Having grown up in Kent, Claire studied Fashion & Textiles at the University of the West of England in Bristol. Her first profession was as a self-employed textile designer, screen printing fabric samples for the fashion industry. An industry-wide change in the way designs were made (to Computer Aided Design, or CAD) prompted Claire to rethink her career choice, and she subsequently found part-time work as a stained glass designer and maker, and supplemented her income by managing a restaurant.
With the realisation that catering was not a long-term option for her, Claire returned to college to undertake a short adult education course with a view to making and teaching others how to produce stained glass. Whilst registering at college her eye was caught by an organic gardening course poster and she signed up for both courses, citing her proximity to a local city farm, her love of spending time there and the potential of growing plants to make fabric dyes as influencing factors.
“After a couple of weeks on the gardening course I was hooked. I had found a subject to get my teeth into. It ticked so many boxes for me – colour, design, history, food and communities. I had one year where I made stained glass three days a week, went to college one day a week, volunteered at Barley Wood Walled Gardens (near Bristol) one day a week and then worked four nights a week at the restaurant. It was an intense year!”
“I then managed to get on a National Trust Careership. This was a three year hands on apprenticeship where five times a year for two week blocks all the National Trust students went to college and learned the theory side, so I gained a brilliant all round knowledge. I was placed at Barrington Court, which was perfect for me with its Jekyll-esque herbaceous borders, and I was lucky enough to work in a team of gardeners who had worked there for over 30 years and remembered what it was like to work there before it was a National Trust garden. It was owned by the Lyle family and steeped in history and stories – I just fell in love with the place.”
“When that came to an end I went to work at Ryton Organic Garden near Coventry, which was a great experience. There were about 20 small gardens on site which were all made as educational gardens to show people how to garden organically at home. Each gardener managed their own set of gardens – I was in charge of fruit, cut flowers and the pollinator garden. I stayed for about a year and then saw a job at Hestercombe. I honestly thought I’d only stay at Hestercombe for a couple of years but I’ve been lucky to have a career progression to Head Gardener and what with all the different eras of garden design in one place it’s like working in three gardens!"
“Although I haven’t been here from the very beginning of the project I have had the privilege of watching the charity (Hestercombe Gardens Trust) grow, including four new buildings in the Georgian Landscape Garden, the restoration of the 17th century mill and barn, and the development of Hestercombe House. Excitingly, there is still so much more to come, such as the 17th century Water garden. It’s great to be working in a historic garden that is still progressive and moving forward, and I’m really pleased to garden somewhere rooted in art and design; I’m really keen on the development of Hestercombe Gallery.
“As a small independent charity we are always changing and always flexible – no two days are the same – and as a small team we find ourselves involved in every aspect of Hestercombe and we all muck in when needed."
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