A Gardener's World

What’s it like to work on a single vision for half a lifetime? Paul Tattersdill, Estate Manager and Head Gardener at Tylney Hall, chats about a 30-year (and counting!) garden restoration project.

Why did you choose this career?
I always knew I wanted the outdoor life - my parents were keen gardeners and I studied agriculture at college. Then I went on to work in commercial horticulture, but after I did some courses in landscape design, I decided that was more my bag.

How did you end up at Tylney Hall?
I was Estate Manager for a commercial landscaping company. I progressed up the ladder but the job became more desk-bound and I missed the outdoors. Tylney Hall was a return to more practical, hands on work.

Can you tell us about the restoration?
Tylney Hall was built in the early 1900s and originally had 66 acres of stunning gardens designed by Seldon Wornum, Robert Weir Schultz and Gertrude Jekyll. But when Elite bought the property it had been used as a school. The gardens hadn’t been maintained at all and when we started the restoration in 1986, they were in complete rack and ruin.

What sort of problems did you face?
The Italian Sunken Garden, Rose Circle Garden and Walled Garden had all been severely damaged. The woodlands were overgrown and the ponds clogged. And Brent Council had even covered over the Italian Gardens with a tennis court!

Did you lead the project from the start?
No, that was Dominic Cole, a leading luminary in garden restoration and a big influence on me. He taught me not to be scared of being bold in times of change, that it’s ok to be forthright.

Have you had any major setbacks?
We had to deal with the 1987 storm – we lost around 380 trees then. When I drove to work that morning and saw the damage, I wept. It took almost 6 months to clean up. But the storm actually had a silver lining – it swept away a lot of the weed trees, allowing the landscape to return to long vista views.

Who or what inspires you?
Gertrude Jekyll, who designed the Wild Garden and Water Gardens. She was an artist and brought a painterly detail to things. Her herbaceous borders have a real sense of colour, it’s an artist’s point of view.

What’s been the toughest part?
Restoring Gertrude Jekyll’s herbaceous borders. To make them as close to the originals as possible, we had to source older types of plants from nurseries across the country. It’s almost like detective work! 
What qualities do you need to manage  a project like this? You need to be a good all-rounder - commercial horticulturist, landscape architect, tree surgeon, botanical historian, business person, overseer and designer. The job is different every day.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve found during the restoration?
A 1915 penny that I found near the lakes. I wondered if it had been the wages of one of the gardeners from long ago - some poor lad had bent over and lost it!

What’s your favourite fruit grown in the grounds?
That would have to be the pears. Once or twice I’ve taken a couple home and poached them in red wine and cinnamon, then served with ice cream. Delicious.

What’s your favourite part of the gardens and grounds?
The lower lake of the water gardens. It’s such a natural, pretty spot.

What’s been the most rewarding part so far?
Dredging the four lakes – it made a huge difference. Also, finding the remains of the Italian Gardens beneath the tennis court. I truly believe that if we can get it back to its original condition, then it could be one of the best in the country.

Do you think the restoration will ever be ‘finished’?
It’s been over 30 years and I still don’t feel that we’re finished. In a sense, a garden is never finished as it’s always evolving. However, I hope to complete all my personal projects for Tylney Hall - then I can sign off and say ‘I’m done’.

What’s the main thing you’ve learned from this experience?
That patience is a virtue - something that I'm sure all keen gardeners would agree with!