Garden visits now a fairy tale attraction

The Alnwick Garden staff Robbie and Pete.
The Alnwick Garden staff Robbie and Pete.
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The concept of a garden visit has changed dramatically over recent years, and with it the role of head gardener.

Existing gardens open to the public encourage the inspection of fruit and vegetable sections, wandering through a greenhouse and strolling along a mixed ornamental border, making mental notes as you go.

I’ve observed the Alnwick project since before it opened to the public and marvel at how it’s developed into such a major worldwide visitor attraction.

But traditional establishments that open regularly on a commercial basis are increasingly having to examine what is being offered alongside the potential customer base. Where footfall is an important consideration, activities that have broader appeal may well be pursued.

The Alnwick Garden, which is run by a charitable trust, is a good example of how traditional horticulture, technology, entertainment and social awareness can be combined and applied successfully across the age demographic.

I’ve observed the Alnwick project since before it opened to the public and marvel at how it’s developed into such a major worldwide visitor attraction.

Equally impressive is the way its charity arm involves the local and regional community.

The screams of healthy children free to enjoy themselves emanate daily from William Pye’s Serpent Garden, Adrian Fisher’s brilliant Bamboo Labyrinth, and the base of The Grand Cascade. Others will head for the Tree House and rope ladders spanning a ravine — all exciting attractions. Add to these the range of organised activities on offer throughout the year — the latest being a fairy tale adventure which involves changing into costume, interacting with adult thespians, and following a trail to complete an important mission — and children visiting this garden are literally spoiled for choice.

The Poison Garden remains a huge attraction for adults who often bring youngsters with them. Free guided tours in groups of 20 and lasting 20 minutes are taken by staff and volunteers at regular intervals daily. On one busy day last week, 1,000 plus people left the garden with greater knowledge of the dangers posed by poisonous plants and drugs. If only one person benefits from it, that’s a result in my book.

With so many attractive flowering plants in the borders there’s always one that catches the visitor’s eye and begs ownership. Pete, the Plant Centre Manager at TAG understands this and ensures that he and assistant Robbie propagate as wide a range of plants as possible for sale. Volunteer Nancy helps to ensure the displays maintain a high standard. All three are happy to answer any questions visitors may have.

I put it to Trevor Jones that the traditional role of head gardener must have undergone change with the introduction of so many innovative projects.

He agrees that the days of directing operations from an office are vanishing. Thankfully, he’s a hands-on man and has organised a good working team.