A day in the life: Annie Dellbridge, Head Gardener, Fullers Mill Garden
Annie Dellbridge joined Fullers Mill Garden in Suffolk as Head Gardener just over seven years ago.
Here she chats about her role, and what she loves most about the garden, which is situated on the River Lark, at West Stow in Suffolk.
What does a typical day look like for you? Or is there such a thing?!
I don’t really have one! In an ideal world I’d come in, chat to the staff and volunteers, read through emails and then get outdoors as quickly as possible. We share a weekly garden task list that we talk through before heading out so everyone should know their jobs for the day. My role requires me to have an overview of it all, while usually tackling some of the least popular tasks myself.
What do you love most about your job?
Being outside and also teaching the two apprentices.
What’s the best part about working with the apprentices and volunteers?
With the apprentices it’s their enthusiasm, especially with things like cuttings. They’re so pleased when they grow into strong plants and it reminds me that gardening relies on a little magic! With the volunteers it’s the fact that they’re here because they want to be here. They’re not getting paid they just love the work. They come on wet, miserable days as well as the glorious sunny days all year round. We have 26 volunteers at the moment, six of which are based solely in the Bothy, welcoming visitors, managing our popular tea and cake offering and keeping everything clean and tidy. The rest of the team rotates on jobs around the garden depending on the season. It’s wonderful to see how helping in the garden helps some of our volunteers recover from their own life challenges such as poor mental health or loneliness.
Had you heard of Perennial before Bernard Tickner gifted Fullers Mill Garden to the charity?
I heard of Perennial about 10 years ago at Easton College (Now Easton and Otley College) where I trained. I was already working at the garden when Bernard gifted it to Perennial and knowing about the charity’s work for horticulturists across the UK it seemed like the perfect fit.
You ran the British London 10K in aid of Perennial last year and regularly go on the radio to chat about Fullers Mill Garden and Perennial. How important to you is raising awareness of the charity, as well as looking after the garden?
Raising awareness of Perennial among those working in horticulture and the wider public is an important part of my job. We, as a team, are working in the professional horticulture sector in a garden that is open to the public. We have a duty to inform other horticulturists of the important work that Perennial does and also tell the public about how their visit helps the charity support those in need. Many visitors leave with a better understanding of what Perennial does and often wish to further contribute by becoming a Friend of Fullers Mill Garden or through a direct donation.
If you could change one thing about your role what would it be?
I’d like two of me! One to do the office work and the other to be outside!
How do you decide what plants you’re going to divide/bulk up at this time of year?
You just get to know the garden well and get a feel for it. You need to notice where the gaps are and what plants are getting too big for their neighbours. I’ve been here seven years now so noticing the seasonal changes of the garden is becoming more intuitive, however, I am starting to have to write things down!
Has the garden changed much over the years?
No, not really, there have been a few subtle changes, an increase in volunteers maybe, but it stays true to the ethos of founder and creator Bernard Tickner who is a prolific plant collector. We are custodians of his collections and as such try to stay true to his plan and layout. Inevitably we add to the garden little by little and are always keen to hear what visitors think after their visit.
What jobs do you do over the closed winter season?
Oh, the mucky jobs, maintenance, digging new borders, mulching, picking up leaves, redoing new areas we have planned – it’s a chance for us to do the jobs that are sometimes difficult with visitors wandering around.
Has your attitude towards your job changed over the years with the effects of climate change?
Gardeners are an adaptable breed. We have always known that the weather is not something to be relied upon and so have learned to accept changing flowering times, failures and unusual successes. Over my time here at Fullers Mill Garden I have noticed some plants are flowering earlier. The autumn crocus flowered in August this year. Leaves will fall sooner and the seasons are merging and changing. Although this might indicate a wider climate issue, as gardeners we can use it to our advantage by growing more tender plants that are more likely to survive the winter.
What’s your favourite plant group?
Ah that’s a cruel question, I couldn’t possibly say. They all have their positives and bring different things to the garden. Colour, scent, structural shape, texture, the list goes on….
What other gardens do you visit for inspiration?
Cambridge University Botanical Gardens. We have a good relationship with the team there and once a year I take a group of staff & volunteers for a guided tour by the Head of Horticulture. We always leave feeling inspired and full of ideas to bring back to Fullers Mill. But I love visiting all gardens – it’s just finding the time that’s a challenge!
For more information about Fullers Mill Garden including opening times and volunteering opportunities, visit the garden website here.