Meet the gardeners who look after the grounds of Yorkshire's stately homes

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Tending a country house garden is many people's dream job.

Yorkshire is home to hundreds of stately homes, from large-scale visitor attractions to smaller private residences. Almost all of them have beautiful formal gardens originally planted in the 18th and 19th centuries and either maintained or restored to their former glories.

Georgina Yates in the grounds of Brodsworth Hall

Georgina Yates in the grounds of Brodsworth Hall

They offer numerous opportunities for professional gardeners, and Yorkshire has become a mecca for heritage horticulture. We spoke to three country house gardeners about the challenges and privileges of their roles.

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Georgina Yates - Brodsworth Hall, Doncaster

Georgina is gardens supervisor at two English Heritage properties - Brodsworth Hall, near Doncaster, and Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire.

She spends the majority of her time at Brodsworth, a Victorian country house which passed into the charity's care in the 1980s. The interiors have changed little since the 1860s, and it's considered to be one of the best-preserved 19th-century houses in England.

Georgina Yates at Brodsworth Hall

Georgina Yates at Brodsworth Hall

In 1990, when English Heritage took possession of the gardens, they were in a poor state and considerably overgrown. The scale of the restoration of grounds described as a 'jungle' was momentous, and wasn't completed until 2005.

Since then, they have been in a constant state of evolution and development as Georgina and her colleagues have worked on further restoration projects and increased the standards of horticulture.

"I worked in retail from leaving school, and it was after having my daughter that I decided on a career change - I wanted a job that would put a smile on my face," explains Georgina.

She enrolled on a horticultural course at Dinnington College, near Rotherham, and from the outset was one of the few students in her class who was determined to work in a stately home environment.

Scott Jamieson at Wentworth Woodhouse

Scott Jamieson at Wentworth Woodhouse

After qualifying, she visited the gardens at Wentworth Castle, near Barnsley, to present her case.

"I literally threw my CV into the head gardener's face! They took me on as a volunteer, and I later went part-time and eventually got a full-time role as gardens and estate supervisor. I also ran the gardening club at my daughter's school to help get a foot in the door."

A funding crisis led to rumours that the Wentworth Castle gardens would close (they shut in 2017 but re-opened under National Trust ownership earlier this year) and Georgina pre-empted redundancy by reuniting with her former boss Daniel Hale, who had taken up the position of head gardener at Brodsworth.

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"I knew it would be a risk, as I went for a more junior position - but I believe you need to take a few risks in life. That was three years ago and I've worked my way up since then.

Mark Westmoreland in the kitchen garden at Nostell Priory

Mark Westmoreland in the kitchen garden at Nostell Priory

"Standards have become much higher in the last few years, the quality of the horticulture has increased dramatically."

The Brodsworth team have worked on a number of projects, including the renovation of an old gardener's privy (toilet) that they found covered in foliage and almost forgotten about. They've re-planted the flower beds in the target range, which the Thellusson family once used for archery, and restored the Victorian game larder that supplied the hall's kitchens.

"People love to come back and visit to see what we've been doing."

Most country houses adhere to the 'period planting' rule, meaning that only species which were already being grown in England when the gardens were originally laid out can be re-introduced. In Brodsworth's case, this means a relatively narrow window, from 1865-70, although some borders were planted in the Edwardian era. Photographs taken by the Thellusson family over the years have helped the gardeners piece together how they once looked.

"You'd be surprised at how wide the palette that we can work with is. At Bolsover, it's nothing from before 1765, but their gardens are quite a modern design, as there are no written documents that survive.

"As English Heritage is now a charity, we have to put on events, and one of our main challenges is making sure they don't cause damage to the gardens. For the Enchanted Brodsworth evenings, we might need to do path repairs. It takes a lot of advance planning."

Georgina has noticed a resurgence of interest in stately home gardens, and changes in the age profiles of those who visit them.

"The interest has always been there, but I think more people are holidaying in Britain now and visiting lots of gardens. People want to come and see us now, and it helps us stay at the top of our game!

