A professional gardener who has managed some of Britain’s top garden estates is helping care home residents grow their own vegetables to use in cookery classes.
Andrew Jones, 53, is the Pendine Park Care Organisation’s head gardener and takes time out from his busy schedule to help the green-fingered residents.
It’s a role Andrew thoroughly enjoys as he wants to help residents have an opportunity to taste home grown fresh produce immediately after it’s pulled from the ground.
Before taking charge of the gardens at Pendine’s sites in Wrexham and Caernarfon in North Wales, Andrew worked at several large estates.
Among them was the 4,000 Leckford Estate in Hampshire which was bought in 1929 by John Spedan Lewis, founder of the John Lewis Partnership, and is now home to the Waitrose Farm that supplies their high-end supermarkets across the UK.
He said: “Every head gardener wants to put his own mark on the garden he or she is responsible for. Here at Pendine my vision is to add more colour and more perfume particularly during the spring and summer optimum months when the gardens are most used.
“I have two gardeners here at the 12-acre Summerhill Road site in Wrexham and two part-time gardeners at the Hillbury site across town where there are seven acres of grounds, along with a full-time gardener at Bryn Seiont Newydd, Caernarfon, where there are five acres.
“I’ve introduced some trees and shrubs to add structure and lots of Spring bulbs including crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis) which have wonderful and fragrant flowers and are not used as often as they should be in my opinion.
“I’ve also introduced apple and other fruit trees into courtyards around individual homes. These are heritage trees that were becoming endangered. Modern fruit trees are basically hybrids and are used because of their high yields.
“But the heritage varieties are slowly making a come-back and I like to think we are doing our bit by helping protect them. We have apple, plum and pear trees and residents are free to enjoy the fruit.”
According to Andrew, he was delighted to return to his home town when he got the job at Pendine Park two years ago.
He said: “I’ve worked as a gardener since I left school and my first job was a few miles away at Marchwiel Hall.
“I then moved to Kent and did my apprenticeship with Ashford council before returning to Marchwiel Hall working for Mary Bell, including seven years as head gardener, until she sadly passed away.
“I then worked at Broxton Hall for Malcolm Walker who started the Iceland chain but I wasn’t head gardener there. I then moved to Berkshire and worked on a couple of gardens before moving to the Leckford Estate where I was head gardener for 10 years.”
He added: “The Waitrose Leckford Estate is a 4,000-acre farm and estate in Hampshire. That was by far the largest garden estate I have been responsible for.
“The arboretum and water gardens are vast and the estate is home to two national collections, Buddleia and Clematis Vitcella, and the Gilchrist Collection of flowering plants called Penstemons.
“It was a huge and very challenging job and one I enjoyed but I moved back to the Wrexham area as the parents of my wife, Tracey, weren’t well.
“I then worked at Chyknell Hall Estate in Shropshire where I was head gardener for five years before moving to Pendine Park.”
Helping residents grow flowers and vegetables has proved an unexpected bonus since he started at Pendine Park.
He said: “It’s something I love doing, I’m passionate about plants, flowers and gardening.
“It’s great to see the enthusiasm the residents show and they are really interested in growing their own produce like carrots, spring onions, beetroot and dwarf French beans.
“Nothing tastes better than something you have grown from seed yourself.”
Elaine Lee, the enrichment and activities co-ordinator at the Penybryn Brain Injury and Neurological Care Home, says Andrew has proved to be a source of real inspiration to residents.
She said: “Penybryn is a home for residents who have suffered a brain injury such as stroke, Huntington’s disease or injuries resulting from an accident. We put on lots of activities that residents can enjoy and participate in if they want to.
“One thing we do is a cookery class making things like pizzas, soups, stews and cakes that residents can enjoy. Growing our own vegetables from seed is an additional activity that residents enjoy and Andrew has been fantastic in helping and advising us.
“We have several planters that we are using to grow our produce in and as well as helping us sow the seeds Andrew keeps an eye on what we are doing and ensures everything is growing as it should.”
She added: “I know how popular Andrew is with residents, they think the world of him. He is really patient and free with his time. We are so grateful to him.”
Penybryn resident Tony Ithell, 59, who suffered a massive stoke, really enjoys working with Andrew and growing produce.
He said: “It’s nice to see things growing and to water them. I check on the seeds every day and they taste good when they are grown and cut. We use them in cookery to make things.
“Andrew is great, he really helps us and tells us what we should and shouldn’t do. And Elaine is brilliant. We all look after the plants which is good.”
Fellow resident Mike Blakeley, 58, a former cabinet maker from Bagillt, Flintshire, who also used to work as a chef, loves making foods residents can enjoy, especially when they have grown the produce themselves.
He said: “I suffered a really bad stroke and have to use a wheelchair all the time so having a chance to help grow things in a raised garden is great and we get to cook things we have grown ourselves which is fantastic. l really enjoy it.
“Andrew is really helpful and explains everything we need to know about growing seeds and looking after the plants as they grow.”
Penybryn manager Tracy Cuthill is delighted the grow-your-own project is having such a positive effect.
She said: “The outside environment at Pendine Park is just as important to the wellbeing of residents as the interiors as inside the homes and we encourage our residents to get the best out of gardens which are planted to ensure they are attractive and interesting throughout all the seasons of the year.”