Life under lockdown at Tatton Park
- Credit: Joe Wainwright Photography
Life beyond the gates may be dormant, but Tatton Park is all of a flourish
Tatton Park may be closed, but there’s still more than a wheelbarrow-full of work to do. It’s the height of the season, and for head gardener Simon Tetlow – who is one of the many parents trying to juggle his new daily work routine with homeschooling the kids – it’s business as usual.
Not so much for the park. Tatton Park officially closed its doors on March 23rd, and things since have been very surreal. “It’s eerily quiet here at the moment,” Simon says. “We’re familiar with being around hundreds of thousands of people, so it’s a very strange place. There are times I walk around the park early morning or in the evenings, and you get this sense that it is nothing without the people.”
From watering the 1850s’ tree collection twice daily to irrigating the lawns and keeping tabs on the emerging spring, staff are working around the clock to keep things ticking. Trying to work with social distancing rules, however, is “a bit of a headache”.
On the one hand, there are 55 acres to play with, but on the other, there’s still only the same number of offices, toilets and meeting points. And then there are the 75 volunteers who are getting increasingly frustrated at being stuck at home.
“They’re a vital part of the team and we’re really missing them,” Simon says. But there are some positives. The park has turned to keeping visitors digitally active, offering tours of the park on mobile app Candide Gardening. Simon audibly explores the 19 areas of Tatton Park’s garden, describing features such as the orchard, pinetum and orangery, sneaking in little-known facts about what it takes to keep the garden at its prime. Listeners are also able to use the app to learn how to identify plants.
“These gardens are irreplaceable, so we have got to keep going,” says Simon, who’s been busy filming in the park’s award-winning Japanese Garden so that visitors can enjoy the experience from the comfort of their sofa. “Spring is a magical time down there,” he adds. “It is just so beautiful, and even looking at it on camera it is relaxing.”
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Back in the day, it was envisaged the park would take the visitor on a world journey. The different gardens allow you to travel from the Mediterranean to America, to Japan and then out into other zones such as the Pineapple House and the Citrus House, which are now in full flower. “The orange blossom is giving off a stunning smell at the moment,” Simon says. “Sadly you can’t capture that on film; it’s lovely.”
Elsewhere, there’s been a radical change to the seedlings. Instead of the usual 80-90,000 bedding plants sown annually, Tatton Park is putting its efforts into food production. Crops such as potatoes, tomatoes and cabbages – foods that can be harvested, stored and transported easily – are making their way to local partners including The Welcome in Knutsford, which is cooking 40 meals a day for elderly and isolated people.
“There are very vulnerable people who need access to cheap, healthy food,” Simon says. “Our produce – which would have ordinarily gone to our on-site cafés and restaurants – will be distributed throughout the year. I’ve been doing my homework, looking through manuals from the 1940s and the First World War on what the big kitchens were doing back then. What did they start growing? We have to step up and play our part.”
The quietness of the park has also provided unusual perks: sunrises and sunsets, foxes and badgers, “walking around like they own the place,” says Simon.
The stillness of the empty park has provided much-needed reflection: “I’ve had a lot of thinking time lately about things like getting that tree down or relaying these paths. It’s given us the opportunity to reappraise the garden and do the things we wouldn’t usually have the time to do.
“Lawns are recovering, too. You notice the impact of traffic and people walking over the lawns. Now they are lush and green. They have never looked better. They are positives we’d rather not have, because business is business, but the healing in the gardens is great.”
The hard work is all going towards creating a garden that people can go and feel good in – to provide a calm and relaxing space of enjoyment. “This is reminding us we’re here to entertain, to make people feel good and to help them relax,” Simon says.
“When this is all over, we’re going to have one big party.”