A gardener’s world

WHEN Tanya Silverton was appointed as head gardener at Knebworth House she was delighted her new employers shared her commitment to green sustainable gardening. Tanya said: Of course my first priority is to look after the 28 acres of beautiful gardens,

WHEN Tanya Silverton was appointed as head gardener at Knebworth House she was delighted her new employers shared her commitment to 'green' sustainable gardening.

Tanya said: "Of course my first priority is to look after the 28 acres of beautiful gardens, but I want to add another dimension by not only gardening in a chemical free environment where ever it is possible, but also passing on this philosophy and knowledge to our visitors."

The gardens include some magnificent and unusual trees, large herbaceous borders, 18 interconnecting colour-themed 'rooms', a wilderness garden complete with 72 dinosaurs, the Gertrude Jekyll herb garden and a walled garden growing herbs, fruit and vegetables as well as a vast greenhouse containing an old grapevine.

"I want to bring even more seasonal colour into each area to ensure there is something different to see each time visitors walk through the gardens," said Tanya, who is married with two children, and lives in Benington with her family and menagerie of animals, which include two chickens, a cat, a basset hound and two chinchillas!

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"We use everything we have here. Nothing is wasted. We make our own compost, leaf mould and use any fallen branches for bark chippings.

"I think visitors would find this knowledge interesting and valuable."

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Of course Knebworth garden and park is also home to numerous birds, hares, rabbits, hedgehogs, foxes - a vixen raised her cubs in the wilderness garden this year - and of course the park has herds of beautiful seika and red deer that roam throughout the estate.

The rabbits and the invading muntjac deer can do a lot of damage to the gardens, and Tanya has an ongoing battle.

"It is challenging at times, but in the main we like to let nature strike the balance," she said.

"For instance, slug pellets would harm our hedgehog population.

"Unfortunately we have no choice but to use weedkiller on the pathways, which can become a health and safety hazard."

The walled garden is also organic and the fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers are used in the house and tea rooms.

Tanya is planning to make this garden as interesting as possible especially to the large number of schoolchildren who visit.

She said: "I think if we can engage and interest children in vegetables we will stand a much better chance of getting them to eat a better diet."

She is also planning to re-introduce some of the heritage vegetables such as potatoes and beans back into the walled vegetable garden that has been completely restored.

South African-born Tanya has travelled the world with her husband and has lived in countries as diverse as Australia and Chile.

She originally trained to be a gardener through the WRAGS (Women Returners to Amenity Gardening Scheme) and is currently studying for a master's degree with the Royal Horticultural Society.

Her holistic approach to gardening and the environment is deep-rooted.

"A garden is almost a spiritual place," she said.

"If you respect nature she will then give back and nurture.

"I have seen many people 'damaged' by life who have found strength and health again by working in a garden.

"There is an old Chinese proverb which says: 'If you want to be happy forever make a garden'. I really believe that."

For more information about Knebworth House, park and gardens, log on to www.knebworth house.com


* There have been gardens at Knebworth since the 1600s and the present layout dates back to Victorian and Edwardian times.

* During Victorian times the gardens were well-known for their Italianate layout attributed to the author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The central formal area was later simplified in 1911 by the Edwardian architect Sir Edwin Lutyens.

* Since 1980 the gardens have been undergoing a programme of restoration and development. Among some of the garden's features include a sunken lawn, a rose garden, a walled garden and a maze.

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