A Visit to Savill Garden – Talking with Will Stanger

This weekend I went to Savill Garden where I met Will Stanger and we spoke plants and went for a wander around the garden.  What I enjoyed most about my visit was talking to someone my own age who is completely passionate about all things garden and plant related – I really learnt a lot!

Will is at Savill Garden on the 3 year PGG (Professional Gardeners’ Guild) Gardener Traineeship Scheme.  Prior to this he took his National Diploma in Horticulture (triple distinction), a BSc (Hons) in Green Space Management at Writtle College, and then went on to do an MA in Historic Design Landscape – he got a 1st in both.

Once he graduated and started to look for work he came up against the ‘you need experience first’ problem.  Will has been gardening since the age of 6, (he really has – one of his first memories is planting a pansy at nursery school and taking it home) and then he started helping his Mum is the garden, moving on to the gardens of Aunts and Great Aunts, and people in his local area, and he funded his MA working for Moors for the Future on micro propagation.  This still wasn’t enough to land him an actual job,  so after a lot of probing he found a place as a volunteer at Trelissick Garden for 6 months and then spent 6 weeks volunteering at RHS Rosemoor.  He was then pointed him in the direction of the PGG Traineeship scheme, which he is almost half way through – this year he is at Savill, and he spent last year at Thenford House in Lord Heseltine’s arboretum, next year he is off to The Garden House is Devon to experience working in a smaller garden.

I asked Will what he enjoys about the horticulture, and he said what he loves most is that there is always something more to learn – it really is never ending.  He enjoys the anticipation of watching something you have planted grow.  And he likes the creativity of gardening – I enjoyed the idea of destructive versus creative – the ripping up of plants to make way for something new, and combining colours, and textures in the new design.  He doesn’t have a favourite plant – for him this is apparently this is like asking if you have a favourite child!

At the moment, at Savill Garden, he turns up for work but he doesn’t usually know what he will be working on, it is only the season or the weather that gives an indication –  today weeding, tomorrow he might be mowing.

And in between the physical work there are often demos on ‘how to graft a magnolia’ or ‘seeding’ and he says he always attends, just in case he learns something new, or a better way of doing it.  He also tries to learn 5 new plants a week and is really interested in the ecology of planting – how to make the planting more sustainable and the plants easier to look after, and at the same time improving the aesthetics in the garden design – he admires what Piet Oudolf has done with the New York high line.

After he has finished his 3 years, he is interested in going to New Zealand for a year, there are lots of exciting things happening there including magnolia cultivars being bred.  The end plan is not clear yet – we spoke about the career opportunities for gardeners – Curator of a botanic garden, Head of Green Space Infrastructure for a region or country, Head of Parks and Gardens for the National Trust – or perhaps a dedicated Head Gardener creating the ‘8th Wonder of the World’.

It was also really interesting talking to Will about his MA in Historic Landscape Design (I took at module on the ‘Eighteenth Century British Country House’, and we touched on the gardens and landscapes of these houses – but not nearly enough) and we spoke at little about development of the garden from the Romans to the present day.  Will is all for changing gardens –  preservation of design is not always a good thing – you can at the very least incorporate contemporary elements.  We also touched on the significance of gardens and, whether the people who walk round them notice the symbolism and if they should even be expected to.  Apparently Stowe had the first ever garden guide book (so you knew which temple represented vice and which virtue).  And we spoke a little about the garden as a business and how the reasons people choose to visit a garden has changed and is changing.  And most importantly whether there will be a place for these beautifully curated green spaces in the future – if it is sustainable.

On our walk around the garden we spoke about planting beds at different times of year – do you want a bed in which everything flowers in one week – or a variation, so that there is always something in flower.  And I had a little recap on species, varieties, cultivars and hybrids – I am getting there!  And excitingly, there is still so much more to learn.  Thank you for showing me around Will, it was a wonderful afternoon.

Alice xxx

Photos taken at Savill Garden:

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