Volunteering at York Gate Garden by Stephen Carr

In early 2015 I was reading the notice board in Headingley library and saw an advert asking for volunteers for York Gate Garden. My initial thought was “Yes I would like to do that because I’ve also wanted to improve my gardening skills and hence improve my own garden”

I went along to an initial meeting and to my surprise York Gate didn’t want gardeners but wanted front of house volunteers. I reluctantly signed up as a volunteer and in early May 2015 did my first shift. At this point may I say that I’ve had numerous jobs in the past 40 years but have never done any ‘Front of house’. Initially I religiously followed the script I was given, asking visitors did they want to do gift aid, pointing out the locations of the toilets, where the plant sales were and explaining the café was open serving teas, coffees and cakes.

During quiet times, and due to the British weather there are plenty of quiet times, I started to read the articles about York Gate that were printed in the Hortus magazines over 20 years ago. The names Sybil, Fred and Robin Spencer became characters I could relate to. The words Folly, Arbour, Pinetum, Canal and Dell started to mean something. I realised the orchard at York Gate has only one fruit tree in it. At home I ‘googled’ York Gate to find numerous references about the garden and started to understand its importance as a fine example of a 20th century English garden. I discovered that Perennial not only owned the garden but was a national charity, every year helping many hundreds of individuals employed within all areas of horticulture.

I started to use some of my new found knowledge when greeting visitors to the garden, adding small stories about the garden, highlighting specific areas of interest, informing visitors about the history of the garden

In the Summer of 2016 the Volunteer Co-ordinator at York Gate asking for someone to take on the role of giving external talks about the garden to local groups. Even though I’ve never done this type of thing before, I felt I had to give it a go. From then until the summer of 2017 I’ve given 8 talks to gardening groups, WI groups and Local National Trust groups. All have been well received and have led to a number of visits to the York Gate, but most importantly I enjoyed giving the talks.

For me the best part of volunteering at York Gate has been the large number of people I’ve come in contact with. These are visitors to York Gate, many of whom have travelled long distances to visit the garden. It’s very rare that a day goes by without having an overseas visitor or a group coming to York Gate. It’s a real pleasure for me helping them to make the most of their visit.

The other people I have contact with are the other volunteers. They all have different backgrounds; different skill sets and have had different life experiences. They have all really helped me broaden my knowledge in so many areas.

So after 3 years at York Gate I haven’t improved my gardening skills but I think I’ve acquired plenty of new skills.

Stephen Carr

June 2017

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