getting lucky in the garden

In gardening, as in life, chance and luck play a huge part in how any garden is able to develop.

In the spring of 2009 I spent 3 days digging pits a metre deep and wide to take 3 mature clipped hornbeam trees I’d bought on a whim from a nursery in Norfolk. It nearly finished me off. 2 of the pits were in our gravel driveway and I had to hack away at the compounded base until I got through to the solid clay beneath.

Around this time, I had good help with lawns and hedges, but I was doing all the real gardening myself. On a steep 3 acre site, in an immature garden, it was all becoming too much for me. The Fairlight End project was in danger of becoming a joyless slog- another year or two like that and I might have given up completely.

Just as I finished digging the third hornbeam pit, I was visited by a remarkable young man, William Hurton, who happened to be looking for gardening work in the district. He’s 3 inches taller than I am, strongly built, and 37 years my junior. On the spot, I took him on for a day a week for 3 months. 8 years later, he’s still here, working 2 days a week now, and the garden keeps going from strength to strength.

On leaving school, William spent the next 10 years at Great Dixter, while Christopher Lloyd was still alive. He had a great training and amassed a wealth of gardening experience.

5 years earlier my wife Robin enrolled on a photography course at Hastings College. By chance, on the same course, was Tara Culley, an RHS trained gardener at Great Dixter. I met Tara, asked her to design a kitchen garden I planned to lay out and landscape as my first project at Fairlight End in the winter and spring of 2004/5.

Tara went on to design and execute planting schemes for us in the decorative garden around the house, and often worked with me as it began to develop. Then her 2 sons were born, and while she was available occasionally, she could no longer work regularly in the garden. So I struggled along for a couple of years until Tara put me in touch with William.

Tara remains part of our team at Fairlight End. This winter she has designed the planting and laid out an entirely new garden at the front of the house. It features 4 witch hazels, irregularly shaped forms of yew, holly, hornbeam and hawthorn, with hellebores, brunnera, euphorbia, pulmonaria and so on at ground level.

It was pure luck that Robin met Tara at Hastings College, and that William became available at the time I needed skilled help so desperately. Without these strokes of luck, the garden at Fairlight End could not have developed as it has.

Chris Hutt