What does it take to be a garden volunteer?

A gardens volunteer pruning a flower bed
Published : 13 Apr 2016

What do a teacher, a lawyer and a master composter have in common? They are all brand new garden volunteers at Blickling, about to start on their new adventure volunteering with the National Trust. But what makes someone suddenly decide to come and give their time weeding and digging and as one volunteer put it ‘getting dirty fingernails’?

On a wet and dreary day, Stephen Hagon, Assistant Head Gardener and Mike Owers, walled garden Project Manager, took ten bright eyed and keen individuals from very different backgrounds, around the gardens.  They all wanted to find out more about volunteering in the gardens at Blickling Estate.

“I really felt it was time to do something for myself” says Lisa.  After being a full time Mum for 12 years, she felt that this was finally the time to put herself first.  “This is going to be a bit of ‘Me’ time!’ and she is not alone.  Faye, a retired lawyer has decided that taking groups of visitors around as a garden guide, is how she would like to spend some of her free time.  “After a career spent inside an office, it is so lovely to finally be outside!’

Sue and Carrie are keen gardeners at home and are hoping that they will be able to “pick the gardener’s brains” and take their knowledge back to their own gardens.  Carrie was a primary school teacher for over 20 years “but I've finally escaped!” she says.  Carrie worked with the countryside team on the Estate years ago and talked about her experiences such as the pea sticks she spent a whole day cutting or trees she planted.  “I come back with my family all these years later and feel such a connection to the place.  It is great to see how projects you worked on are doing.’

And there are some lovely projects to get involved in this year too.  There is the Philadelphus garden to finish or planting in the Rose and Black garden and then there are 30’000 bulbs to plant in the autumn. “There is so much work needed to maintain gardens of this size” Stephen said “without our team of 70 or 80 volunteers, we simply could not do it.  They are so dedicated.  Two volunteers once turned up in the deep snow!  We do garden all year round, but we don’t expect that!”

The team at Blickling also seem to be a draw for volunteers. “They have such a great sense of humour and everyone seems to get on. There’s so much laughter, that’s why I decided to come and join in.” says retired CAB worker, Denise.  Maybe that’s why many of the volunteers have stayed at Blickling for over 15 years too.

“There is a huge amount of expertise in the team” says Mike “Carol who is about to start volunteering with us, is a ‘Master Composter’ and even came to Blickling to talk to the visitors about composting at home”.

So what can the volunteers expect to do on their first day as a Garden Volunteer? With over 55 acres of garden to look after and 12 acres of lawn to maintain, there will always be lots to do. “It’s amazing what you’ll be able to achieve in one day” Paul Underwood, Head Gardener, told the new recruits. "There is always lots of hoeing, weeding and edging to do.  Or if it’s raining hard, the leaves of the citrus trees in the Orangery, need regular washing by hand!’

" We all have a lot of fun together and there’s always lots of tea breaks and chocolate biscuits!"
- Stephen Hagon, Assistant Head Gardener

In such beautiful surroundings of Blickling gardens, what more incentive could you possibly need?