|6 Mar 2023
|News from the College
Visitors to Bradfield are often heard commenting upon the picturesque nature of the estate, and gardens play a significant role in this complement, I meet up with Bradfield’s Head Gardener Simon Myhill to find out how he manages to keep Bradfield looking so beautiful.
When we meet in late February it is a chilly morning with the wind whipping straight off the pitches and charging into Quad. There are a few bold daffodils tentatively making an appearance however the snowdrops and crocus show none of their lack of enthusiasm for the weather, with blankets of small flowers coating the banks near the boarding houses and in Quad.
Despite the wind chill Simon is enthused. He explains that the cross-over between Winter and Spring is one of his favourite times of the year, where every day you can notice activity, changes that start small, with just a few buds, but then everything takes off and the landscape bursts into life during the growing season. Simon indicates towards the sunken garden where everything looks well-ordered, hedges trimmed, beds prepared, primed and poised for the next stage.
‘Just because plants aren’t growing, it doesn’t mean that the garden’s team are sat there twiddling their thumbs, the preparation for everything that you see in the Summer is set in motion now.’
It is very apparent that the gardens’ team is busy all year round – from the Winter when they choose to focus on the major structural projects, to the rest of the year which requires an intensive cycle of watering and mowing. This Winter their major focus has been the hedges. Simon explains that hedges really create the structure of the garden, so it’s important to have them in order. The major focus of the work has been to reduce the height, partly for reasons of Health and Safety and partly for pragmatism. Although it has been a lot of tough work up front, maintaining shorter hedges will be an easier prospect, allowing the team to manage everything from ground level.
Keeping on top of the workload is always a challenge, they have a team of 5 but according to Simon could easily have a team of 10. The task is manageable in Winter as they can plan their projects more easily but over the Summer the workload is very weather dependent and intensive – a rotation of mowing or watering. The pots, of which we have many, require watering 3 times a day even when it rains because perhaps ironically the leaf canopy prevents the water from reaching the soil in the pots, so it all has to be done by hand.
The garden’s team are however clearly happy in their work as always willing to engage in conversation to speak about their projects, something that Simon is keen to encourage. ‘We want to be engaged with the community and appreciate all the positive comments that we receive.’
Like many of us, Simon is really looking forward to the end of the St Andrew’s project, he thinks that it will be a fantastic facility but from his perspective, he is also dying to get rid of the temporary oil tank that is currently sitting in the garden by Gray Schools. Once it’s gone we have a nice little project planned to rejuvenate the area and bring it in line with the rest of the Sunken Garden.
‘For all of the negativity surrounding the pandemic, there were a couple of positive threads especially when it came to appreciation of the outdoors. The connection between nature and mental health. Maintaining a healthy and beautiful natural environment also helps us to remain healthy’.
Simon has worked hard to flood the campus with areas of natural sanctuary. At Faulkners, he has created a garden that is not also visually appealing but also aromatic. He has worked hard to develop the Sunken Garden so that it is an area that invites interaction and was delighted that by introducing picnic benches he succeeded in encouraging pupils to use the space for external dining and socialising. Even the Maths department got a touch of garden magic with the introduction of flowering cherries in front of the building to add to the corridor of roses and lavender that has been in development over the last few years
Simon is also very keen on the sustainability aspect of the garden and doesn’t like to throw plants away when changing over seasonal garden designs. Any frost-damaged plants are taken to recover in the deep leaf-mold beds in the top woods, to be ready for re-planting at a later stage.
‘Whilst we order around 700 bulbs each year for fresh displays in our prime locations and transfer existing displays to other areas around campus so that nothing is wasted, and each area has a fresh appearance.’
Additionally, the College used to grow its own plants from seed but the cost of heating the greenhouses meant that this approach no longer made financial sense. Instead, the College supports the local Glenvale Garden Centre in Bradfield Southend by purchasing the young plants there.
‘The way the beds are designed and planted has also changed, so selecting plants that are pollen-rich is a major consideration, as well as those that have seeds that can provide food for birds and animals over the Winter months.’
As I leave Simon, I ask if it’s likely that I will be able to have any pictures of Daffodils for my St David’s Day message. He says that it’s unlikely as they are a couple of weeks behind owing to the cold weather, however he does send me some great pictures of the display last year.
Do take a look at the pictures of the gardens that we have taken over the last year and do consider joining us on Summer Bradfield Day, Saturday 24 June, where you can take a tour of the gardens for yourself.
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