Q&A with David Gibbons, Garden Manager at The Red House.

David joined Britten Pears Arts as the Garden Manager in August 2022. He joins us with 25 years of horticulture experience including courses in horticulture, arboriculture, and countryside management. Previous roles have included Head Gardener at Kenwood House for English Heritage and leading the team of gardeners at the Grade 1 listed gardens of Golders Green Crematorium.

David Gibbons looking at the camera

What are your personal highlights of The Red House garden?

It is difficult to pick out one area of the garden because it all so nicely links together as one moves from one area to another. Also, different times of the year play a part – the huge drifts of snowdrops across the lawns at the moment are a delight whereas at the back end of last summer the Archive beds looked fantastic with the Salvias in the long border or the tall flowering grasses around the Sirens sculpture. The Kitchen Garden has great potential whilst the Orchard has great historical relevance and has lovely underplanting with the primroses looking great at present and with lots of spring bulbs to come.

What do you and your team work on when The Red House is closed?

When the garden is closed it’s a busier time than ever in the garden! Working with the two gardeners and groups of dedicated volunteers there is lots of maintenance to do, such as cutting back herbaceous plants in the borders, removing old staking material, clearing leaves from some areas whilst leaving some for the wildlife. Winter is a time to prune the roses and other shrubs, but it is also a time to take on any projects. For example, we have undertaken the first phase of restoring the rose terrace beds to better reflect how they would have been during the time Britten and Pears lived here. This involved taking out and repurposing the herbaceous plants, changing the soil to avoid ‘rose replant disease’ and then digging in lots of well-rotted farmyard manure. Following up with planting a variety of rose varieties, some of which we know from archival material were purchased for the garden in the 1950s and 60s.

What are your plans for the future of the garden?

I want to continue in the vein that Britten Pears Arts have gone already which is to curate the garden to best represent the time that Britten and Pears lived there and to enhance the visitor experience. This will involve making more use of the Kitchen Garden, bringing it back to the more productive space that it would have been. Extending the rose terrace by reinstating more beds and by making some changes to the planting in some of the borders to give more of a flavour of the 1960s and 70s period that is so important to the story of the garden. We will continue to enhance the wildlife value of the site by allowing the grasses to grow long in certain areas and by using plants that favour bees, butterflies, and other invertebrates. All of this will be helped by developing the composting yard at the back of the site which we have plans for.

The Red House is open Thursdays to Sundays from 30 March.