"There is more diversity among the people who visit and work in gardens. We have an Instagram account for younger followers, and a lot of younger people are really enthusiastic when they stop and talk to us.

"Myself and Dan have always championed bringing younger people into horticulture. The older generation have tended to be more associated with it.

"I love what I'm doing - working in a stately home has always been what I've wanted. I love watching the garden grow and change with the seasons, it's far better than being paid to mow someone's lawn!

"I would absolutely love to have a site of my own one day, and a head gardener's role. I would love a challenge and to be somewhere I could put my own stamp on.

"A few of us from Brodsworth visited Osborne House, Queen Victoria's summer home on the Isle of Wight, recently, and some people said it would be their dream job. But there are so many beautiful sites, I wouldn't like to pinpoint just one!

Scott Jamieson - Wentworth Woodhouse, Rotherham

You'd struggle to find a gardener in South Yorkshire who has faced a more monumental task than Scott Jamieson.

The Scotsman has been at Wentworth Woodhouse, the ancestral seat of the Earls Fitzwilliam, since 2003 - and for some of that time he was the only gardener, working with a limited budget overseeing a site that once supported 33 full-time staff.

Not only that, but the Wentworth job was the first time he'd taken charge of a large garden - he'd previously worked as a greenkeeper and owned an exotic flower shop in Manchester.

And just to top it all, Wentworth Woodhouse's 87 acres of pleasure gardens were in need of revival after suffering from the effects of post-war open-cast mining in the estate grounds.

The Fitzwilliams, who rented the house out after World War Two and sold it in 1989, once enjoyed landscaped parkland, an enclosed rose garden, kitchen garden, a Camellia House full of rare species and ornamental fountains and temples. The gardens were laid out by leading designer of the day Humphrey Repton, who went on to gain numerous other commissions in Yorkshire.

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust purchased Wentworth for the nation in 2017, and set about recruiting a team of volunteers to help Scott and fellow gardener Andrew Smith restore the grounds to glory, with the eventual aim of opening them to the public. He had previously been employed by the Newbold family, who bought the house in 1999.

"Getting the Wentworth job was a case of being in the right place at the right time. At the time I was working for a company in Rotherham that built sports grounds, and I thought a job in a stately home would be a nice change! I couldn't believe my luck when I got it. It was very much a private house at the time, although I had stumbled upon the paths through the parkland before so I knew it existed. Very people realised the extend of the grounds behind the East Front."

Then-owner Clifford Newbold, a London architect, had already hired jobbing gardeners to clear undergrowth from the carriage drives and paths, and some planting had been done, but Scott was presented with an almost blank canvas to work with.

"I'd say the gardens were in a raw state, although not bad enough for you to think 'oh, yikes!' I managed to introduce new things that would take the gardens through the seasons."

One of the delights of Scott's job has been uncovering hidden secrets of the gardens that had almost disappeared from local memory.

One of these discoveries was the contents of the Camellia House, which was built in 1817. The 200-year-old camellia plants had been allowed to grow through the remains of the roof and the building was in a dangerous state before Scott was finally able to access it and survey the species inside.

"The Camellia House is ripe for a project, although it's still in the formative stages. We took some photos of the plants and sent them to Chiswick House in London, which has a collection of camellias. An expert got in touch straight away and asked if she could visit. I was surprised she wanted to see 18 or 19 rather leggy camellias, but when she arrived she gasped and took a step back. She said it was like finding a first edition of Wuthering Heights - they're some of the first generation of camellias ever to have been brought to Britain.

"The old building had just been sat there, and once it was finally safe enough to get in and tackle the brambles - there they were. We hope to get a lot of camellia enthusiasts visiting, which will give us a new audience."

Managing the gardens on a small private budget - the Newbolds also had to find the money to maintain the enormous mansion, which has over 300 rooms - was an exercise in balancing resources and priorities. Scott has had to 'pick my moments' and choose his investments wisely. He grew the estate's rhododendron collection by purchasing specimens from a collection in Scotland that originally came from China, but the plants did not come cheap.

