The Mary Roxburghe Trust is delighted that we have been joined by new Gardener Nicky Webber.

Having graduated in 1988 from Surrey University with a degree in Russian and Soviet Studies, she spent a number of years working as a translator for Allied Lyons as part of a team setting up joint ventures in Eastern Europe.  After having 3 children, Nicky re-trained in 2006 at Merrist Wood College achieving a Distinction in her Diploma in Garden Design under Andrew Wilson.  She went on to set up her own practice in 2007 and has designed and built numerous gardens in Surrey. In the few weeks she has been with us, the difference in the garden is clear for all to see.

We caught up with her to find our more about the challenge that awaits her in our five acres of 18th century walled gardens:

Q- Had you heard of or visited West Horsley Place before taking up your post here?

NW- I had heard of West Horsley Place through one of the garden volunteers from my previous post but had never had the opportunity to visit.  Her description of the gardens intrigued me…….she knew that I couldn’t resist a challenge!

Q- What were your first thoughts about our 5 acres of 18th century walled garden?

NW- I was overwhelmed when I first saw the gardens.  The box hedging and topiary took my breath away.  They are beguiling in their beauty and have a charm of their own even though the former herbaceous borders which they enclosed have disappeared.  The history and the design features intrigue me.  The crinkle crankle wall is a feat of engineering and fascinating.   I am very excited about uncovering the secrets of the gardens.

Q- How do you start to tackle a historic garden that has been a little neglected?

NW- There is a massive temptation to jump in and start making changes, but patience is necessary.  As for any garden, it is important to wait and see what happens over the first year.  At the moment, we are clearing the tree ivy, nettles and brambles which have overwhelmed many parts of the garden.   I will  then begin to concentrate on trying to feed and nurture  the box hedging and then, over the winter, the garden history research can begin and we can plan our way forward.

Q- Like the manor house, there is so much about the history of the garden that we don't yet know. What are you most excited about finding out?

NW- I am fascinated to find out when the existing garden was laid out, if it was planted on top of a medieval garden and if so, how it developed over the centuries.  We have some plans from the 1700s which give a basic outline but no detail.  We have magazine articles dating back to the 1930s, giving extensive planting detail so hopefully we can fill in the gaps with the help of the Surrey History Centre and the Surrey Gardens Trust.

Q- What's it like settling into life at West Horsley Place?

NW- I joined West Horsley Place in April this year.  We are a small team but all share a great passion for the house and gardens.  The opera season has now begun and the gardens are a hive of activity….. opera singers and actors taking a quick break in the garden, sword fights on the lawn….it is a wonderful and eccentric place to work.

Q- You have a wonderful team of weekly volunteers, how do they help you?

NW- The volunteers are one of the highlights of my job…..they provide a strong support network in the garden…without them, it would be difficult to keep on top of the constant battle with weeds, let alone move it forward. They are a group with different backgrounds, skills and ages and that is what makes it so interesting!  It is also an opportunity to socialise and create new friendships, always with cake and tea thrown in.  Weeding is not glamorous but once you see the difference your contribution makes to the various areas, it becomes quite addictive!

Q- Any exciting plans that you can tell us about?

NW- We are launching a fundraising appeal to start what will be an ongoing mission to restore and rejuvenate the gardens as well as carry out reseacrch into their history. We know that Henry VIII had a knot garden here and that his gardener grew strawberries- but where exactly?! Help us here.