Horticultural Honours

Cal, the gardener, in the rose garden

We are pleased and proud that this year a member of the gardening team came fourth in the ‘Young Horticulturist of the Year’ Northern regional final. Cailean (more often known as Cal) has been recognised for his passion, commitment and knowledge of the horticultural world.

Cal has been a Gardener at Nunnington Hall and Rievaulx Terrace for the past 3 years, working alongside two other staff gardeners and an extremely dedicated team of volunteers. Together they develop and care for the organic garden at Nunnington, and the 18th century landscape garden at Rievaulx. From collecting seed, managing woodlands, pruning roses and sharing horticultural advice with visitors, there is never a dull day for this fantastic team.


Here’s a bit more about Cal, discussed over a cup of tea.

How did you come to work for the National Trust?
I’ve always loved to be outdoors. From working on a small holding in Northumberland to finally earning my degree in Horticulture, at Askham Bryan College, I’ve enjoyed every moment of my learning.

The National Trust has always appealed to me for the beautiful places it cares for, but particularly for its 200 gardens and fantastic plant collections – I just wanted to be a part of it.

What are the best things about your role?
How each day can be completely unique! Nunnington Hall and Rievaulx Terrace are very different properties, which brings great diversity to my job. At Nunnington I can often be found pruning fruit trees in the orchard, sowing seeds in the kitchen garden and even spotting otters playing in the river. Whereas at Rievaulx there are new shrubs to be planted, woodland vistas to be maintained or bird and hedgehog boxes to be made.

Why do you choose organic gardening?
Since I was young, I’ve been an advocate of organic gardening. I avidly believe it is the best way to grow healthy and nutritious crops and plants, support wildlife and protect native flora and fauna.

What do you look forward to the most in a horticultural year?
Like many gardeners, the early months of spring are one of my favourite times of the year. From the first daffodils to the emerging mason bees; enjoying the sights and sounds of spring are truly magical and never disappoint. 

What excites you about the work you’re doing?
So many of the things we are doing right now excite me, but I have a keen passion for native plants, and in particular what we can make from them, such as gins and craft beers. Working with the National Trust allows me the wonderful opportunity to visit and learn from other gardens and gardeners and to bring new ideas and learning back to my properties, and share my knowledge with others.

What are you currently working on?
There’s always plenty of work happening and new projects starting. At Nunnington we’re busy developing the herbaceous mixed borders as well as working towards redesigning the iris garden. The iris garden was a particular favourite spot in the garden of Margaret Fife, the lady who gifted the land and garden to the Trust in the 1950s. We plan to redesign the iris garden in memory of her.

At Rievaulx Terrace, some of the planned work includes extending the lawn surrounding the Tuscan Temple, re-establishing the original line of the shrubbery and continuing to develop the biodiversity of the wildflower meadow banks.

There’s lots of challenges in the garden year particularly with the weather forecast and neighbourhood badgers digging up the lawns. Despite all that I always want to learn more and get better at what I do and, like a lot of people, my biggest critic is myself. It’s good to realise that and allow for mistakes. If I’ve learnt anything over the past few years it’s to expect the unexpected!

Any advice for anyone thinking of a career in gardening?
My advice to anyone considering a career either working in a garden or in the landscape would be to get hands on, work with other people, ask questions and have confidence to give it a go. Gardening is a science and as a Horticulturist there is so much we can do right now to support nature and inspire future generations to care for our world. 

What is your top tip to try something new in the garden this year?
My top tip or challenge for this year would be to ask yourself the questions: ‘do I need to remove it?’ and ‘could I use a natural alternative?’ Sometimes we are quick to disregard plants as ‘weeds’ such as dandelion, when they are vital to supporting bees, and their greens can be used in a salad. There are also many natural alternatives to chemical based shop products, such as making an easy and free comfrey leave plant feed, or natural pest repellants from crushed egg shells and coffee granules.

We’re always happy to answer questions and give advice, so if you do see me at Nunnington or Rievaulx please say hi!

It's not all about delicate plants
Cal the gardener chain sawing
It's not all about delicate plants