if only all gardening was that easy.
When I was about seven, I helped Mum during the summer holidays in a bedding nursery. Then when I was at secondary school, I started working on my uncle’s farm; I cycled there after I had done my paper round during the summer holidays.
I did a three-year apprenticeship with Nottingham City Council which included going to college on day release. I found my old apprenticeship folder the other day. Looking back through it really took me back. It was the best start you could ever have, working with proper old-school gardeners.
What area of The Bedford Estate Gardens are you responsible for?
I am responsible for all of them: Woburn Abbey Gardens, London Squares, the Safari Park, Woburn Golf Club amenity areas, the Hotel at Woburn, Woburn village, the Evergreens and the private houses for The Duke and Duchess.
What’s your favourite job?
I like planting and growing - it’s the something from nothing experience.
Nowadays it’s the emails and paperwork.
Biggest gardening success?
Building a talented, robust, great team of gardeners – and personally it’s winning the Horticulture Week, National Custodian Award.
We don’t failures, we just have dislocated plans that we work out - just ask the team.
Do you have a garden at home?
I am lucky to live on the Estate at the 4-acre Old Walled Garden. It was derelict when we moved in and we cleared all the brambles – but alas there was no greenhouse left.
What are you doing in your garden at home?
Green walls are my big thing at the moment. We’ve made a herb wall and one was installed at the Woburn Golf Club after testing at home. I am currently trialing all-year-round green walls. The key things are they are all about the light and the water.
What hobbies do you have?
I still like mowing it’s my time to think about the projects and tasks we have across the Estate.
Favourite plant in the world and why?
Fagus sylvatic the beech - it was the first Latin plant name I learnt at college.
Which plant would you give away as a gift?
Cyclamen, they’re a nice interesting plant with great flowers and leaves.
Martin’s top tip: Just have a go - you plan and plans may go wrong but you will always have more success than failure.
How can someone start in the horticultural industry?
It is such a wide industry there is something for everyone. I feel apprenticeships are still the best solid base to work from, but if you have gone direct to collage or uni then get some experience under your belt at weekends and during your holidays.
When I interview people for jobs in our team I look for teamship - people who can work in the team, attitude and teachability, as well as talent and people working in the environment they really want to work in.