Meet our Head Gardener

We caught up with our Head Gardener, Claire Farrington to find out what inspires her and what made her come to Langdale Chase.

What inspired you to get into gardening?
I have a lot of happy childhood memories walking around a particular family member’s garden, cutting flowers for their household displays and helping them forage for homegrown produce. When I bought my own home, I got the same great pleasure from the garden; I could experiment with plants and watch them develop. In that period, I was working as a Science teacher, and I would spend any free time I could out in the garden as a means of escape from the stresses of the job. I fell in love with the variety and beauty of the plant kingdom, plants are fascinating to me and there is so much to learn about. Nurturing plants and seeing them flourish I find an incredibly rewarding and satisfying process.

Is nature a big part of gardening for you?
Absolutely. Spending time outdoors and connecting with nature feels good and the way that you garden can have a big influence on the environment around you. There are many easy ways to benefit wildlife in garden practises; planting native species, having areas that are less regularly maintained in which wildlife can thrive, careful choice of products, using local suppliers, recycling materials. Ideally we’d love to be self-sufficient in terms of our composting and mulching as a fully-fledged garden. We’ve already started to create leaf mulch for use from next autumn and we’re also thinking about using the Thwaites horse manure for our hungry roses.

Why Langdale Chase?
I probably shouldn’t say this *laughs*, but when I first saw the job advert I thought I’d apply but didn’t think I’d have any chance of getting a job like that. It sounded almost too good to be true! (that’s really cheesy isn’t it! *laughs*).

I’ve never had a job where there’s been this much development, with this much input from such highly qualified and respected people in the field. It is certainly a rare find. I find big projects exciting, there is so much scope for positive change, and starting at the beginning means I can see the garden develop in its entirety.
Other than working for myself, and working with other gardeners in that respect, this is the first job where I’m leading my own team, so for me to have the guidance of Annie, Patrick and Martin is invaluable.

I’d also be doing Langdale Chase a disservice if I didn’t mention the view. It really is breath taking, whatever the weather. It has got to be one of the most beautiful places to work in the country.

What is your favourite part of the job?
*Smiles* there are a few…

Working with Annie’s designs is a privilege. The exposure to the variety of plants is something I really enjoy – there are plants within the design that I haven’t come across before, so it’s great to have the opportunity to broaden my experience. The whole planting process, whilst logistically challenging, is very rewarding. I’ve watched whole areas of garden be transformed in a matter of weeks!

Working outdoors and the interaction with wildlife is always going to be one of my favourite things about the job. I love the fact that you can be digging and a robin will come and sit on your wheelbarrow, and then essentially stalks you all day waiting for you to provide it with worms. That never gets old *laughs*.

Being able to share the passion with other people. Langdale Chase is great for that because I’ve been able to recruit a team that are as passionate as I am about plants, so we all get excited about what we’re doing, it’s infectious isn’t it *smiles*. We also have the opportunity to give garden tours so we get to share our enthusiasm about the project with guests staying at the hotel. Many people share our love of plants and engage with us – I hope that we start to see familiar faces because of people’s interest in the garden and its development.

Do you use your enjoyment of teaching to support the young team at Langdale Chase?
Oh yes, definitely. It’s good to have people around you that are interested and want to learn. I love seeing people’s skills and confidence level develop *smiles*, its rewarding to see people succeed. That input and development to build a skilled team will pay dividends in creating a garden of high horticultural merit in the long run, something we’re all striving for.

What is your favourite plant?
I always struggle to answer this question because I am constantly finding new plants that interest me. In general, I really love shade loving plants, and those with interesting foliage. I much prefer a very delicate pale flower to showy, bright ones, which you often find in shadier locations. It’s the contrast of the light petal compared to the dark conditions in shade making the flowers more obvious to pollinators.

I fell in love with a flower at Chelsea this year, and it was a type of cow parsley, which is generally considered a weed. The topic of weeds at Chelsea has thrown up quite a lot of debate in the public domain and challenges pre-conceptions of what a weed is. This particular cultivar was Anthriscus Sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’. It has incredibly delicate, pretty white flowers, contrasting with its lacy dark foliage.

Another beautiful flower I discovered at Chelsea this year was Allium ‘Silver Spring’. I find alliums in general really worthwhile bulbs to bridge that Spring-Summer gap, but this one was a particular gem with its deep red hearts and pinkish-white flowers. Going to flower shows and visiting gardens is something I really value, it increases your exposure to different plants, and inspires and challenges your practises and ways of working.

What is your favourite season?
There are aspects in all seasons which I massively enjoy so I’m going to answer for each season…

Spring, its got to be the appearance of snow drops, and spring bulbs in general I find encouraging *smiles*, seeing their green shoots poking out the soil. Often you’ve forgotten where you planted them! It signals the end of winter, that we’re going to start to see new growth, it was all worth it *smiles*.

Summer, I think, touch wood, just not being rained on as much is really nice *laughs*, jumping in the lake, the bursts of colour, everything’s growing.

The colours in autumn, in particular our Acer varieties which turn shades of oranges, reds and deep purples. An added bonus of our newly planted Cercidiphyllum japonicum is the scent its leaves give off – like burnt caramel! And our original Enkianthus campanulatus on the lakeside path, pruned into a beautiful form, turns an incredibly fiery red.

In Winter you can really appreciate the pruning masterpieces of all our newly planted multi-stem trees. Their bare skeletons make incredible architectural forms. The Amelanchier x lamarckii at the entrance are particularly stunning, they are one of my favourite trees. Winter is also time to restock, think about the season you’ve just had, the successes and what you’d do differently.

Find out more about our Gardens here.