"As a plantsman, you always want to do that little bit more!"

Since the Trust took over, the garden's staff numbers have returned to the levels of the Fitzwilliams' payroll, with over 30 volunteers from the local area assisting Scott and Andrew.

"There's a feeling of security now. With all the extra hands, we can get a lot done. It's also good to have the back-up from other staff - we've introduced snowdrop walks, for example, and I think visitors get a more rounded experience now the shop, cafe and parts of the house are open. We got 400 visitors for the snowdrops in the first year and we hope to surpass 1,000 this coming winter."

There are still plenty of forgotten areas of the gardens waiting to be rejuvenated, including the enclosed, circular rose garden.

"We had a look in the archives and we think it was once called the Mulberry Garden - the family may have planted their own mulberry trees to grow silk."

Scott has also seen potential in the creation of a new kitchen garden to supply the tearoom - the site of the original is now owned by the village garden centre.

"Everyone wants 'field to fork' now, and I think we can grow some great fresh produce. We've already grown pumpkins and apples in the orchard - we've had pumpkin soup and mulberry scones so far. People love to eat home-grown food that speaks of the place it came from. Wentworth used to have a huge kitchen garden, with pineapples and peaches, and there's no reason we can't get some of that back."

Scott is also lucky enough to live on the estate.

"I really enjoy living on-site - I have wonderful views over the parkland. The village is lovely too - it's stuck in time but it really fits into the environment.

"One day I want Wentworth's gardens to be mentioned in the same breath as Renishaw Hall and Hodsock Priory. It was lovely having the gardens to myself for so many years and I cherish those memories, but it's great to have people visiting them now. The gardens will be there long after I'm gone, and they have a purpose now."

The Wentworth Woodhouse gardens are currently open for pre-booked guided tours.

Mark Westmoreland - Nostell Priory, Wakefield

Mark is a kitchen gardener at Nostell, an 18th-century treasure house near Wakefield that has been in National Trust care since the 1950s.

Perhaps surprisingly, he's had no formal horticultural education - the former graphic designer was given a permanent job at Nostell after volunteering with the gardens team in 2009.

At the time, work was just beginning on establishing a kitchen garden on the estate. Nostell's original walled garden has never been part of the National Trust site, and it was converted into an office building after the Winn family left the Grade I-listed house.

He now oversees the patch, which produces over 3,500kg of fresh fruit and vegetables every year, the majority of which ends up being served to visitors in the cafe in the converted Victorian stable block.

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"I'm a self-taught gardener and what the Trust refer to as a career changer - I've always been really interested in gardening, and my experience as a volunteer stood me in good stead.

"Ten years ago, we started to develop the kitchen garden. The area we chose was mainly lawned and we weren't getting the best out of it for visitors. It was the perfect opportunity to set it up, and as it wasn't the original site we could work to a new design. We have some authentic plants from the period, but the patch is a different shape and it's more practical for both staff and visitors. We planted the orchards, then the vegetable plots and finally the soft fruit beds."

Within three years, chefs in the cafe were using estate produce in almost all of their dishes.

"That was the long-term objective, and we started giving them small amounts at first. We've now developed a really close working relationships with the chefs, which is nice for visitors. Most of the produce goes straight to the kitchen - it's zero food miles, you can't get much more local than that!"

The team grow apples - the yield in 2018 was 500kg - pumpkins, rhubarb and even bananas.

"People love the banana plants, even though the bananas are quite small - we never expected them to fruit. We also grow some decent-sized onions which we get asked about a lot.

"People are really interested in growing their own produce now - we get a lot of allotment holders visiting who are new to gardening.

"Probably the most challenging part of running a kitchen garden is the timing, and understanding what needs to be done at different times of the year, working around seasonal cycles.

"My surroundings are amazing - I always tell people that it must be one of the nicest offices in the world. There's plenty of wildlife, it's just a beautiful environment and I get to meet lots of different people."