Meet Len Bernamont
Garden & Outdoors Manager , Bateman's
Len has worked at Bateman's for around 7 years. His aim is to recreate the garden as it would have been when the Kipling's lived here. This is quite a challenge as there is little or no information left behind by Kipling to follow and only a very few surviving photos, showing the garden layout and plants. Discover more about Len and some of what is involved with his work at Bateman's.
What is your job title and how long have you been at Bateman’s?
Garden & Outdoors Manager for Bateman’s, Bodiam Castle & Monk’s House since 2013.
Which gardens have you worked on in the past?
My previous NT properties were Bradenham Manor, a 17th century tenanted manor house where I restored the garden over 10 years and West Wycombe Park, both in the Chilterns, home of the Dashwood family where I began restoration of the historic landscape garden and managed West Wycombe Hill, an area of common land, rich in history and wild flowers species.
How have you been preparing for the summer?
Preparations for summer started way back in February, sowing seeds in the greenhouse for our veg patch and summer display in the Mulberry Garden, feeding and preparing the ground with our own compost and sowing and then digging in a green manure. We’ve recently changed out vegetable garden to the ‘No Dig’ system and are busy putting a new mulch layer of compost on, ready for the earliest vegetables to go in. Now we’re open all year, we also have had to do extensive lawn repairs where we get the most footfall.
What tasks will you be undertaking around the garden in August?
When the veg patch is full and providing our tearoom with regular fresh produce and our summer displays are all planted we will spend a lot of time weeding to keep the beds and borders as tidy as possible, tying in sweet peas, runner beans and continually harvesting produce including the occasional glut of veg which we sell in our shop. We’ll also be deadheading our floribunda roses in the formal garden which produce a continuous display right through summer.
What is your approach to the garden, in terms of both preserving its heritage and moving forward?
The garden at Bateman’s is still very much as Rudyard Kipling and his family would‘ve know it. They had a major influence on the layout which is still in existence today, planting yew hedges to create privacy and divide the space into garden rooms and many of the character features are Kipling additions, such as the Orchard, Pear Alley, Lily Pond and Rose Garden. These are all aspects of the garden we strive to maintain as close to the original design as possible including replacing plants with the original species where they’re still available. As horticulturalists we’re also, very much aware that gardens continually evolve, even within the lifetime of the owners or designers of a historic garden. This allows us the freedom to experiment with new planting ideas, particularly in the Mulberry Garden which, as it was Kipling’s Kitchen Garden, had an ornamental as well as productive use. Each year we conjure with new and varied planting combinations to create what we like to call ‘a fusion of food and flower’. We plant vegetables and salad for their decorative qualities as well; my favourite experiment this year is red cabbages dotted between a tall blue-flowering Ageratum variety.
What is the biggest challenge at Bateman’s?
Being open 7 days a week for 363 days of the year is the biggest challenge most Trust gardens will be facing. We now do all our garden maintenance in public view, so sometimes noise from machines can be a problem, but it also gives us more opportunities to engage with visitors and they hopefully gain a much deeper insight into conservation work. Obviously, greater footfall in winter, when we’d normally be closed creates more wear and tear to paths and lawns and occasionally we’ll have to close off parts of the garden to carry out repairs. The other main issue is contending with winter flooding of the lower parts of the garden from the River Dudwell that flows through the Wild Garden.
What’s your favourite area or element of the garden?
The Wild Garden has to be my favourite area, for the sheer quantity, variety and length of spring and summer interest we have in this part of the garden. From the earliest snowdrops to carpets of Scilla, Snakes-Head Fritillaries and Wood Anemones, Narcissi and Bluebells flowering under the white-blossomed snowy peaks of Amelanchier and flowering cherries this area of the garden has something to delight all your senses well into summer. Once the Rhododendrons and Azaleas have finished, the wildflower meadow season begins in earnest. By taking a hay-cut towards the end of summer we encourage a whole range of native species to colonise this space which creates a seamless transition between the garden and hay meadows on the estate beyond.
Is there anything in particular that visitors should look out for this season?
I’m particularly proud of our refurbished Spring and Front Garden borders, which now provide interest from mid-March all the way through to late autumn with a succession of spring bulbs, many more perennials flowering in summer and selected shrubs providing all year-round interest. These borders look so much more like they did during Kipling’s time. Ours is very much a productive garden, so there’s always something we’ve grown for visitors to either taste in the tearoom or take home and they can see all this growing in the garden. By early autumn we’ll be well into harvesting our orchard fruit with a fine selection of plums, gages and damsons on offer, culminating in the pear and apple harvest with our celebration of all things orchardy during our Apple Day event in October.
What is the most commonly asked question from visitors?
There are several plants, such as Brunnera macrophylla and the Widow Iris, Hermodactylus tuberosus, in particular that seem to attract the same questions; “what is it and can I buy one?” so we’re now developing a range of plants to sell from our own stock to satisfy demand. The other frequently asked question which nobody knows the answer to is “How did Bateman’s get its name?”
How can visitors recreate something of the ‘Bateman’s feel’ in their own gardens?
There’s such a variety of garden and planting styles on show at Bateman’s that there should be something to cater for most sizes of garden and tastes. Even the smallest gardens can emulate our annual food and flower planting scheme but the main thing which we hope visitors pick up on is the sense of both calm and fun that reflects the ethos of the Kipling’s who wanted to create a garden to be enjoyed by both family and friends; nothing ostentatious or showy, but a feeling of relaxed formality. Be bold and experiment and have fun whilst you do this and you’ll have a garden that gives you as much enjoyment as Bateman’s does to all who visit.