15 November 2019
"I believe in fate" - introducing Dean Peckett
I believe in fate. Perhaps our lives and experiences are inter-woven like the roots and mycorrhizal fungi of an ancient oak, living within a boundless forest. These connecting roots carry each of us on a unique journey through life...I am grateful to say that my wonderful fate has been gardening.
When I look back over the last 40 years I cannot imagine where I would be without my love and passion for gardening. It has kept me safe when times have been difficult. It has also brought me much personal satisfaction and joy. I am also very thankful for the generous support of family, friends and colleagues who have helped to guide me along my journey.
It all started with a yellow dahlia! I did not realise it at the time, but that dahlia would be the catalyst for my future ahead. Let me explain....
My grandfather, Herbert (second from the left in the photograph), was a steel worker who made gardening tools. These tools were hand-forged using Sheffield's finest stainless steel, in an era of industry when craftsmanship was carried with pride. He was also a keen gardener with a passion for growing dahlias, which he lovingly cultivated in a small cobbled garden surrounded by brick walls, coal fires and industry. I like to think that gardening was a peaceful escape for him away from the factory floor, woodbines, dust and heat.
A few years ago, I discovered an old photograph of me aged two holding a yellow dahlia with a flower not much smaller than my head! This bloom, I am reliably informed, had been given to me by my grandfather after a hearty Sunday roast during early autumn. The image shows me staring at the flower in awe; I look at the image today and wonder what I was thinking and whether a spark of wonder was being ignited even then.
In later years my grandfather taught me how to grow dahlias, and so my journey started to unfold. He had many a tall story and a fondness for bacon sandwiches, both of which he was happy to share with me. From the age of ten I was gardening with my father, helping him tend an allotment. He frequently worked away from home, so I was responsible for the care of the vegetables and cut flowers.
These were very happy days because the other allotment holders were all older folk who looked after me and shared their passion and knowledge with kindness and generosity. I used to help out the allotment group every other Saturday, working in an old wooden supply shed selling discount gardening supplies and sundries. It was a fabulous learning environment and I enjoyed listening eagerly to their hearty chatter, gardening advice and humour, whilst sat, drinking dark brown tea in-front of a cast iron log burner!
I recall that the shed was located on a hillside and constantly creaked in the wind. The smell of blood, fish and bone mixed with log smoke was intense to say the least, but I loved it. When I catch a whiff of blood, fish and bone today, it is highly evocative, and the smell transports me right back to those moments where I experienced my first sense of belonging in an adult world.
Today I sit writing my introduction to the Arne Maynard Garden Design family. Since those early formative days, I count myself extremely fortunate to have worked in a number of beautiful gardens over the last 35 years. From the early days working as an apprentice for Sheffield Parks Department and horticultural training at Askham Bryan, York; followed by employment at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, RHS Wisley in Surrey and RHS Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire. More recently I spent time working at Fort Belvedere in Berkshire.
Working in these gardens has provided me with some excellent opportunities to gain knowledge in practical horticulture, to train apprentices and volunteers, lecture and advise visitors and fellow gardeners, contribute to outreach projects, garden design and manage teams of of staff in large gardens.
The friendships and experiences that I have gained during my career remind me of those interconnecting tree roots. Every generous encounter, pearl of knowledge and new experience has enriched my gardening awareness and has intensified my sense of wonder over the years.
I am still excited by plants and the swiftness of plant growth, seasonal changes, plant interactions, and how gardens enhance the senses. There is a perceptible ebb and flow in all gardens which you have to respect and encourage to achieve success.
For me, working with Arne at Allt y bela, is a new chapter in my life and fortunately we share much in common. Arne is a passionate plantsman and he possesses a wonderful awareness of the natural landscape and how gardens can interact in harmony with their natural environment. We have much to share and learn together, particularly with the development of the garden and planting at Allt y bela over the next 12 months and beyond.
My role within Arne Maynard Garden Design is broad, encompassing the care and development of Allt y bela, whilst providing horticultural advice and expertise to Arne's clients, skilled gardening teams and the wider AMGD team. I am also looking forward to providing training to keen amateur gardeners through a series of garden courses at Allt y bela during 2020.
My first impressions of the garden here at Allt y bela are magical. The garden is intimate and tranquil and, together with the medieval farmhouse, it rests at ease within the landscape. Nature encroaches like soft waves on a wild shoreline…..Arne has worked his magic, and I appreciate his awareness, attention to detail and love of plants.
I know that these words may sound whimsical, but this is why gardening inspires me, and why I love it so much. It brings out feelings of contentment and a desire to share with others. We are truly spoilt for choice in the UK, where diverse landscapes and gardens are numerous. In our busy lives we sometimes forget what wonders and delights lie on our doorstep ready to explore.
I already feel a positive connection with Allt y bela and the AMGD team, who all do a fabulous job in supporting Arne. South Wales and Monmouthshire are proving to be a real inspiration, with natural beauty in abundance. I am currently exploring the coastline, valleys, hills and castles with my family.
I am looking forward to working with Arne and his team and we hope to share our passion for gardening with you all in the months ahead.
Words: Dean Peckett, Head of Horticulture at Arne Maynard Garden Design
Photographs: William Collinson, Amber Reglar and Dean Peckett