Meet Steve, gardener at The Hayes

September 2020

 

The grounds at The Hayes are a haven for wildlife and for our guests. The beautiful gardens provide visitors with acres of ‘breathing space’ between meetings, and the perfect backdrop for adventures and activities.

One man who knows the grounds better than most is Steve Hawley, the gardener. He joined us in early spring, in the first week of March 2020, and has had to face a very different summer season to the usual stream of visitors walking between the brightly-planted borders.

Covering roughly 100 acres, the grounds at The Hayes wrap around the main conference centre, between the residential blocks, and include formal flower beds, expansive lawns, and two lakes. One of Steve’s early tasks was to cut back the reeds around the large lake, so it can now be seen from some of the rooms.

“If I can make it more beautiful for everyone to enjoy, I’ve done my job right,” he says.

Steve has worked throughout the lockdown period, staying to help look after the centre while it’s been closed. He dug out some of the old tree stumps and used a digger to clear an area behind the playing field. He found and cleared a path beside the Chapel, creating a new area for guests to explore.

The usual huge order of bedding plants that would have arrived in April had to be cancelled, but Steve still managed to put some plants into the beds, meaning that May brought a splash of colour to the empty centre – a cheerful morale booster for the staff who remained there, working hard to maintain the centre.

During the wet weather, Steve helped the team working on improvements in the main house. Even though he was only away from the garden for a week or two, he returned to find the rain had brought a blanket of chickweed springing up between the flowers in the main beds.

“It’s tidy now,” Steve says, “but it’s a challenge to keep it that way.” Many of the jobs are like this – just as he finishes the task, it’s already time to start it over again, but Steve loves what he does. And he’s quick to say that just as he helped in the building, the maintenance team are very happy to help out when there’s more to be done outside.

“They’re lovely people, any one of them will step in and help you. We’re all one big team.”

Steve is now looking forward to meeting the rest of the members at The Hayes, some of whom have been furloughed during this time.

Steve previously worked as a gardener at a care home, caring for grounds on a much smaller scale than here at the centre, and before that as a freelance gardener. But much of his working life was spent farming – for 35 years he was employed by the same family, until they sold the farm in 2013.

“Agriculture is different to horticulture,” Steve explains, “you can’t really compare the two. Except for all the grass that needs cutting!”

Gardening is both a career and a passion for Steve. He relishes the time spent outside and the constant opportunity for learning that it presents. This year, despite the college closing temporarily, he managed to complete his RHS Certificate in Horticulture, and he’s planning to complete the next level of the qualification next year.

So as the seasons change and 2020 draws slowly to a close, what’s next for the gardens at The Hayes?

Between raking leaves, mulching, and pruning back the roses, Steve will be planning for next year. This involves carefully creating the designs for the planting in the borders, planters and baskets, and ordering roughly 2,500 plants to ensure the displays in spring and summer are vibrant and welcoming.

Looking further ahead, Steve intends to create compost bins and establish a system to reuse as many of the trimmings and clippings as possible, helping The Hayes to become even more ecologically responsible.

So, the next time you’re visiting The Hayes, if you see Steve, ask him for his advice on where you should wander. He’ll probably point you towards the lake at the bottom of the site, especially if it’s the time of year when the water lilies are in bloom. You’ll find an idyllic spot to enjoy a peaceful rest on the benches and watch the damselflies darting between the reeds.

 
 
 
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