Head horticulturist joins Margam Country Park to drive restoration

Restoration of citrus house forms first phase of a bigger plan to increase Welsh park's revenue.

Lovelock: nursing the Margam citrus house back to its former glory
Lovelock: nursing the Margam citrus house back to its former glory

A citrus house that produced orange blossom for the royal wedding in 1981 is set to reopen after a new head gardener joined the UK's most popular park.

Gary Lovelock has been brought in as head horticulturist at Margam Country Park in Neath Port Talbot - Green Flag People's Choice Award-winner in 2013 - as part of a restoration primarily funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

He is overseeing improvements to the grounds including restoring the castle terrace and planning a new herbaceous border. Nursing the citrus house back to its former glory is his first project to near completion.

Tangerines, lemons, clementines and more exotic varieties such as Buddha's fingers are now growing in the lean-to greenhouse, which was restored using part of the £1.6m HLF and £218,000 European Regional Development Fund grants.

The site had pest problems, including an infestation of tortrix moths, but these are under control using mostly biological methods.

Lovelock said: "Margam was really noted for its citrus plants and we've got some nice ones here. When Prince Charles and Lady Diana got married they had citrus blossoms from Margam. But the place went into disrepair."

The citrus house is the first stage in a bigger plan to increase revenue at the park. Lovelock, who worked for Suttons Nurseries and spent 10 years renovating Plas Newydd in Llandudnop before coming to Margam, said he is working with volunteers to grow produce and cut flowers for sale.

"The aim is to make ourselves more self-sufficient," he said. "I was a grower for a number of years so that brings a chance to propagate stuff. I'd eventually like to have a farm shop. You have to think outside the box in local authorities as there are a lot of cutbacks here and there."

Lovelock wants to bring in "as much colour as possible" with an Edwardian-style herbaceous border influenced by Gertrude Jekyll.

He added: "They haven't had a gardener here for 12 years and a lot of areas have been left to grow. The parks staff kept the gardens very tidy but they are not necessarily horticulturally trained. They did very well really and got the park a Green Flag but I'm now polishing things."

Exotic variety

Buddha's fingers, or Buddha's hand, feature several individual segments surrounded by their own skin that together give the impression of a hand with fingers. The fruit is popular in China and Japan, where it is used to perfume rooms and as a symbol of wealth and happiness. According to the RHS Plant Finder, there are only two UK nurseries selling the plants that produce the fruit.


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