Unsung horticulture hero celebrates 50 years on Chatsworth garden team

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An unsung hero, whose work has been enjoyed by millions, has celebrated 50 years of service to the Chatsworth estate.

Bakewell resident Colin Bright, 65, began working with the garden team in spring 1969, having left Bath Street Boys’ School at the age of 15.

He said: “I’d been doing some gardening work for local people including a school teacher called Jack Ashton. He had two allotments - one for chrysanthemums and one for dahlias. I am still using the lessons he gave me about growing.

“I came to Chatsworth for a very informal interview with the head gardener, Bert Link, in the stables beneath the clock tower. The final question was ‘when can you start?’ I’ve never wanted to work anywhere else.”

Two weeks later, Colin was raking leaves and tidying the pleasure grounds, as the visitor gardens were known then, where he would spend the next two years.

He said: “One of the first things I was tasked with was carting pots to the potting shed, and my colleague Peter told me not to overload the wheelbarrow.

“I was ambitious, didn’t listen, and ended up crashing the barrow into the shed door. It smashed all the pots and I fell backwards into a cold frame. Peter came and found me sat in the broken glass and gave me a bit of a talking to.”

The terracotta pots of old have all been replaced with plastic now, and Colin has learned plenty of other lessons under a succession of five head gardeners - Bert, Dennis Hopkins, Jim Link, Ian Webster and now Steve Porter.

Over the next two decades, his roles took him back and forth between the visitor gardens, tending the famous lawns, maze and fountains, and the more private Edensor House garden.

He said: “That’s where fruit and vegetables were grown for the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire’s household, with the surplus sold in the estate farm shop.

“Where the kitchen garden is now, we used to grow vegetables and flowers too, with tomatoes and cucumbers in the Victorian greenhouses.

“There were no freezers in the early days, so all the vegetables were used fresh and only when they were in season.”

He added: “In the 1990s, we started growing plants for sale in the Edensor garden. I was asked to take that on, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Today Colin runs a fully-fledged two-acre plant nursery, producing around 3,000 plants every year for the Carriage House shop, and the farm shop in Pilsley, or to be used somewhere on the estate.

For the last three years, Colin has also been cultivating flowers and foliage for bouquet sales and the stunning displays which can been seen around the house and on special occasions such as weddings.

His work is still feeding the Devonshires too, keeping the kitchens supplied with raspberries, blackberries and redcurrants plus some morello cherries he is particularly pleased with.

Colin said: “They are an unusual crop for Derbyshire, but they have a wonderful sweet and sharp taste that is excellent in pies and jam.”

A typical day involves watering, feeding, weeding, and working with the retail team to select and prepare the next day’s stock.

He also works with grounds maintenance volunteers, students, and trainee gardeners, sharing the fruits of all his experience.

Colin said: “I enjoy sharing my skills and knowledge and feeling like I’m contributing to the future of the nursery.

“I love being part of the team here, and all the people I get to meet. I love everything about the job, but that’s the best thing.

He added: “From the duke, duchess and their family, to everyone who works here and has worked here – they are all part of what makes it Chatsworth.”

The 50th anniversary of Colin’s arrival was marked with a chocolate cake and card signed by the entire staff, plus a certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society.

His work has won multiple RHS awards, with his parsley, rosemary and other herbs notable for their success.

Colin also received a 50 years’ bar to add on to an RHS medal which the Duke and Duchess presented to him on his 40th anniversary.

He said: “I’m really proud to work for them, and they are always really interested in the work I’m doing in the nursery and how it is going.

“I enjoyed working for the previous duke and duchess too. I had a great deal of respect for Duchess Deborah, and she would always stop for a chat.”

Rarely one to rest on his laurels, Colin has not paused long to reflect on the milestone. He likes to relax by tending to his own garden at home, walking his border collie, Roy, or hitting the road on his motorbike.

He said: “From the moment I arrive in the morning to when I go home at night, there’s nothing I don’t enjoy with gardening.

“Every day is different and it all changes so much throughout the seasons. I like to try new ideas and grow new plants, and I’m always looking forward to the next job I have to do.”

There is always a time and a place for relaxation though: “My favourite place on the estate is the Pinetum.

“I like the peacefulness there, and I love to sit there and listen to the birds. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy quietly.”