Who would have known that answering an ad for volunteers at Tyntesfield would be life changing?
Back in 2014 I had been looking for a new direction in life. Since opening Tyntesfield had always held a great sense of mystery to me. It was like finally being allowed to view a secret. I remember in those early days volunteers would be discovering the household's family items in cupboards right before your eyes, it was a priceless slice of history, a time machine.
The Tyntesfield estate compromises of the spectacular restored Grade I listed Victorian Gothic revival house, a chapel, productive kitchen garden, orangery, aviary, sawmill, welcoming Home Farm visitor's centre, estate cottages all sitting on 540 acres of parkland, woodland and formal grounds; bought by the National Trust in 2002 after a huge fund raising effort to stop the house disappearing into the private sector.
But the glorious fully functional kitchen garden needed practical help to sustain itself.
The volunteering opportunity at Tyntesfield arose at a particularly difficult time of my life. Volunteering gave me a reason to get up on a Monday. A focus. To feel part of something important. It changed my life! A couple of months earlier my name had finally come up on a local allotment and this combined with working at Tyntesfield is what set me on my new life path into horticulture and I have never been happier!
Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Not only are you providing much needed help but on a personal level it is immensely beneficial to feel part of a team, working together in such inspiring surroundings. It creates an enormous sense of achievement and satisfaction. By donating your time you are giving something back whilst at the same time learning a trade. The entire experience was incredibly cathartic.
I volunteered in a team of four every Monday. Our friendships quickly flourished and I looked forward to our days of harvesting and catching up. It was incredibly therapeutic and beneficial to my overall wellbeing. I would always finish the day positive, upbeat and feeling inspired.
Lucy Clements volunteered in the kitchen garden on Thursdays so our paths never crossed but people kept saying you must meet Lucy, you'd get on so well! How true. We appeared to be living parallel lives but without ever meeting. The powers of social media stoked up a solid friendship, finally meeting in person a year later and we have been buddies ever since.
Sharing our love of Tyntesfield, photography and of course gardening, we discovered uncannily that we both volunteered at Tyntesfield, started up our own gardening businesses and studied the RHS Level 2 Diploma in Horticulture at the same time.
Lucy says "Volunteering at Tyntesfield was a turning point in my life. On a personal level it was a wonderful rural escape from my busy life in the city. I enjoyed spending time with the volunteers and felt very much a part of a team.
On a career level it gave me the confidence to set up my gardening business and helped launch a career in horticulture.'
Lucy sums up her experience at Tyntesfield: "I learned a huge amount from the gardening team. It was great to expand my knowledge of vegetable gardening within a kitchen garden context and fascinating to get a working insight into the glasshouse management. I particularly enjoyed working in the formal gardens and across the wider estate. I also had endless fun driving the estate vehicles and using all the petrol equipment!"
Each weekly session, Senior Gardener Marianne Closius would brief us on the seasonal crops that required harvesting; these were picked for the visitor's table where members of the public could purchase fruit, veg and flowers for a donation but the bulk of the harvest was gathered for the Cow Barn National Trust restaurant.
Lucky customers purchased not only home cooked meals but homegrown. This continued the Tyntesfield tradition, which commenced in 1860, of the kitchen garden providing food for the estate.
My first day at Tyntesfield blew me away and immediately confirmed this is what I wanted to do with my life! I was asked to go foraging around the estate and harvest elderflowers. Full of glee I trotted off with a spring in my step in disbelief that I was actually doing this. It was a dream come true.