Fergus Garrett has spoken exclusively to Gardens Illustrated about stepping down from his role as head gardener at Great Dixter in the first episode of our new podcast, Talking Gardens.

As well as discussing what he would have to include in his dream garden, such as a large hunk of rock and a meadow, he expressed his desire to let cows roam loose in the car parks around the garden, and his secret penchant for a cocktail after work.

But the most striking part of his conversation with GI editor and podcast host Stephanie Mahon was when he was asked if he saw himself, in the future, as always being at Dixter. “I'm always worried about it,” he says. “Dixter’s so much bigger than that one person… I always look at myself and think: well, am I doing the right thing for it? Am I taking it forward in the right way? Am I putting enough energy into it? I mean, you put all your energy into it - but a time comes when actually it's time for somebody else to take it on and put a different energy into it.”

He continues: “I've been here 30 years now, and I've still got things to offer, but the time will come when other people may be able to offer it more than I can and then it's time to step aside, and let somebody else do it, and give the place the energy it deserves.”

Listen to the first episode in Talking Gardens here

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Fergus explains that the spirit and ethos of Dixter is all about education and training up talented head gardeners. “We put all our efforts into breeding the next generation of gardeners that are not just focused on plants, but are also focused on spirit of place and biodiversity and all of those things… Those people will land in gardens and drive them forward. So I think taking that time, and really, really investing in the people - not just doing it as a tick box exercise, but giving your life over to educating these people - makes all the difference.”

And he feels that one of those gardeners he has trained will be his perfect replacement, when the time comes. “If you look at my position now at Dixter, there are probably four or five people out there that could do my job, and they’re all ex-students,” he says. “They could come in, if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, and take over from me and run the garden - in the same way, but in a different way, with positivity and with creativity, because they understand the spirit of Dixter. I think that’s a really good investment for the future.”

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The Talking Gardens podcast is available from 21 March, with new episodes landing every week. Other guests in season 1 include Tom Stuart-Smith, Sissinghurst head gardener Troy Scott Smith, designer Sarah Price, grower Jekka McVicar and ethnobotanist James Wong.


Stephanie Mahon, Editor of Gardens Illustrated
Stephanie MahonEditor, Gardens Illustrated

Stephanie Mahon is Editor of Gardens Illustrated. She is a multi-award winning garden editor, writer and author. Her book Wild Gardens, which is the GMG Garden Book of the Year, is out now.