Eighty years of Berrington's garden secrets

Three women walking through the gardens

Our current Gardener-in-charge, Nick Winney has worked at Berrington for a total of 45 years from 1 July 2017. We wanted to celebrate this and hear about his experiences of Berrington through the decades. What we have found is a story filled with pirates, Berrington’s past and life in the National Trust through the years.

Nick Winney began his career at Berrington, straight out of school on 1 July 1972, at the tender age of 15. Nick remembers his first thoughts of Berrington as a young man, cycling up for his interview after school. His thoughts at the time were "Yeah. This is really nice, when can I start," without even asking about how much he would be earning.

It was at this point, his life at Berrington began and since then he has been; promoted to ‘Gardener-in-charge’, featured as an extra in the film Pirate Prince and learnt tips from Berrington’s previous gardener in charge with over 40 years’ experience. As this is a significant part of Berrington’s history, we wanted to share Nick's remarkable story of dedication and learn more about his time here.

Nick recreating the fashionable portraits of Georgian gardeners for us
Nick Winney striking a pose with a pineapple

Over the years there has been a significant amount of change. Nick told us all about how every element of the life and running of Berrington has changed in some way. This begins with  the methods that are used for conservation and even how Nick manages and cares for the garden. Information on how best to care for the place has evolved at Berrington and within the organisation itself; there is a much stronger focus on having better and more informed research with more detailed accuracy to make the right decisions about care and maintenance. The number of volunteers helping in the garden has increased and there are innovative and new visitor experiences for everyone to get involved with.

One example of a huge change was the end of the Cawley’s living inside of the mansion. The Cawleys were the last historic family to own and live at Berrington. They continue to the farm the estate with livestock today. During his time at Berrington Nick met the last member of the family who had lived inside Berrington throughout the twentieth century; Lady Cawley. He claimed that she was a sort of "Grandmother figure to me and the other lad that worked here". He told us that she never treated him any differently to anyone else.

We can see this quality of Lady Cawley in the other stories Nick had to say. Apparently she would often insist that the girl scouts that visited Berrington shouldn’t camp outside, but instead sleep in a much more comfortable form of ‘dorm’ that is now flats above the tea-room. These are pieces of Berrington’s personal history that are important not to forget as times moves on.

Lord Cawley and his sons in front of the mansion
Lord Cawley and his four sons on horseback

Other changes have occurred in the National Trust itself as a charity. Nick stated, ‘It is going back to how it was’. This is in terms of conservation and how the gardens are being preserved more organically.

As well as this, the level of enthusiasm and burst of volunteers over the last 10 years has made a significant difference to our level of conservation. Volunteers are at the heart of the National Trust so it’s almost impossible to imagine a time without them.

When Nick started his career however, volunteers were few and far between. Now Nick has a dedicated team who commit their time to Berrington’s gardens and he made a point to mention how significant their role is for the up-keep of the garden.

Forty-five years on Nick is says he is still enthusiastic about the life in the gardens. This enthusiasm is only strengthened by new projects at Berrington, such as the Walled Garden and Pleasure Ground restoration project.

Learning all of the facts and secrets of the past for this particular project has made Nick hungry for more information about Berrington’s past. You can read more about the projects and our findings in the article below.

Jules and Nick investigating the Walled Garden
Head Gardener, Nick Winney and Jule Hudson stood in Berrington's Walled Garden

It is interesting to compare these changes with some of the early twentieth-century traditions that lingered at Berrington forty-five years ago. We can see this as Nick tells us about how he served under Jack Cooper who had served the Cawley’s since the 1st April 1927.

Nick said that Cooper was incredibly loyal to the Cawley’s, and Cooper’s wife also worked inside the mansion and in the kitchens. This level of loyalty to a family was a very traditional approach to employment; people living in and connecting to their employers on a long-term level is rare in this day and age.  It’s tales of loyalty, generosity and Berrington’s past that we want to preserve and treasure so that traditions such as these aren’t forgotten.

Nick’s memories of Berrington are very impressive. There is almost too much to write about. It is clear that Berrington is now in a place where it is looking to the future and embracing even more change with the Walled Garden and Pleasure Ground Project. Why not come along to Berrington and have a chat to the garden team for some ideas of the plans we have.