New head gardener looks to ‘shape the spirit’ of Beningbrough Hall’s gardens

Amongst the foliage is Sam Shipman, the new Head gardener at  Beningbrough Hall near York.
Picture: Gary Longbottom
Amongst the foliage is Sam Shipman, the new Head gardener at Beningbrough Hall near York. Picture: Gary Longbottom
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He has carved out a horticultural career that has taken him as far afield as Istanbul.

But now Sam Shipman has taken up the post that brings its own challenges closer to home, as the new head gardener for three National Trust properties in and around York, and is hoping to inject the dynamisms of his previous roles into shaping the future of the sites.

Mr Shipman is based at Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens and will be overseeing the eight acres of formal gardens, two-acre walled garden and 380 acres of parkland - and also working with the teams at Goddards House and Garden and the Treasurer’s House.

It’s an exciting time to be joining the Hall, which is celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2016 and earlier this year announced that award-winning designer Andy Sturgeon would create a ten-year plan to refresh, improve, and in some areas, re-design, the gardens.

For Mr Shipman, joining the team during a period of such revitalisation was one of the main appeals to the job.

“The chance to play a part in shaping the spirit and the story of the gardens going forward is very exciting,” he said.

“Over the years, the different owners of the estate have changed the gardens for the different changing fashions, and in a way, that is what we will be doing now, but we’ll be also looking back at previous themes, like the avenues and vistas, and working them in.

“We are building on the history of the gardens.”

It’s not the first time he’s started somewhere new during a period of such change.

One of his first roles after studying at Lancashire’s Myerscough College was in Turkey, where an ex-pat couple had recently set up a landscape design company.

It specialised in creating both traditional English and Turkish gardens. Creating a picture postcard English country garden in the heat of Turkey meant making big changes to plant selections, and introducing a lot of irrigation - and the top-end clientele meant changes to the usual kit he would wear too.

“The clients were very high-end. For the English gardens, they wanted the traditional - roses on arbours, box hedges and herbaceous beds. But the Turkish gardens were very landscape driven, with ornate paths leading to fountain, bay trees and magnolias.

“Everything had to be immaculate. Here, we might use York paving, but there it was all white marble. It’s the only time I’ve been gardening wearing slippers!”

On his return to the UK, he started at Burghley House in Lincolnshire, which has historic parkland laid out by Capability Brown, at a time when the emphasis of the owners was changing from a private home to opening up to the public.

“When I was there they filmed The Da Vinci Code and Pride and Prejudice at Burgley,” Mr Shipman said. “We built a whole new garden.”

His final role before moving to York was at a private estate in East Yorkshire, where he was head gardener for eight years.

Coming to Beningbrough and joining the “premiership” that is the National Trust, will bring new challenges as he looks to follow in the footsteps of previous head gardeners and make his mark.

He said: “The gardens have been seen as very locked places, kept quite separate, like the walled gardens and the American gardens. It’s about making a cohesive plan to link them all together for people to enjoy.”

Get your hands dirty

Visitors can get hands-on and help bring to life the next stage in the ten-year vision for Beningbrough Hall’s gardens.*

Every weekend next month, help is needed to plant 100,000 bulbs that will make up the new Ha-ha walk. The plans are taken from Andy Sturgeon’s designs and include purple crocusii, blues from glory of the snow and whites and yellows from daffodils.

Head gardener Sam Shipman said: “We’ve already planted snowdrops earlier on in the year, so this is the second implementation of Andy’s vision. The ha-ha walk is a quieter part of the garden. It has wonderful views out over the south end of the park and out to the river. It’s under-visited so we’re hoping it will bring people out.”