Thursday, 7 February 2019

It's not 'Goodbye', just 'See You Later'!


The 30th of January, last Wednesday, was my last day as Head Gardener of Barnsley House. It could have been an emotional affair; but I’d been through that in the three months and more leading up to the day, instead I cleaned the pond out and then spent the afternoon with the team feeding a bonfire. 

At the end of the day I took the keys back to reception and walked out of the garden, by the quickest route, it’s no good getting maudlin; I had the best of Barnsley House, for me, and it’s now time for someone else to have the same. I’ll still be in, a couple of days a month, and the odd event, for the next year, to help guide and steer; but Jen’ (the new Head Gardener, my Deputy the last two and a half years) will soon get on with it in her own way, as it should be.

A week before my final day, Barnsley House out-flanked me, putting on a surprise afternoon tea, attended by past team members, colleagues and villagers, I very nearly showed my emotional hand; but I put on my best poker face. 
A quick count now reveals more than twenty five people have passed through the potting shed, many becoming long-term friends. I inherited the team of Ann Farnsworth, Tony Verey and Mark Bayston (friends) which morphed into the present one of Jen’ Danbury, Tony Verey, Ralph Moore, Morgan James, Catherine Blissett, Ann Farnsworth and Anna Rose Critchley (more friends), the team’s grown with the hotel. Through the years wonderful individuals have made up the team, of these I chat on Sunday evenings to Chloe (moved back to Essex), walk dogs with Jo to catch up, attend all you can eat Asian buffets with Joff or have a couple of halves in the Village Pub with Brian. 
Barnsley House gave me a lifestyle most would envy and continues to do so, due to the people I’ve got to know. To have spent twenty years married to a garden and not get to know the wider community, then leave, would have been sad.

I have much to be grateful for from the garden at Barnsley House, from tending Mrs. Verey’s fire, talking with her about Oemleria and Whippets to working for Charles, who stressed that good gardening required art. 
I came to Barnsley House almost twenty years ago, an intricately woven four acres, part of an expansive tapestry covering thousands of acres, soon to become mine and the dogs’ playground. 
I love the garden at Barnsley House, it has been the pinnacle of my career; but life is finite and there are other challenges I want to meet. 
There’ll be no bunjee jumping and seeing the pyramids, just me being a little more creative, having more flexibility in my life for my own garden, daughters and getting dogs fitter; my employers have been very understanding. 
The trade-off is that I’ll never again have the relationship with Barnsley House that is the Head Gardener’s privilege, those magical moments of alchemical immersion into the flora, fauna, scent and birdsong of that moment, the pure magic of the garden; this dividend of the job will have to be given away.

Almost exactly thirty years ago I was sat at Heathrow (feeling a little like I do now), with my climbing kit, eyes scanning for someone I’d never met or seen; but had promised me eight weeks’ work as an arborist in Frankfurt. That evening I shared a room in a hostel with Simon from Slough and two middle-aged Turkish gentlemen that were to disapprove of my coming in late at night; but by the end of the eight weeks we shared beer and pistachios. I lived in the hostel for over a year and I remember the communities within the larger hostel community that it housed; one floor had Yugoslavian gentlemen, another floor Italian and another floor Turkish. Each floor had a communal kitchen and a very spacious communal loos, shower and washing area where each nationality had their own ‘pop-up’ barber shop on Saturday mornings. I was soon billeted on the Italian floor and I remember walking in to wash being greeted by the subtle nods of twinkly eyed older men with great moustaches in grey suits and collar-less shirts reading la stampa. The three years in all spent in Frankfurt was a great period in my life, meeting people I’d never get to meet otherwise, all from making a jump with a little risk attached and it was the same coming to Barnsley with it’s immediate and wider communities that I have become immersed in.

The garden at Barnsley House is the jewel in the crown that is the village and fields of Barnsley, this little bit of England, where  I’ll  bump into Davina along the Hairy Hedge or wave to Austin, a field away, as his quad races on to Turks Barn. 
For me magical moments will still be found in my own tiny garden, or with Whippets, a Cocker Spaniel and a recently acquired English Toy Terrier, I quite fancy getting some glossy black Racing Pigeons from Johnny May. 
I’ve said, many times, that when I arrived at Barnsley House I had a five year plan and after this the world would be my oyster; but I’ve found that plans are only useful for short term stability, they stop the mind wandering too much and keep you on track for the job in hand. 
Three different owners, over nineteen years of flux, produced an evolutionary career path that meant I didn’t really need to change jobs to get that dream post and it’s still the same now in that I can’t quite tear myself away, I’ll still have my input at Barnsley House; but as a consultant. This has been a long winded explanation of where we’re at and normal blog service will resume! To end on the subject of dream jobs, I think I may have just landed the perfect job as (volunteer) Environmental Assessor for Church Farm....... in Barnsley of course.


Alchemical  immersion, hare prints heading to Rooksmoor.

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