Diplomatic and budgetary skills of head gardeners tested during recession

Professional Gardeners' Guild vicechairman for the north Trevor Nicholson has said head gardeners are having to use all their diplomatic and budgetary skills, as well as their gardening abilities, during the recession.

The head gardener at Harewood House in Leeds said: "Head gardeners do go the extra mile to get gardens up to scratch - in spite of the recession. If the recession is on and people are keeping their money in their pocket, we want first-time visitors to come again - and they won't if their visit is negative and there are weeds everywhere."

Nicholson advised that getting volunteers integrated with the workforce and helping staff to assess priorities was all down to good management.

"Head gardeners are not just great gardeners any more. They have to be diplomatic with staff to allay fears of redundancy - many gardens are running much smaller teams nowadays.

"Head gardeners are responding to the recession by motivating staff and using their management skills better. The recession has hit a lot of people hard - there are no guarantees about visitor numbers.

"Sometimes, however, it is not only down to good management but also to being fortunate in having good staff who have drive and commitment and who love the work that they do. We have some outstanding staff in the gardens at Harewood, as well as some remarkable volunteers."

The HW Professional Gardener of the Year 2008 wrote in the guild's magazine: "Before the recession was said to be over - officially, if not in reality - this year's budgets had already been set. Therefore, gardens and gardeners everywhere are still feeling the pinch.

"Relationships with regular contractors - good relationships that have built up over time - are being threatened, or worse, have been lost due to financial pressures.

"It has not been an easy time for professional gardeners. In fact, it has been a very testing time, not least for head gardeners and garden managers, who have to use all their management, tact and diplomacy to keep staff focused and positive, allaying fears of redundancy while often hiding the outward effects of their own anxieties."

Harewood gardeners creating a new kitchen garden to supply fresh produce to its restaurant are working with the Northern Fruit Group, which has its display garden at Harewood, and the Harrogate and Ripon Beekeepers' Association, which has a demonstration hive, an observer hive and a productive apiary at the Leeds garden.

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