WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE: HISTORIC GARDENS TRAINEE – CLEA VENABLES
Ahead of our Historic Gardens Day, we talk to Historic Gardens Trainee, Clea Venables who is on a 6-month placement, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, from April 2016 – September 2016.
Q. “Why were you keen to do the traineeship here?”
A. “I saw this as a chance to gain an insight into how people spent their days; their home industries, the flavours of their food and drink, their daily work load and how dependant they were on the success of their garden plot.
I’ve always been interested in wild plants and gardens but I didn’t have enough knowledge on that side. I’m also interested in the evolution of the private garden and I knew that this role would give me the chance to be guided down a particular route, thereby giving my interests a focus. I’ve had to re-learn the colloquial names of plants and often have to translate them back into the Latin binomial name before it sticks!”
Q. “What would you say are your main achievements so far?”
A. “I’ve been given a couple of projects to do under the guidance of our Head Gardener, Carlotta Holt, one being the perpetual salad bed at the top of Bayleaf Farmstead’s garden. This bed is in the original plan by Sylvia Landsberg (brought to life by Bob Holman) but over the years it became engulfed by weeds. This was simply because of the sheer amount of manpower it requires to keep all of our gardens up to scratch in the face of all the odds; weather, pests (mainly deer) and the availability of hands to the spade.
Work to reinstate the bed began in May and it is a work in progress, but it already shows the different flavours that the inhabitants of a house such as Bayleaf Farmstead would have had. Their diet would have included seasonal herbs and vegetables, so you can imagine their delight as each reached the right time to eat it.
The second project is the re-introduction of the ornamental bed at the house from Walderton. We are currently suppressing the ground elder, which will make it less problematic when we finally get the chance to prepare the bed. My most imminent achievement will be giving the garden tours on Historic Gardens Day (10 July) so fingers crossed that my brain and tongue work in harmony to explain just what we get up to and why!”
Q. “What have you enjoyed the most during your traineeship?”
A. “The camaraderie of the gardening team has been amazing. Carlotta, plus the volunteers, led by Lyn, are a fantastic and hardworking bunch of people. They have welcomed me and made me feel a part of the team even though many of them have worked at the Museum for years. When I first began work here in April, we were still digging beds – whenever I looked up there was someone digging their way to meet me. There’s no lovelier sight, I can tell you.”
Q. “What has most challenged you during the traineeship?”
A. “Retaining and recalling (at the desired time) all the information I need in order to interpret the gardens for any visitor that asks what something is or does. I love that people are so interested and we can talk for hours, as there is so much to know about gardens and gardening.”
Q. “What is your favourite garden in the Museum?”
A. “The garden at the house from Walderton, although it’s a tough call. At this house’s moment in history, its residents still view their garden as a utilitarian space (for food, medicine and animals) but we can see the beginning of an ornamental bed (as you come in via the side gate). This is for cut flowers (to bring into the property) and for neighbours to see, in addition to being a frivolous patch of beauty. The garden’s position is also attractive, as it looks onto the house and the hill behind. The view changes daily and you can sometimes find us gardeners sitting on the bench beneath the quince tree, eating our lunch and revelling in its timelessness.”
The Museum team would like to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting the role of Historic Gardens Trainee for six months, and also Clea for her hard work.