For 44 years Dave West has worked as head gardener at Cricket St Thomas, a 19th century Grade II Regency mansion in the heart of Somerset. When Dave was hired in 1966, Cricket St Thomas was a privately owned estate. The grounds were overgrown and neglected, and in need of serious attention. Dave’s commitment and expertise have been invaluable in successfully developing the 45 acres of land into beautiful cascades, lakes and gardens, influenced in style by Capability Brown.
The hotel, now owned by Warner Leisure Hotels, was made famous in the late 1970s by the extremely popular BBC sitcom To ‘The Manor Born’, and retains its fame thanks to the breath-taking gardens and lakes that Dave and his team manage.
Dave has written the following diary which he describes as a typical day, although he admits: “describing a typical day is difficult for me, as each day is so varied when working with my gardening team at Cricket St. Thomas.”
5.45am: It’s all about the weather!
In the morning my alarm goes off and before I do anything else, I look out the window. The forecast is crucial in my profession. I watch the weather forecast and start to plan the day’s activities. A plan for if it’s dry, one for if it’s wet and a contingency plan just in case. Although my daily routine remains the same, every day is different at Cricket St. Thomas and that’s why I’ve stayed for so long.
7.30am: The big clean
At around 7.30am I arrive for work and meet my team. The six of us discuss any unfinished jobs and I highlight any key activities which need to be completed. As well as looking after the gardens themselves, it’s vital to ensure that everywhere looks clean and tidy, so we start by checking for litter across the grounds. We try and put ourselves in the guests’ shoes and see the gardens as if we’re looking at them for the first time. Our grounds and gardens are the first thing guests see when they start their holiday, so my team and I are responsible for first impressions.
11am: Managers’ meeting
At 11am it is time for the morning meeting. The managers and supervisors meet every day to discuss all aspects of the running of the hotel and divide the workload between us. I can still remember what it was like when Cricket was a private estate. I have to admit, after we opened to the public I found the first few years hard to adjust. I wasn’t used to dealing with people coming in and walking all over the grass, trying to take cuttings and undoing work I’d done. However, nowadays I take great pride in the thought that hundreds of thousands of guests walk through the grounds each year. I’m always chatting to guests, giving advice and these days I encourage people to use the gardens as if they were their own. There should be “keep on the grass” signs as that’s how I’d like guests to feel.
11.30am: Tending to the gardens
This time of day usually means getting my hands dirty and planting, clipping or clearing the gardens. The grounds are divided into formal gardens close to the main house and then the rambling woodland gardens. My pride and joy is our Japanese water garden which I designed after thirty years of service, as a bit of a celebration. It contains bamboos, maples, Japanese cherry trees and rhododendrons. It took three years to take shape and I’m really pleased with it. It is a great open space and guests often comment on how beautiful it is.
There are lots of unique and ancient trees on the estate here at Cricket. The monkey puzzle tree is reputed to be the oldest in England and the English cedars date back to the 18th century. I think that to keep a holiday fresh you often need to make improvements which sometimes involves extending or creating new buildings. The whole gardening team feel very strongly about removing trees. We plant three trees for every one that is lost and some I planted over forty years ago have now grown over twenty feet! It’s a lovely thing to see.
My team always eat lunch together. I like being able to share updates on work and socialise. I’m a big believer in hiring horticultural students and try to have at least one on my gardening team. They bring youth, fresh ideas and enthusiasm, and also take me back to when I first started.
1.30pm: Touring the grounds
The timings sometimes vary but I often do tours of the grounds for our guests. I don’t think a week has gone by when a guest hasn’t asked about new developments I have planned, what they think I should change and how gorgeous the gardens are here. I do a loop of the gardens and try and give an overall history of the grounds, tips of when best to plant flowers and also answer any questions guests have. A new thing I have tried to do is recommend recipes and sometimes give clippings to guests. We get lots of people who enjoy photography come and visit so I point out good spots for shooting photos too.
4.30pm: A labour of love
Around 4.30pm I carry out the final checks before I head off. My job is a labour of love and after four decades I still take great pride in my work and how the gardens look. My team and I really enjoy the gardens and we hope to welcome you soon.