Photographs: Charles Francis
November 2014: A conversation with head gardener Bill Price, gardener/groundsman/mechanic Bryan Pyecroft and gardener Richard Lane
Tregenna Castle is one of Cornwall’s premier holiday destinations. How would you describe the estate?
Bill: There are 70 acres of grounds, formal gardens and woodlands. A film was made here about 20 years ago with Joss Ackland and Jean Simmonds in it, called Daisies in December, and you do get daisies on the golf course in December. We grow tropical and Mediterranean plants because we hardly ever get frost – when people see our echiums, they say: “What are they?” — but the estate does look out over 3,000 miles of sea, so there’s a lot of salt and wind. Tregenna is still changing, with extensions to the hotel and new buildings. They all need to be landscaped, and some have individual gardens, which have to look good all year round for the people who are staying in them. We like people to have a nice vista when they first drive into the estate, and we encourage them to walk around the grounds. They also like to walk through the woods, so we try and keep that area natural. We like to encourage wildlife: we put bird boxes up and we have a lot of squirrels, badgers and foxes – and too many rabbits!
What is your horticultural background?
Bill: My father was a head gardener in Wales, and he trained me. I came here for two weeks to stand in for the greenkeeper: that was 17 years ago.
Bryan: My background is in mechanics and engineering, which is why I look after the machinery. It’s about getting greasy and fixing things, and I enjoy that, and it’s a contrast to get out and deal with plants as well.
Richard: I was born and bred in St Ives, and I’ve lived here all my life. I like the beaches and coastline; I couldn’t stand being in a city. I used to come up here and play in the park as a kid. My nan got me into gardening and I came here for work experience. Bill gave me a summer job, and I’ve been here ever since. I’m 28 now.
What does your average day look like?
Bill: Within the estate, we deal with all the landscaping, planting, tidying and clearing. This place has changed a lot since I first came here. A lot of the grounds had been left to their own devices, and the woodland was wild. There were seven gardeners then, and now there are four, but we’ve brought it all under control. It’s very different gardening here from where I was brought up. Upcountry, you put your mower away in winter, but things grow here 12 months a year.
Bryan: There’s always plenty to do here, but it’s quite relaxed. Because all of us have been here so long, we work together as a team, and it all tends to jog along quite well. One of the things which gives me satisfaction is getting a hedge perfectly trimmed. Some people think I’m a bit finicky, but it’s the way I like it. I also spend a lot of time on the golf course — the fairways and greens have to be cut every few weeks, and they also need scarifying and fertilising.
Richard: I’ve got my chainsaw ticket, so I do the tree work, and I have a spraying ticket, so I control the diseases on the grass. Every day is different — it depends on the weather. In autumn, we do things like moving the deadwood to take away and burn, and clearing out the grounds of the woodland cottages and getting ready to mulch for the winter
What do you enjoy most about the job?
Richard: Working here, you are putting your own mark on the gardens, shaping things how you want them to be. One of the things I like is leaving an area I’ve been working on, knowing it’s been done to the best of my ability, and that it’s all finished — until tomorrow! It’s about trying to treat the place like it’s your own garden. It’s not just a job.
Bryan: It’s nice to be outside, even when it rains. We’ve been very fortunate this year with the weather – it’s been a dream year. Now it’s autumn, there‘s a lot of leaf blowing going on, and pruning and tree work. One of the first nicest parts of the job is people coming up to you and saying how lovely the grounds are. It gives you a boost, and makes all the hard work worthwhile. You walk away with a spring in your step.
Bill: You don’t get a view like this anywhere else in the country.