As we welcome back visitors to our Grade II* listed gardens, we chat to Mike Record, our lead gardener.
How long have you worked here?
Four years now. Previously I worked at the National Trust, did a stint at RHS training and also Cambridge University Botanic Gardens.
How did you get into gardening in the first place?
I grew up in the Devon countryside and used to help my parents in the garden for pocket money as a child, raking up leaves, mowing the grass, hedge trimming, things like that. And I think you absorb gardening through osmosis. When I graduated I started work in environmental health in enforcement work, but I’m not really an enforcer so I made a career change to gardening!
What’s your garden like at home?
It’s a small city garden (in Plymouth) with far too many plants and shrubs shoehorned into a very small space.
Do you wish you had a bigger garden?
No! I think the 26 acres at Dartington are enough to play with!
Does it become a bit like a busman’s holiday when you get home? Do you not want to do any gardening at home?
It can be like that! I have designed my garden so that I don’t have any grass to cut (I have enough of that at work) and I concentrate on growing shrubs and climbers and a bit of propagation.
What are you proudest of that you’ve done since you took over the gardens at Dartington?
I’m very proud of the children’s activity trail that we have created. It was really fun to do and we’ve had a lot of great feedback – the kids seem to love it. The trail includes a bug hotel, den building, a low rope walk and a bird hide.
Another great experience was working with Dan Pearson the garden designer. It was incredible to meet him and a really motivating experience for all of us at the gardens team.
What is your biggest challenge with the gardens?
I think the biggest challenge has to be lack of time. This garden used to be run by 20 gardeners when the Elmirsts were here, and our current team is five part-time gardener and during lockdown that was reduced to two. We set very high standards for ourselves and it’s a very physical garden with the Tiltyard and all the mowing and tree work. We are very lucky to have a group of extremely loyal volunteers however, who do excellent work.
Mike and fellow gardener Richard Hunt at work in the Gardens
What is your favourite part of the garden?
It depends on the season but in the springtime you can’t beat the Woodland Walk first thing in the morning when there’s no-one around. You’ve got birdsong, all the flowers, and it’s quite cosy and enclosed – it’s lovely! Also in the spring, the banks of the Tiltyard is covered in primroses which is gorgeous. Another bit is the silhouette of the Lucombe Oak in winter which is quite eerie but so majestic. When we had our ‘Illuminate the Darkness’ lightshow we used an uplighter on the oak and it looked absolutely stunning.
Another winter highlight for me was a few years ago when we had heavy snowfall and it looked breath-taking with a carpet of fresh pristine snow – it was truly magical. In the height of summer the Sunny Border is at its best and we often get asked what the plants are so people can replicate the look in their gardens. Hopefully soon people will be able to this as we have just opened a plant stall where we’re propagating from the garden – hardwood cuttings in the winter, soft cuttings in spring and summer.
What are the lesser-trodden parts of the garden that people should seek out?
I would say the Woodland Walk – it’s quite wild and rugged and has a lovely feel to it – it’s definitely a quieter area of the garden.