PHYLLIS ODESSEY

Greenfingers: Nanette Hudson

Gardener, Nymans 
National Trust  Garden,UK

I met Nanette Hudson during the summer of 2010, when I worked at Nymans as part of my Royal Oak Fellowship.  I never made the time to sit down with Nanette and ask her all the questions I wanted to.  Finally, through email, I asked the questions and received the answers.
Nanette (age 4) and her sister helping out her Dad in the garden.

PO:  Why are you a gardener?

NH:  When I was a child I used to help my parents in the garden.  It started when I was about 3 and the back garden was primarily given over to vegetable growing.  It was a regular fun activity to help my Dad lift potatoes, scrub the soil off the carrots or pick berries for a pie.  My siblings and I were given a small plot each in which we were allowed to do anything we wanted…to distract our ‘helpful greenfingers’ away from the rest of the garden, I later realised.  My plot consisted almost entirely of a massive Forsythia shrub I was reluctant to prune and I always felt great pride in seeing my 2 meter garden completely weed free and totally over manicured.
As I got older the needs of the family changed, the vegetable plot was grassed over to create more play space for 3 active children and I took it upon myself to mow the lawn.  Every Spring my Mum would plant up the patio containers and hanging baskets with tender fuchsias and trailing petunias, she loves color!  I’d go to the nursery with her and then help her plant up the display, usually in the sunny intervals between heavy April showers.  As summer rolled on the first thing I’d do everyday upon returning home from school was to get out of my uniform, head straight to the garden and water the pots.  I used to love seeing them grow and knowing that my watering them was essential to their survival.
Although becoming a gardener was never an obvious career choice for me, I knew office work didn’t suit me.  I felt that my work was pointless dealing solely with a computer screen and voices on the end of a phone.  At the age of 26 I needed a more satisfying and worthy career.  There was a deep draw towards protecting the environment, being outdoors and doing practical work.


Nanette at Nymans on the Massey Ferguson

PO: Can you tell us something about your education as a gardener.

NH:  Whilst searching for a new career I focused my attention on organizations such as English Heritage, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission, charities or government bodies that work to conserve and protect our heritage.  All of them wanted vocational qualifications or prior experience, neither of which I had.
I had a degree in Psychology and Sociology, but was finding that I kept hitting the same brick wall.  This was until I looked on the National Trust website and came across a scheme on their training page, called Careership.  It was paid, 3 year placement in an historic garden that would give you not only practical skills to a high standard, but also allow you to study for the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) level 2, a theory based, respected qualification.

The door to the gardeners “headquarters” at Nymans

There were also practical certificates for tractors, spraying and brushcutters that were all paid by the National Trust.  You could be any age, needed no prior knowledge or experience and would graduate with all the necessary credentials to go straight into a professional gardening position.  All you needed was enthusiasm and a desire to work hard and learn.  It was a fantastic opportunity that I would never have been able to afford otherwise.

The inside of gardeners “headquarters”
I was placed at Nymans in the South of England.  Here I studied NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) levels 2 (basic practical skills) and level 3 (management level horticulture).  I went to college 5 times a year.  College was based in Reaseheath, a four hour drive north of Nymans.  We attended college for 2 week study blocks at a time so 10 weeks a year were spent studying at college.
Here we learned the theory to accompany the practical skills and gained machinery certificates too. 
Iconic View of the garden at Nymans
PO: Give us an idea of your day to day routine at Nymans.
NH: Nymans is a 33 acre garden with 350 acres of wider arboretum and woodland, 11/12 members of garden staff and 3 volunteers per day.  Being such a large garden we rely heavily on machinery to get all the work done.  Hedge cutting alone can take 3 months during the Autumn and into Winter.  We train all volunteers so they can not only develop their skills, but so that they feel part of the team and take ownership over the work too. 

The bamboo garden designed by Nanette in 2009.

PO:  Tell us about the Bulb Project.

NH: Nymans developed a conservation plan 2008-09.  One of the suggestions made was that Nymans needed more colour throughout the year.  To address this a bulb collection was proposed.  The emphasis of the collection would be on tender bulbs with inclusions of some rare and unusual speciments.  There are 5 beds around the garden that have been allocated for this project.  I was assigned this project in late 2009.  

This is one of the bulb sites.  Beds either side of the steps leading up to the pergola. 
I knew almost nothing about bulbs and the cultivation and management of a large collection.  I threw myself into research, I looked through catalogues from our regular plant suppliers, but soon realized I was going to look further a field for more unusual bulbs.
  From left to right: Leucocoryne ‘Andes’ (April -May), Ixia ‘Giant’ (June)
and Alstroemeria ‘Freedom’ (July -November)

 Research took ages, constantly back and forward with ideas, progress came in little steps.  As well as ensuring that the bulbs get the right growing conditions, I also needed to create a border that gelled in terms of design.  This was the hardest bit.  I placed my orders late in the summer of 2010.  Spring flowering bulbs are all planted up in their terracotta pots.  I have designed each border so it will have color from Spring through Autumn.  When one variety has gone over, it will be lifted and returned to the nursery and be replaced by next bulb in the display.

This site is one of the more prominent sites, located in the knot garden by the house.  The Ceratostigma willmottiaum pictured here has already been lifted.  In this bed there are a huge number of bulbs planned for display.  Here are a few:

Gloriosa superba ‘Rothschildiana’ planned for the summer months.
It will climb up wires on the wall to give display height and informality.


Lycoris radiata.  A difficult bulb to grow…you must be patient and persevre with it.

Bessera elegans, a delicate bulb that will flower in Autumn and requires lifting in Winter.

Nomocharis aperta requires cool damp conditions
ideal for the spot in the border under the shadow of the Yew hedge.

PO:  Plans for the Future
NH: I have been gardening now for over 4 years and I love it as much now as I did when I started.  However, it is not a well paid profession and to earn more, especially in historic gardens, you must progress up the gardening ranks.  This is appealing for some, not for me.  
To continue my education and practical gardening and be able to earn a sustainable living which allows my partner and I to plan for the future we are planning a rather radical and unconventional move into running a smallholding.    Alongside chickens, bees, pigs and cows we hope to raise, we plan to have a great fruit and vegetable garden.  This will be a huge learning curve as I have never grown fruit or veg.
Then alongside that we’re planning a wonderful garden that we could open on specific days offering guided tours and tea, coffee and cake for paying visitors.  So I would be my own manager with huge potential for learning …and I still get to get my hands dirty!
What more could a girl want?

Nanette in Italy doing research

I could want nothing more from any interview.  The completeness and honesty of Nanette’s responses are indicative of her personality and her gardening style.  Without her companionship, knowledge and friendship, I would have been lost at Nymans.  Thank you Nanette.

P.S.  Nanette is a great baker.  I look forward to biting into one of her cakes soon.

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