Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Meet the Team: Kathleen Leighton

Kathleen is one of the longest serving employees at Great Dixter. She runs the Great Dixter nursery, which first started offering specialist plants for sale back in 1954. The nursery is open all year round.

Name: Kathleen Leighton

Status: Married

Age: 51

Service: 20 Years

What's your role at Great Dixter?
I am Nursery Manager. My day starts by going up to the house to get the post, then I will check the rain gauge, as Dixter is a measuring station for the Met office, and then look over the glasshouses before the nursery opens at 9am.

How did you come to work at Dixter?
I saw the job advertised. I was out of work at the time. Before coming to Dixter I was at a conifer nursery, which I didn’t enjoy much, and before that I was a dental care assistant. I always wanted to work in horticulture but I was told by our careers advisor at school that the only men could get jobs in horticulture so that put me off. In the end, though, I went for a course at Hadlow and that’s how I got started.

What do you love most about your job?
I love taking cuttings and growing new plants. I think the way we propagate is particularly satisfying at Dixter because we are not high-tech, we do things in a traditional way. We don’t use mist systems or lots of bottom heaters – although we do now have one small heater which we bought two years ago which helps certain more difficult plants. We propagate from March to mid September. I certainly wouldn’t want to work in an office.

What do you think makes Dixter special?
When Christo was alive it was him, his way, his sense of humour. He didn’t want to hear about new technology, he’d do things his way and you accepted that. It was quite a simple way not over complicated. He didn’t want the nursery to over expand because he didn’t want it to lose its character. He wanted it to be in the boundaries set out and so we have made the best out of what we have. One thing I think is that it would be good to be able to separate the growing area from the sales area, because there is nothing more frustrating for a customer than them picking up a plant and you having to tell them that it is not for sale!

What is your fondest memory of Christo?
I think it was when I came for my interview. I brought my CV with me and I said: “Here is is my CV, Mr Lloyd” and handed it to him. He looked at me from the chair in front of the fire in the parlour, peering over the top of his classes, and said “I don’t bother with those bits of paper” and thrust it back to me. He was a very good judge of character. He could tell if a person was genuinely interested or if they were not really interested.

What are you aspirations for Dixter’s Future?
I want it carry on just as it is. I think it would be a good idea to have a tea-room because I am sure that would make people stay longer. Fergus will make sure the plant associations keep changing and he will bring new ideas. I don’t think there should be any big changes to the house, it’s better to leave it the way it is. I think the Study Days and Symposiums are very successful and help get Dixter known even more.

What are your personal ambitions / interests?
I definitely want to go to New Zealand. My mother-in-law has been thee and told me I must go if I get the chance. I’d also like to go to Machu Picchu in Peru before it slides down the hill…


At 7:40 pm GMT, Blogger Phyllostachys nigra said...

It's always a pleasure dealing with Kathleen - either in the nursery or over the phone.
I love the nursery the way it is - a bit higgeldy-piggedly, (in an endearing way!)the antithesis of the awful 'Garden Centre' experience. A real nursery offering the chance to grow some of the beauties of the garden just beyond the hedge. It wouldn't do to have a big slick nursery in Dixter - it's wonderful the way it is - well chosen plants, superbly grown and plenty of advice on hand. Not to mention the cats!


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