A Day in the Life of Head Gardener Dave West

Cricket St. Thomas Hotel, Somerset

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.

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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.

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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.

1pm: Lunchtime

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.

Gorgeous Gardens

We should have signs that say “keep on the grass” as we love to see our guests enjoying the gardens. Being able to explore woodlands, learn about the plants and relax outdoors are just some of the things guests look forward to at Warner. Visit our “Gorgeous Gardens” to find out about outdoor activities and top tips from our Head Gardeners.

Warner Team View

At Warner, we take pride and joy in what we do. Here are some snippets from behind the scenes, exciting views from Warner team members and diary extracts to share our story with you. We get to know our guests better and better each time they visit and here’s just a few things we’d like to share with them.

Food and Drink

Warner has a team of first class chefs preparing hearty breakfasts, delicious three-course dinners and tasty afternoon teas. We often get asked for the recipes behind our award-winning dishes. Visit the “Food and Drink” page each week to see recipes, menu ideas and top tips from our brilliant chefs.

Get bowled over at Warner this January

Bowls breaks at Warner Leisure Hotels

If you’ve decided to start 2013 by trying something new, or are perhaps a bit of a self-confessed expert when it comes to hitting the jack on a crown green lawn, why not pack your bags and discover how much fun bowls can be as part of one of Warner’s short breaks.

Bowls is a fantastic game for beginners as it’s simple to follow and pick up. There’s no complicated equipment to get your head around and it’s a sport that anyone can get involved in. Plus with more than 2,500 bowls clubs active in England at the moment, it’s a game that is incredibly well supported. That’s not to say it’s easy though! Winning a game of bowls takes a combination of skills, from hand-eye co-ordination to concentration and plenty of practice.

If you’re already a keen player, you’ll be right at home as we’ve got championship-level indoor bowling greens at four of our properties, including the coastal resorts of Lakeside in Hampshire, Bembridge Coast on the Isle of Wight, Gunton Hall in Suffolk and at our country retreat of Bodelwyddan Castle in North Wales. For those who are new to bowls though, having a great teacher will ensure that you not only get a handle on the game a lot quicker, but that you also get maximum enjoyment. It’s the reason why our hotel breaks that include bowls coaching for beginners are the perfect introduction to the sport.

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At Lakeside on 25 February, guests can join our bowls manager and discover during two days of a four-night break just how much fun bowls can be. Everyone will get the chance to master the basics in their own time, from the correct terminology to the range of shots that can be played. A range of other leisure and sports facilities are available at Lakeside to keep guests entertained between bowls coaching sessions and, of course, everyone will get to enjoy the sumptuous breakfasts and three-course evening meals. As always, you can guarantee that a show, dancing, laughter and music will be there to round off the perfect day.

If you’ve been on the beginners’ course and are keen to pick up the pace, or are already a dab hand at bowls, perhaps consider trying our four-rink indoor bowls complex at Bembridge Coast Hotel, or perhaps our improvers’ course at Gunton Hall. You can time your spring break to coincide with one of our open fours competitions, or sign up to receive expert tuition from one of England’s most decorated and most distinguished players, and current World Indoor Singles Bowls Champion, Andy Thomson.

_2013-Bowls-Coaching-improvers-SIDE-Banner.fwOur bowls breaks are just some of the many exciting experience packages that we’ve put together for 2013. Choose from VIP evenings where you’ll be treated to cocktails, your own dedicated waiter at dinner and an unforgettable evening of entertainment to exploring the stunning scenery of the Norfolk Broads and surrounding countryside. Learn all about wine tasting, flower arranging or try your hand at painting! If you’re keen to experience something new, come and have fun with us at Warner this winter or on one of our varied Easter weekend breaks.