A day in the life of Bob

Garden Volunteer, Compton Castle

Bob Hopper - Garden Volunteer, Compton Castle

I’m Bob Hopper, and I’ve been a volunteer gardener at Compton Castle for over a year now. When my wife and I moved to Torquay some years ago we discovered the National Trust places in the English Riviera. We love them all very much, but the more I came to Compton, the more I found myself drawn to it. So when the chance came to volunteer here: I jumped at it.

Volunteer Bob Hopper at Compton Castle

What I enjoy most about volunteering

Up to now I’ve done a lot of the grass work – the mowing - and also the herbaceous and rose borders. Myself and the other volunteers tend to all muck in together on tasks, so we do a variety of things each time we come.
I suppose the biggest thing about volunteering at Compton as a gardener is that the garden is a very intimate space and there are lots of peaceful arbours and places to go where visitors can sit, relax and basically escape. Only today I was talking to some visitors in the garden and they said to me how they like the atmosphere. It does have an atmosphere about it – a serenity, a tranquillity- and I think that is probably imbued by the sense of history here, which I think is in no small part due the fact that the Gilbert family still live here; it is still their home and has been for over 600 years.


My favourite spot in the garden

I think to sit in June, on a nice sunny day in the rose garden, to close your eyes, to take really deep breaths of the intoxicating scent; that must be one of my favourite places and favourite times. You can feel yourself transcending this earthly existence.


My life before the Trust

I retired a few years ago from a career teaching modern languages, although, my first job was actually as a professional gardener before I went into education. I played sports all my life, particularly tennis and football, and I’m actually a qualified FA coach. I think I probably wielded my first trowel about two years old and I haven’t stopped since then.
I’m not actually new to volunteering with the Trust. Many years ago while I was still working, I volunteered in events and fundraising, based mostly at Killerton, but also Knightshayes and Castle Drogo.


Summing up volunteering in one word

As a linguist I ought to have a number of words I could use to sum up volunteering - I don’t know if I can do it in one word. How do you sum up doing the work that you love, in a place that you love, in the company of some great fellow volunteers and staff? I get a lot of personal pleasure out of it. I like to think (rather selfishly) that in umpteen years’ time – long after I’m gone - there will be things here that I’ve done, that will be here for other people. Most serious gardeners probably garden a great deal for other people and for the future as much as they do just for themselves. 
Volunteering has led me into lots of different situations. For example here at Compton, one strange situation that came about: I was chatting in German to a couple who were renting the Watch Tower (the holiday let here), and during the course of our conversation we discovered that all three of us had been at the same university in Germany at the same time. How about that?! More than forty years on, here we were, in the shadow of Compton Castle discovering that we’d all been in the same place at the same time in Germany all those years ago. The thing about volunteering is that you never know where it’s going to take you next.


Every day is different in a garden

Gardens give you a different experience every day; whether it’s the conditions, the weather, or doing a different job. I do have one constant thing here at Compton – a constant and absolute blessing I find - every time I arrive and start working in the borders, there is my namesake ‘Bob’ the Robin greeting me and then chortling away at my feet while I’m working.


The payoff for all the hard work

At the end of a day’s gardening you can stand back and think ‘I’ve achieved that’ and then in a few weeks or months you can see the final fruits of your labours as it all starts to bloom.