A Stoneywell Garden Host
Anne began volunteering at Stoneywell in the autumn of 2014 and has been part of the garden team ever since. We caught up with Anne, over four years on from first volunteering with us, to discover all about her experiences.
What is your role at Stoneywell?
I am a garden host – it is my delightful duty to take visitors around the grounds and show how the different generations of the Gimson family have created the most beautiful arboretum and garden over time out of the original heathland. I do this very happily come rain or shine or horizontal hail!
What makes Stoneywell special for you?
There is something magical, a special and irresistible ‘sense of place’ about both the cottage and the grounds that makes every visitor, volunteer and member of staff fall under their combined spell almost at once. The Gimson family’s love of the place is still palpable, and our dedicated garden team make sure that the delicate balance between nature and cultivation that they created is maintained.
Besides, who could resist the prospect of 1000s of fluttering daffodils in April, or seeing a misty lake of bluebells under the oaks in the woods in May, while waiting for the grand display of the magnificent rhododendrons to begin. Even when these delights have faded, there are still the flaming colours of the acers in the autumn to anticipate with relish.
Why did you start volunteering?
I wanted to give something back to the NT in return for all the pleasure and great memories its properties have given me and it seemed like a heaven-sent opportunity that this chance arose soon after I had been released back into the wild by redundancy. To be able to be out in the fresh air, walking up, down and around the property 3 or 4 times a day and to be part of the team that brings the story of Stoneywell to life for our guests, and to see their enjoyment, keeps me healthy both physically and mentally.
What have you learnt from your time volunteering?
People come on garden tours for so many different reasons: some are keen gardeners and I have to be on my mettle and remember all the Latin names! Others just want a general history and enjoy having the best plants pointed out to them, but don’t know much about them, so I have learned to be much more responsive to visitors’ needs, to keep to time better, and to be more relaxed about my presentation, rather than trying to cram too much into one talk. I have learned a lot about the plants that like our acidic, well-drained soil, and this has been stimulating as they are so different to those I am used to, having always gardened on heavy Midlands clay. I am continually amazed by what our visitors can teach me too, about the plants or the wildlife, or by those people who remember visiting during the Gimsons’ time and can share fresh anecdotes with the group.
What has been one of your favourite moments?
From last year, I recall the eight year old girl who came on a tour with her father and drank it all in with wonder and delight in her eyes, then politely asked me intelligent questions – a future NT member in the making!
What advice would you give for anyone who's thinking about volunteering with the National Trust?
Don’t hesitate to give it a go! There are far more roles than you might think at first – you are bound to find your niche.