Above: Jonathan Arnold, right, along with Karen Quinn and Cameron Gillespie, are the core of the Denmans gardening team, working alongside a dedicated group of wonderful volunteers.
In March this year Jonathan Arnold joined Denmans Garden as its new Head Gardener. Jonathan has a wealth of experience, most recently as Head Gardener in the Private Garden at Petworth House. We speak to Jonathan, to hear a bit more about his early weeks at Denmans, and initial impressions, along with some insight into his plans for the future of the garden.
I was initially attracted to Denman’s by the thought of working in a public garden again, but also working in a garden that was completely different to what I had worked with before, a new challenge in my career. Denmans seemed to tick all the boxes that hold interest for men
I think that Brookes refined many parts of the garden and brought about a fusion between him and Mrs. Robinson. I feel they were working on very similar wavelengths relating the garden back to nature, which really gives Denmans its natural feel today. I think some of John’s strong design principals are reflected within the garden which has left behind a useful resource for future design students, horticulturists and visitors.
Denmans is very unique space that is packed with some of the most extraordinary plants and I never quite know what I am going to discover next when I start looking a bit closer at a bed. The garden has a lovely, relaxed feeling about it, but at the same time having an intimacy about it that visitors can very much enjoy.
For me the dry riverbeds capture the essence of the garden along with some of the clever curves which create that real element of movement in the garden.
The propagation of plants at Denmans which Mrs. Robinson herself started is something that I am very excited about and I really want to bring that element back to life. In fact, I feel as though I am very much following in her footsteps by recently propagating some Romneya coulteri from root cuttings as she did.
At the moment there is no average working day. I usually start by catching up with the other staff and volunteers in the morning and allocating them their jobs for the day. I always try to work with some of the volunteers during the week depending on how busy I am.
Denmans has a very small team of employed gardeners, so the volunteers are a crucial part of the team and work closely with us in all areas of the garden. I am keen that we involve them in as many tasks as practical and share our knowledge with them. For the long-term I am looking to increasing the number of volunteers we have within the garden team.
During the day I am popping in and out of the office, looking at jobs that are priority and mentoring staff. Otherwise, I am catching up with Gwendolyn who is very much helping me come up to speed about some of the key details of the garden and of course I’m answering questions from visitors throughout the day.
The staff have also introduced a ‘plant of the day’ that we spend five minutes each day looking at. This helps the staff and volunteers familiarise themselves with some of the wealth and range of plants in the garden.
The biggest challenge for me at the moment is trying to understand the garden and getting into Mrs. Robinson’s and John’s shoes and their way of thinking; how they might have approached things. The other challenge is dealing with some of the problematic weeds that exist in the garden and how these areas might be renovated.
I think there is such a great working atmosphere with the wider team at Denmans already, but long term what I really hope to achieve is to build on the overall visitor experience, working closely with Gwendolyn and Mike, and the shop staff in the plant centre area.
When I am not gardening, I love to spend my time rock climbing with either of my sons or just having some quality time with my wife and grownup sons together.
We will continue to post updates from Jonathan on the blog to give insight into key projects and the day-to-day happenings in the garden as time goes on. Watch this space!