Walmer Castle Gardens is maintained by a team of five gardeners and up to 25 volunteers with some additional support from outside contractors.
For the past three years, driving up visitor numbers through higher horticultural standards has been the number one goal informing the management and upkeep of Walmer Castle Gardens, part of the historic Walmer Castle managed by English Heritage.
The success of the gardens team (five gardeners supported by 25 volunteers and contractors) in achieving that goal is clearly illustrated by the results three year’s on: Visitor are projected reach 92,000 in 2017 – up from 74,000 in 2014.
The gardening team well understands the link between the horticultural attractiveness of the property and the health of the overall core business – a factor which has underpinned all improvements activities taken including:
• Restoration of key features such as The Broadwalk - an 85m double herbaceous border - and the Queen Mother's Garden, a contemporary design by Penelope Hobhouse – which have been beneficial in enhancing the reputation of the gardens.
• The annual supply to the Walmer Castle catering facilities of £3000 worth of fresh fruit and vegetables grown by the Kitchen Garden team. The garden team combines with the in-house catering staff to create a 'seasonal' menu.
• A spring bulb planting, including a historic tulip display, have generated publicity and increased the seasonality of the site – and also fostered community involvement. An additional 15,000 bulbs were planted in autumn 2016 to enhance the garden displays with local school and scout groups assisting in the mass autumn bulb planting.
• Significant environmental engagement both on site (through initiatives such as the conservation of wildflower meadows which demonstrate local ecology) and off site through engagement with neighbourhood stakeholders. The latter has included participation in the Deal Hop Farm localism project which will see co-operative cultivation and production of Kentish beer.
• An educational initiative by the garden team which has seen the creation of an annual schools art competition hosted during the on-site 'Bloomin Gardens' show.
• Utilisation of the garden’s own resources to create a natural play area for younger children. This project has been carried forward as part of English Heritage's 'Kids Takeover' campaign, working with children directly to understand their wishes and how the garden can best incorporate these into future management.
English Heritage is striving to be a self-supporting charity by 2021 and the garden team recognises its ability to assist the business directly with this goal.