Meet Chris, our Head Gardener

Chris has been a Gardener for 15 years, and Head Gardener at Kelburn since 2014.

When Chris was a child, he really enjoyed helping his mum in their garden. In primary school, he was told off by his teachers for staring out of the window at the trees.

How did you become Head Gardener at Kelburn?

I was an Engineer for 8 years after school, but I always wanted to be outside. I hate being inside!

At 30 years old, I went to college in Ayr at the Scottish College of Agriculture and studied a HNC in Horticulture. I then went to the Royal Botantic Gardens in Edinburgh for a year, to complete my HND in Horticulture and Plantsmanship.

I then spent 18 months working in Arboriculture (tree surgery) at Edinburgh Botanic Garden, then I moved to Logan Botantic Garden in Stranraer for 2 years. I also worked at Culzean Castle and then Fazlane Naval base, before landing the job here at Kelburn.

What are your duties at Kelburn?

I work across the entire grounds, but I spend a lot of time in the Plaisance (Walled Garden), which is mostly a manicured area – herbaceous borders, specimen trees, a small copse. Tasks include edging, manuring, dividing herbaceous perennials, planting bedding plants, hedge cutting, and pruning.

I also look after the Woodland – which is more natural. Tasks there include tree management, cutting down invasive species, stripping excessive ivy, etc. I’m trying to encourage more ground species as well as canopy.

My favourite place in the grounds is the Wildflower Meadow as it attracts wildlife and is organic – as nature intended – it isn’t organised.

I also work at The Old Tennis Courts area – where the weeping larch is, one of our Heritage Trees. I look after all of Kelburn’s Heritage Trees – we have a fantastic collection. [You can see our collection of trees, using our Heritage Tree Trail – as part of Discover Scottish Garden’s Tree Festival.]

How do the seasons impact your work?

As a Gardener, you’re working about three months in advance of what the garden will need.

In Winter, I’m mainly clearing the gardens and making sure they’re ready for the new year’s growth. I’ll be cutting the hedges back, felling trees, clearing areas, fencing, maintaining machinery, raking leaves. I’ll also be potting on cuttings, weeding pots – trying to spend more time in the greenhouse, especially if its lashing with rain! I’ll be preparing planters for Spring. And at the moment, I’m draining the pond [at the museum] and clearing the weeds.

In the spring, I’ll begin trimming and grass cutting. I’ll be twin scaling (propagating bulbs), which is something I really enjoy. Weeding is a huge part of the job in spring as they come up just as fast as the plants! And I’ll be planting annuals, and in the late spring I’ll plant the Blue Lobelia which make up the satire at the Children’s Garden.

Summer can be mostly upkeep, such as strimming, weeding, maintaining the gardens in bloom but also taking cuttings in order to produce more plants.

In the autumn, I’ll divide perennials to replant in the herbaceous borders, pot, or move to another location. I’ll plant trees, dig out herbaceous borders and redesign if wanted.

What are your future plans for the gardens at Kelburn?

I’ll be continuing to encourage Scottish native flowers and plants, which in turn encourages more wildlife. We’ll be letting nature take control a lot more in that respect.

On the flip side, I’d also love to get more Chilean species – they’re really interesting and colourful! The gulf stream here helps them grow.


…Flower? African Lily – Agapanthus Africanus

…Tree? Scot pine

…Plant? Blechnum Cycadifolium

…Thing to do as a Gardener? Propagation – creating new plants.