Head gardener David Kesteven talks about his attraction to gardening, career highlights and garden favorites
Renishaw Hall and Gardens have been a breathtaking feature of the Derbyshire countryside for nearly 400 years. With clipped hedges, herbaceous borders, magnolia trees, rose gardens and winding paths trailing through the woodlands, a visit to this stunning venue makes for a truly unique experience.
Renishaw Hall itself is a grand and stunning sight but, it’s the award-winning Italianate gardens, created by Sir George Sitwell which leave a lasting impression on visitors.
The gardens make it easy to fall down the rabbit hole into wonderland as they are spilt into ‘rooms’ by yew hedges and classic Italian statues, each one being filled with an impressive collection of colourful plants, and extravagant herbaceous borders along with a selection of unique trees and shrubs.
So much time, effort and passion has gone into the gardens, with designs from RHS Chelsea award-winner Arne Maynard and Lee Bestall along with Renishaw’s own head gardener David Kesteven who incorporates his love of all things gardening into every aspect of Renishaw.
After a false start studying physics at university studying physics, David was 21 before he realised that he wanted to pursue a career in gardening. He worked with Humberside County Council as a gardener, before going on to work for a family friend and finally to English Country Gardeners who put him up for the job at Renishaw Hall and Gardens.
Head gardener David Kesteven
He told us about what attracted him to gardening, his favourite elements of Renishaw’s gardens and the highlight of his career.
What attracted you to gardening?
When you get off the career ladder and have no clue what you’re going to do with your life, you have to stop and think where do you like being - and I liked being in historic gardens.
Kew Gardens in London just sends shivers down my spine, as does Renishaw. I love the rare plants and trees and seeing how they grow, and to be able to work in a place every day that does that is amazing.
If you can persuade someone to pay you for something you like doing, you will never work a day in your life, and this is what this job is.
What is your favourite part of the gardens?
It varies depending on the time of year. At the moment it is the woodland area because of the bluebells and magnolias. But, in July it would be the rose garden followed by the borders on the main lawn in August and then the bottom terrace in September.
What’s been the highlight of your career to date?
Winning Garden of the Year in 2015. This had been a goal of mine since I started the job, and it took 17 years but we got it and it was just an incredible feeling.
Talk me through your role.
My work changes throughout the year, but the first job is always making sure Dave, Paul and James know what they are doing for the day.
At this time of year I will be focusing on the greenhouse primarily, along with moving plants and weeding. Soon I will move on to staking, more weeding and deadheading plants, then planting out the annuals in June. In September it’s hedge cutting time, which we do for a solid six weeks.
Then it’s time to cut all the borders, mulch them and put them to bed for the Christmas period and then in March it all kicks off again.
What is your favourite flower?
It is impossible to pick just one, but there is something about the meconopsis grandis - the blue poppy - with its deep colour that is just fantastic.
I am also a massive fan of magnolias, and I’m actually breeding them at the moment and raising them from seed. I’ve just got one flowering but I can see in about 25 years’ time the woods will be full of magnolias, all unique to Renishaw. In 2004 we really started planting magnolias, and then they eventually starting setting seed. It takes at least ten years from sowing the seed to get a flower, which is why not many people do it.
Magnolias were one of the first flowering plants to evolve, and you can kind of see the hand of the creator in there, as these are big chunky flowers with not many petals as if someone was just learning to make flowers - they are just stunning.